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West Ham 2018-19 Season Questions #2: Will the Hammers have enough defense?

In order to be an elite club, it can’t be all about offense

Wycombe Wanderers v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

After the big six clubs, West Ham United can easily make the case that they now have the most offensive firepower of any other Premier League side.

After the amazing spending this summer, the Hammers are two or even three deep in the front four attacking positions, even with Manuel Lanzini’s long term injury.

But for the Hammers this season to fulfill the lofty expectations placed on them, it will be crucial for Pellegrini’s side to showcase the defensive steel that only appeared last season during David Moyes’ interim time.

Showcasing that they can be resolute in defending when they have a lead or come up against a more talented side, like they will do against Liverpool on Sunday, will be paramount as to whether West Ham can push on to returning finally to England’s elite clubs.

Pellegrini has vowed that he will stick with his offensive philosophy and how he is the ideal Hammers manager. But the Chilean knew full well that he needed to add an experienced, outright defensive midfielder before the season began.

Putting all of the holding midfielder destroyer responsibilities on the shoulders of young Declan Rice would have been a major gamble, and it’s why Carlos Sanchez coming in on deadline day could prove to be the most valuable signing of the season. It’s a remarkable statement considering the record deals for Felipe Anderson and especially Issa Diop, but the Colombian ball winner will be that pivotal.

And speaking of the impressive, highly touted French centerback, Diop figures to be a regular starter throughout the entire season. It will be a challenge for Winston Reid to return from injury as a lock starter in the lineup with Diop and Fabian Balbuena’s arrivals, and Angelo Ogbonna getting valuable time with his new position mates in preseason. Still, it is a lot to ask of two newcomers to the Premier League, without that much high level European football experience, to be the cornerstones of a top centerback pairing.

The situation at full back will be intriguing as well, with Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku not seeing any new addition threaten their battle between each other. Despite his terrific growth as an outside winger under Moyes, Masuaku has been pushed back to his first position with all the new attacking players this summer. The English fullback, however, still very much has a 50/50 chance at being the first-choice left back and remains the better defender. The lack of progression from Sam Byram sees him out the club on loan to Nottingham Forest, meaning it will be crucial for Ryan Fredericks to continue pushing Pablo Zabaleta and his 33-year-old much trended legs.

And to be a team who can defend adequately well doesn’t just fall on the primary defensive players. Will captain Mark Noble have enough legs, and will Pedro Obiang show constant defensive desire? Will Jack Wilshere remain healthy and reinvigorated by his move away from Arsenal to give two-way play throughout? And will the likes of Anderson, Yarmolenko, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez provide that needed ball closing and pressing to keep the ball as Pellegrini would want?

Pellegrini’s ethos, and the clubs’ ethos, will always be based on entertaining, dynamic attacking. But as seemingly always the case with West Ham, it will be their ability to defend when needed that will determine if this season will be an amazing success or the latest disappointment.