hen Mark Noble quipped, as he rode off into the sunset, that while he was lying on a beach this season Craig Dawson would be marking Erling Haaland, he could not have known that the prophecy would be realised quite so soon.
It seems only weeks ago that, as Noble bowed out on an emotional afternoon at the London Stadium, the Hammers did their part to ensure the Premier League’s title race went to the final day, holding the champions-elect to a 2-2 draw in their penultimate fixture.
But on Sunday, Manchester City return to Stratford to start the defence of their crown, with Haaland in tow, and it is difficult to shake the nagging feeling that West Ham are, put simply, not quite ready.
It has been a slightly disjointed preseason, as their international stars such as Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen returned late.
Friendly results, while never worth reading too far into, have been underwhelming, with two wins, four draws and a defeat from seven matches, though some were played with split squads.
Injuries have cropped up at awkward moments, none more problematic than that which has already ruled the summer’s marquee defensive signing, Nayef Aguerd, out for the first two months of the campaign.
The Moroccan’s £28million arrival from Rennes back in mid-June appeared an early signal of intent, with David Moyes eyeing as many as seven additions as part of a major push to improve the quality and depth of his squad.
With Burnley’s Maxwel Cornet on course to become the fifth and almost a month of the window to run, that target is well within reach, but as things stand Moyes’s squad still feels a little thin and there has still been a degree of discontent at how some dealings have played out.
West Ham were right, for instance, to turn down Jesse Lingard’s extortionate wage demands and have no intention of meeting Amadou Onana’s either, but it is hardly ideal that pursuits of both dragged on.
Moyes does not always hide his frustration well — just ask that German ballboy — and has clearly felt it at times during pre-season, with his and the club’s ambition taking time to translate into new faces through the door. It did not escape his attention either, that when Sunday’s opposition agreed a deal to sign Kalvin Phillips, it was for a smaller fee than the Hammers had offered in January.
Worries have been amplified by the fear that at least five of the top six appear to be pulling further clear, but that West Ham fans are looking with envy and concern at Arsenal and Tottenham and what their recruitment might mean for the European race is, as with most of the summer’s grumbles, testament to the way Moyes has transformed expectations with the success of the past two seasons.
There remains much to be satisfied with and excited by. Cornet’s arrival would take this summer’s spree close to £100m, without the departure of a single player of real importance to fund it. Rice’s immediate future was never even a subject of debate, nor that of Jarrod Bowen.
After 18 months of trying, a centre-forward has finally arrived, and an intriguing one at that in Gianluca Scamacca. Just months after the only marginally premature end to the club’s first European tour in a generation, another is already in the offing, provided they come through a qualifier in Denmark or the Faroe Islands.
And as for this Sunday, Pep Guardiola’s side are at once a nightmare first opponent and yet perhaps one that presents an opportunity, too.
City are themselves notoriously slow starters, beaten by Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham on the opening weekend last term, and neither they nor Haaland looked particularly sharp in the Community Shield against Liverpool last week, for all criticism of the Norwegian’s display was somewhat overblown.
It would be too much of a stretch to call it a free hit for the Hammers, who took a point off City when they met in May and should have had all three, but a home defeat by the champions would hardly be a crisis-inducing start.
A positive result, and any summer frustrations would quickly dissipate.