Downing: Squad is stronger
Stewart Downing believes West Ham have a stronger squad this season as the challenge of juggling league and cup football beckons.
Sam Allardyce's side reached the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup last season and start their tilt at the trophy with a home game against Sheffield United on Tuesday evening.
The Hammers were in the midst of a mid-season injury crisis as they lost 9-0 on aggregate to the eventual winners Manchester City in January - with Barclays Premier League survival the main concern.
With a number of first-team players missing at the time, Allardyce was forced to field an inexperienced side in both legs - but Downing, who scored his first goal of the season in Saturday's 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, reckons the summer recruit drive at Upton Park will help significantly on that front.
"I think all the new signings have settled in well and those who have played have made good starts," said the England winger.
"We have a bit of a stronger squad this season which I think helps the manager. Last season the team had to literally pick itself at times because of injuries.
"We have a lot more options now and can change it around a bit if needed."
Of the seven new acquisitions, Aaron Cresswell, Cheikhou Kouyate and Mauro Zarate have made an instant impact - with the latter opening the scoring at Selhurst Park with a spectacular volley.
Strikers Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho are still working on their fitness, while Carl Jenkinson is injured and young midfielder Diego Poyet has played just eight minutes.
With a deeper squad at his disposal, Allardyce is likely to give Poyet - as well as Valencia and Sakho - a chance to work their way into his thinking against the Blades.
Downing will also want to be involved against the Sky Bet League One side as he looks to add to his goal on Saturday, which equalled the solitary strike he managed throughout the whole of last season.
"Obviously I am eager as is the manager for me to get more goals this season," he added.
"To get off the mark second game in, is nice. I want to shoot more, get in the positions I need to be in. With the goal, I had it in my head what I wanted to do and hit it where I wanted to and it worked."
It will be the first meeting of the two sides since West Ham agreed an out-of-court settlement for a fee reported to be in excess of £20million to be paid as compensation to the Blades.
The argument stemmed following Sheffield United's relegation from the Barclays Premier League in 2007 - with West Ham surviving thanks largely to the goals of Carlos Tevez.
It was later discovered that Tevez, as well as fellow Argentina international Javier Mascherano, were partially owned by Media Sports Investment, a company run by Kia Joorabchian.
The Premier League fined West Ham £5.5million and, after United unsuccessfully appealed to be reinstated to the league with West Ham relegated instead, a two-year legal wrangle ended with the settlement.
With plenty of ill-feeling between the two sets of fans, Allardyce insisted on Saturday he would do his utmost to appease West Ham's supporters by winning the fixture.
"I think the reaction is to get a team out there that wins," he said.
"I'm not so sure how guilty Sheffield United were on it but that's nothing do with me. It's about making sure the fans are happy when I go on Tuesday because they feel aggrieved at what Sheffield United did and if I can do that for them, then great."