The early season international break, transfer dealings extending past the early games and players returning late due to the Euros and injuries give today’s game the feel of another new beginning; not just for West Ham but also for other clubs including today’s visitors, Watford.
Going in to our game against the Hornets last April there was a lot of publicity about how few penalties had been awarded to West Ham compared with other teams at the top end of the table. Watford, with Premier League safety assured, fielded a weakened side due to their approaching FA Cup semi-final appearance with Crystal Palace. Anti-grappling referee, Mike Dean, duly obliged the critics by awarding the Hammers two penalties; both ably converted by Mark Noble in a largely comfortable 3-1 victory. A late Deeney penalty for Watford was saved by Adrian.
“With the injuries it was tough. Now hopefully a few of them are back. It’s not a new start for us but with the players who are back I am very optimistic.”
– Slaven Bilic
For Watford, defying the pundits to secure a second season in the Premier League while reaching a cup semi-final was not enough for the difficult to please owners who replaced Spanish (Hugh Laurie lookalike) manager Quique Flores in the summer by itinerant Italian coach Walter Mazzarri. Mazzarri has since embarked on a thorough overhaul of his squad which has seen them pick up just a single point so far this season.
Head to Head
West Ham have won 23 of 37 League and Cup encounters with Watford since the first senior meeting in 1978. At Home, the Hammers have won 13 out of 18 losing just 3 times, 2 of which a month apart in early 2007 under Alan Curbishley. The full record is:
According to Physio Room the injury list is at an all time low with just Carroll (due back 17 Sep), Ayew (Nov 27), Cresswell (Nov 26) and Sakho (Oct 1) still unavailable. All the signs are that Dimitri Payet will make his first start of the season and that we will see the striking debut of Simone Zaza up front. It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the midfield is set up and whether Manuel Lanzini also gets a start or whether Havard Nordtveit returns as a more defensive option despite failing to impress so far. I suspect Lanzini will be on the bench, along with Sofiane Feghouli, for this one.
“We can say that from this week the job that I perform can be judged. I like to work with a group that I choose myself, and I’m very happy with this one.”
– Walter Mazzarri
Slaven Bilic may also prefer to bring in Alvaro Arbeloa (assuming he is deemed to be match fit) at right back but personally I believe Sam Byram has done enough to keep his place and would be unlucky to miss out.
Watford have no injury problems. Much of last season’s heroics were founded on the goals of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney but neither have scored this term (yet!). Deeney is a fine professional but looked off the pace when I watched Watford lose to Arsenal recently. The Hornets certainly improved after the break in that game after the introduction of new signings Isaac Success (great name) and Roberto Pereyra, both of whom looked to carry a threat. On the other hand; Kaboul is always worth a goal to the opposition; former Hammer Behrami good for a yellow card and defenders Cathcart and Britos sound like they belong in old TV sitcoms.
Here is my predicted line up in a 2-1 victory:
Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire. Atkinson officiated 3 West Ham games last season; away victories at Arsenal and Bournemouth and the home draw with West Bromwich Albion. Atkinson is known for his reluctance to brandish red cards and award penalties.