Matchday: West Ham @ The King Power Stadium

The last day of the year and halfway through the season. Can it be four wins on the bounce, a scramble into the top half of the table and can Michail Antonio claim the ‘golden bonce’?

Leicester West HamIf history has taught us anything it is to select the bits of it that we like the look of and disregard the rest. Today West Ham travel to Leicester to face a side who we have traditionally done well against, with some particular success in games played during the Christmas and New Year period. Victory would make it 4 Premier League wins on the bounce for the Hammers; a feat that, while not unprecedented, is as rare as a proper right back or a 20 goals a season striker. In fact our Premier League record is 5 consecutive wins established during January to February 2006; an achievement that could potentially  be matched in the next 3 days – or not!

“He is a big player. He deserves everything and is always there to score goals.  Every time I turn to my staff in training and ask who has scored a goal, they say it is always Antonio.  I would not say that we taught him to score. It’s his sheer determination, his hunger. You have to keep him close to the box when we have the ball because his stats are unbelievable.”

– Slaven Bilic on Antonio (despite wanting him to play right back)

Our hosts and last year’s Champions have struggled to come even close to last season’s ebullience despite making an admirable and successful fist at Champion’s League qualification. A danger when your team is based on being greater than the sum of the parts is that it can all fall apart when some of those parts stop working. The loss of N’Golo Kante has been Chelsea’s spectacular gain, Riyad Mahrez has failed to inspire, the defensive shenanigans of Huth and Morgan have been under increased refereeing scrutiny and the threat of the ball over the top to Vardy tactic has been neutralised by most opponents. Thankfully the snarling one is suspended for today’s game and will not be able to test the speed or extent of our own learning curve. I did think that once the Champion’s League group stages were over we would see a resurgence from Leicester but as yet, apart from a fine win against Manchester City, it has failed to materialise. Is it possible that the most unexpected Champions since Ipswich Town in 1962 could suffer the same fate and face relegation shortly after?

Head to Head

West Ham’s overall record against Leicester is a moderately good one and the Hammers have avoided defeat on their travels to the east Midlands more often than not. The last 12 meetings have seen honours equitably shared with 4 wins for each team and 4 draws; a sequence that includes our solitary win at the King Power stadium following the Foxes move from Filbert Street in 2002.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Sequence

Home

61

35

16

10

128

74

LWWDWL

Away

61

15

16

30

74

104

DLLWDD

 

122

50

32

40

202

178

 

Team News

Our player of the season so far, Pedro Obiang, is available again after suspension so let’s hope that Slaven Bilic is not so blinkered as to leave him on the bench and stick with the team that won at Swansea. Personally, I would play Obiang and Kouyate as a defensive midfield two and give Mark Noble some bench time. This would retain the back 4 by keeping Nordtveit at right back despite his offering little attacking capability. Slaven is unlikely to heed my advice, however, and will probably return to his (unaccountably) preferred back 3.

“The first six months of this year were a fairytale – now this is reality. I was waiting for this to happen. We are like a little baby compared to a team like Chelsea. They are like a big man and we’re a little child and we need to grow up.”

– Claudio Ranieri

Manuel Lanzini may be available again but I don’t expect him to make the starting XI with Andre Ayew given the nod again following his maiden goal last weekend. Reece Oxford can be added to the long list of players who have found their way into the treatment room only to find that there is no way out.

If Michail Antonio scores with his head today he will create a Premier League record for headed goals in a calendar year – the golden bonce!

Apart from suspended Jamie Vardy, Leicester are at all full strength with Huth and Fuchs returning from one match bans.

Man in the Middle

A third West Ham away game this season for Anthony Taylor from Manchester; the previous two affairs ending in defeats at Chelsea (where he failed to send off match-winner Diego Costa) and at Everton. Taylor has had a busy season officiating at 20 games in which he has waved 69 Yellow and 3 Red cards.