It was the visit of Swansea at the tail end of the 2015/16 season that raised the first alarm bells as to the vulnerabilities of Slaven Bilic’s side; notably showing up the shortcomings of players being played out of position as right back Michail Antonio was exposed for two of the goals in a 4-1 home defeat that finally ended any lingering Champion’s League aspirations that we may have held. The ‘blip’ was soon forgiven and forgotten as a consequence of the emotional last game at the Boleyn victory over Manchester United just a few days later; but the Swansea performance has set the tone for much of what has come since.
West Ham come into the game having lost four out of six Premier League games from a relatively benign set of fixtures and now embark on a run of so-called ‘winnable’ games (including today’s) in an attempt to demonstrate there might be something to the season beyond a desperate survival battle. A great deal of last year was wasted wishing that the season would soon be over and there is a huge danger of this happening again. Yet again manager Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure and his continued week to week employment renewal is likely to remain a defining feature for much of the campaign.
At the time of Swansea’s victory in May 2016 their manager was Francesco Guidolin who, having steered the Swans to safety, was out of the door the following October following a terrible start to the season. His replacement, Bob Bradley, had only been in post for eighty-five days when a 4-1 home defeat by the Hammers led to his dismissal. Bradley was subsequently replaced by current boss Paul Clement who worked wonders to stave off what looked like certain relegation. Swansea’s recent seasons have been characterised by poor starts and storming finishes which makes their current position look like over-achievement, even if they are only a point better off than West Ham.
Head to Head
West Ham have won twenty-eight and lost eighteen of the previous sixty-one meetings between the two clubs. The last twelve meetings have seen five West Ham wins and three Swansea victories.
In the thirty-one of the matches played in London, the Hammers have won twenty-two, lost only twice, never failed to score and have averaged over three goals a game. The victory in 2015/16 was Swansea’s only win in their last twelve visits during which time they have left empty handed on nine occasions.
It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are available for selection while James Collins, Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are unavailable. The barnstorming finish that put an undeserved gloss on last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham might lead our manager to conclude that he ‘can’t change a losing team’. We will see!
I probably have more chance of picking the first three (in order) at tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe than successfully predicting how Slaven will choose to start the game this afternoon. On paper it remains a strong looking squad but with all the ingredients selected independently of any particular recipe it is impossible to know what will be served up.
Personally, I would like to see Hernandez back in a central position with Lanzini in a more advanced role just behind him. Swansea have yet to concede on the road this season and need to be unlocked rather than bombarded. More likely though we will resort to the trademark direct style built around Andy Carroll’s head. There were probably times when such a tactic was effective (the 1970’s for instance) but just like typewriters, floppy disks and VHS tapes the rest of the world has moved on.
Swansea have no significant injury concerns and are likely to be very compact defensively. How adventurous they are will be interesting as a front three of Wilfred Bony, Tammy Abrahams and the talented one from the Ayew family definitely have the ability to upset West Ham’s suspect defence.
Man in the Middle
Once again we have a referee, Roger East from Wiltshire, who rarely gets run out at a top Premier League game. East was at the London Stadium twice last season for the defeat by Leicester and the dull goal-less draw with Everton.
Both TV pundits, Lawro and Paul Merson, have today’s game as a 2-0 home win; each feeling that Swansea lack the form or confidence to harm the Hammers. I wish I was as confident as there is every chance, based on their away performances so far this season, that the visitors have enough to frustrate West Ham. The shape of the game will depend on whether Swansea will show any attacking threat or belief; they have the potential but maybe not the appetite.
On previous occasions when Bilic has been desperate for a result to save his job the team has come through for him and this will probably be no exception. This should not be the first West Ham to fail to score at home against Swansea even if a glut of goals in unlikely. I will keep everything crossed for a narrow victory.