West Ham v Palace Preview

After the nightmare visit of the Seagulls, and the sensational turnaround at Wembley, West Ham visit South London to take on the Eagles

What an astonishing turnaround in the Carabao Cup clash at Wembley! I didn’t see that coming, and I’ll suggest that few others did either. I had spent an excellent day at Newmarket Races, so betting was at the forefront of my thoughts on Wednesday evening. At half-time, with Tottenham holding a 2-0 lead, and by common consent, yet another woeful first half performance from a much-changed West Ham line-up, you could have got odds of 1000-1 on us winning the game in 90 minutes. Even the most optimistic fan wouldn’t have wasted any stake money on that outcome. If anybody did, then they could have visited their travel agent on Thursday morning to book a holiday in the sun. Unfortunately I didn’t because there was no way that I believed we could possibly win the game at that stage. The fact that we did came about partly as a result of increased confidence after we had pulled a goal back, and partly because of over-confidence from the North London outfit who believed that they could go through the motions in the second half, and save themselves for their weekend fixture against Manchester United.

Our reward for the victory is a quarter-final clash against our other North London neighbours, who once again have been given a home draw in a cup competition. This happens on a consistent basis, and I’m sure they will be confident of progressing into the semi-finals when the tie is played just before Christmas. The Carabao Cup draws for each round have been surrounded in controversy, and each one has had problems of one kind or another. This time it was meant to be live on Twitter, but “technical” problems delayed proceedings for two hours, and it was eventually shown as a recording. Conspiracy theorists had a field day when it was revealed that the four “big” clubs left in the competition had avoided each other. Few would bet against Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs lining up in the semi-finals. Let us hope that we can spoil that party.

But before then we have to use the confidence gained from our second half performance, and build on that momentum in the forthcoming Premier League games. They begin with this weekend’s trip to Palace. If we thought that our start to the season was poor, then it is nothing compared to the nightmare at Selhurst Park, where our hosts sit at the foot of the league after the first nine games. Just one win and eight defeats is their sorry record. In all of the eight games they have lost they have failed to even score a goal. Their five defeats on their travels have been at Liverpool (1-0), Burnley (1-0), Manchester City (5-0), Manchester United (4-0), and Newcastle (1-0). At home they have at least improved their record progressively, with three defeats to Huddersfield (3-0), Swansea (2-0), and Southampton (1-0), before unexpectedly beating last season’s champions Chelsea (2-1) in their last game at Selhurst Park. Those two goals, their only ones in the league this season were scored by Zaha, and an own-goal. This is their fifth consecutive season in the Premier League, their longest spell in the top flight, and they will need to improve dramatically if they want to extend the run further.

Their form was no better in the Carabao Cup this week, when with a much-changed line-up, they were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Bristol City (4-1). Like most sides they haven’t played their strongest team as the EFL Cup is not considered a priority until the very late stages. No doubt, again like us, they will field a changed line-up on Saturday. Despite their poor start to the season, the bookmakers still make them relatively short-priced favourites to beat us at 11/8. We are offered at 11/5, and the draw is around 23/10. The odds on a repeat of Wednesday night, where we overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit to win the game 3-2, are currently 500-1. There is a saying about lightning not striking twice though.

As usual there is about as much chance in predicting our starting line-up as having a winning line on the lottery. Will we go with 3-5-2, or 4-4-2, or 4-2-3-1, or 4-1-4-1 or any other formation you could have? Who knows? How many of Wednesday night’s team will retain their place after that excellent second half performance?

Will Hart or Adrian get the nod in goal? Will Cresswell or Masuaku start at left back? How many of Reid, Fonte, Ogbonna or Rice will start? Perhaps the only defensive certainty is that Zabaleta will return at right back, although that is not to say that Byram didn’t have a decent enough game against Tottenham.

As for the midfield and attacking players it is anybody’s guess. All the fit players will be pushing to play and that will be almost the whole first team squad. I noted some statistics produced this week that showed since August 2016, Ayew has been involved in more West Ham goals than any other player. By involved it meant actual goals scored and assists. Considering the fact that he has not a regular place in the team because of injuries (and form) then we must ask, do the figures lie? And should he therefore be one of the first names on the teamsheet? Personally I remain unconvinced, but I have to admit to warming to him a little recently. Well just a little. I’d love him to become a world beater and prove me wrong. Whatever, with his brace in midweek he will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up.

I also read another interesting article about what Andy Carroll brings to the team. Apart from the obvious “outlet ball”, winning of aerial battles, and defensively a boost when we are facing corners and set pieces, the inclusion of him in the side obviously affects the style of play we adopt. The piece went on to describe how he had a big influence on our three goals without the statistics proving that. The author suggested that his mere presence was enough to occupy more than one Tottenham defender at a time and opened up the way for Ayew and Ogbonna to score the goals. Such a big emphasis is placed on goalscoring and assist statistics these days, whereas in fact others who get no credit for a goal whatsoever may have had a bigger influence in the ball ending up in the net.

The manager himself has described this week as giving him a positive selection headache. He has been emphasising that it is all about the squad, not just the team, so trying to soften the blow for those who don’t make the first eleven I guess. Whoever is involved, I look forward to another win to consolidate a mid-table position. A defeat would probably see us occupying one of the three relegation spots, a place we only just hover above at the moment because of a better goal difference than both Stoke and Everton.

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