Right now it is difficult to see how things could get any worse at West Ham but tonight we have another opportunity to find out if it is possible. If everything we read is to be believed supporters, players, management, in-the-know bloggers and probably even Doris the tea lady are verbally slugging it out with each other and amongst themselves. Have the Hammers reached their darkest hour or will there be the faintest glimmer of light to sustain us over the weekend. Unity has been called for but appears a distant, forlorn hope at the moment and it won’t need much more than a slow, nervy start for the Friday night London Stadium atmosphere to descend to an all too familiar toxicity.
Towards the end of the 2014/15 season, West Ham visited the King Power stadium with Leicester languishing at the foot of the table and looking odds-on for relegation. The Foxes famously won, their first victory in nine, and went on to record seven more wins in their last nine games to preserve their Premier League status. The following season they were Champions. Can history repeat itself but in reverse? Yes, I was only joking ……… but taking something from the game, if not quite essential for survival, would be a major lift before that dreadful run of fixtures in December.
Leicester were never going to repeat their heroics of the 2015/16 season as most teams, with the exception of West Ham, got wise to the primary tactic of the ball over the top for Vardy to chase. They did well to keep the majority of that squad together (despite losing the influential Kante and later Drinkwater) but what appeared to be a productive transfer window last summer has yet to bear fruit as they hover around mid-table (but only four points better than ourselves). It is a surprise that they have already changed managers twice since their dream season and also that they saw enough quality in Claude Puel to bring him in as Shakespeare’s replacement. Puel’s previous Southampton side did, of course, stroll to a 3-0 victory at the London Stadium in September last year.
Head to Head
West Ham’s record against Leicester goes back to 1919 and stands evenly balanced with the Hammers having won fifty-one, lost forty-eight with thirty drawn games. In the last twelve encounters West Ham have won four and lost five.
Leicester are looking for a hat-trick of straight wins against the Hammers in London despite West Ham having won eight of the last twelve home clashes.
It appears that Marko Arnautovic has miraculously recovered from the near death sore thumb trauma and is available for selection along with Andre Ayew who has shaken off his illness. According to reports Michail Antonio, Javier Hernandez, James Collins and Sam Byram are all still out.
Changes are certainly required from the team that failed to impress at Watford; not just because almost every player was hopeless but also because the team was so unbalanced.
I would like to see Arthur Masuaku start but in a midfield role as he and Aaron Cresswell would prove a handful on the left hand side. Maybe give Arnautovic another run out on the right with Manuel Lanzini moving to an attacking central midfield role where he is best suited and can cause more damage. That would leave a choice of two out of Noble/ Obiang and Kouyate in the centre of midfield. In the striker role I would like to see Diafra Sakho start in preference to Andy Carroll and would also prefer to see Adrian between the sticks. Defensive options look to be limited (I am assuming that Moyes will stick with a back four) and it is unlikely that he will be brave enough to give a start to Declan Rice – I am not convinced that Rice is the answer to the midfield frailties.
Leicester have no injury concerns other than the continued absence of the Neanderthal Robert Huth. The main threats will continue to come from the Vardy/ Mahrez combination but hopefully we will at last have woken up to the ball over the top of the defence tactic. The other concern is a reckless Ogbonna tackle on Vardy in the area to concede a needless penalty.
Man in the Middle
Today sees Martin Atkinson of West Yorkshire take charge of his third West Ham game of the season having previously officiated in defeats away at Manchester United and at home to Brighton. Will he finally get to award a West Ham goal? In eight games this season he has shown nineteen yellows and one red cards.
Lawro from the BBC sees this as a 1-1 draw while Sky’s Merson predicts a sound 1-3 away win. It will be interesting to see how West Ham approach this game. They badly need something from it and cannot afford a slow and ponderous backwards-sideways start if they want to keep the crowd on side. Will they have finally learned how to stop Vardy exploiting space behind the central defenders? Can they keep the ball long enough to put any sustained pressure on the Leicester defence?
Moyes will not want to lose but cannot afford to set up not to lose as he did at Watford. Puel seems to be from the same unadventurous school of football management. It could be a cagey game but as always a goal can change everything. It has the look of low scoring draw about it to me.