Not exactly an unstoppable force meeting an irresistible object but today’s game does pitch a ‘must win’ Swansea side against a ‘mustn’t lose’ visiting West Ham. Both sides were on the wrong end of heavy 4-1 away defeats last weekend, against Brighton and Liverpool respectively, although the Swans have since picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and made it through to the sixth round of the FA Cup.
The Swans are still in the throws of a new manager bounce following the appointment of Portu-geezer Carlos Carvalhal in December 2017, their ninth manager in ten years of whom only Roberto Martinez has lasted more than two years. With Carvalhal’s record of seventeen jobs in twenty years it would be ambitious to expect long service awards at the Liberty Stadium any time soon. That aside, Swansea have won their last three home league games (and last six in all competitions) to rejoin the pack of clubs with all to play for in the relegation stakes. A win today would put them on equal points with the Hammers.
West Ham, on the other hand, will need to up their game considerably from that on display during their defeat at Anfield although the prospect of facing a pair of Ayews is far less formidable than what the Merseysiders had to offer; even for West Ham’s timeworn and dawdling defence. The other variable for today’s game is the weather conditions and although technology has meant that Premier League games are no longer called off due to frozen pitches, there will still be safety concerns for those attempting to travel to South Wales this afternoon.
Head to Head
West Ham have won six of the last twelve fixtures with Swansea and have also been victorious in five of the last twelve away games. The last defeat on the road was in August 2012 and last season the Hammers came away with a resounding 4-1 Boxing Day victory.
The usual names are on the West Ham absentee list which is thankfully shorter than a few weeks back. Arthur Masuaku serves the fifth of his six match spitting ban, Pedro Obiang is, of course, out for the remainder of the season and the Hammers are also without the elusive Andy Carroll and the even more elusive Edmilson Fernandes.
Changes from last week’s starting eleven should be expected and I would hope to see either Winston Reid and/ or Declan Rice returning to the back line and one of Michail Antonio or Little Pea starting in place of Joao Mario. Any realistic solution to the fragility and ineffectiveness of the Noble – Kouyate central midfield partnership seems as unlikely as finding a simple answer to the frictionless Irish border conundrum.
Swansea are without long term injured Bony, Fer and Angel and look set to give a first start since his return to Wales to former Hammer, Andre Ayew.
The Man in the Middle
Familiar face Martin Atkinson will be officiating his fifth West Ham contest of the season but has yet to see a Hammers win. Previous attempts have ended in defeats away to Manchester United and at home to Brighton plus two home draws with Leicester and Bournemouth. Atkinson has been in charge of twenty four games this term issuing eighty-one yellow cards and four red ones.
Lawro has returned to his favourite 1-1 scoreline for today’s game while Merson is predicting a 1-0 Swansea win. Chances are that the Hammers will need to rely on the form of Marko Arnautovic once more to get anything out of the game but the hopeful presence of Manuel Lanzinin and Antonio can also cause the home team enough problems to compensate for erratic defending at the other end. With all of my frost bitten fingers and toes crossed I am banking on Marko showing himself as the true beast from the east today and inspiring the Hammers to an odd goal victory.