Premier League football returns for its third season at the London Stadium as West Ham face a Bournemouth team who were the first visitors to the Hammer’s new home just under two years ago.
The two sides experienced contrasting fortunes on the opening weekend and sit at opposite ends of the embryonic league table. Bournemouth recorded a rare opening day victory when they beat newly promoted Cardiff 2-0 with goals from Fraser and Wilson (but none from Mainwaring and Pike!); while Manuel Pellegrini’s message to his players will be ‘Don’t Panic’ after a thoroughly disappointing performance and 4-0 hammering by Liverpool at Anfield. Although still early days a victory will do much to settle nerves before a tricky run of games that includes Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United before the end of next month.
It may well be a surprise to many football supporters that Bournemouth have survived long enough to start a fourth consecutive season at the top level of English football. Having previously lived a while on the south coast I have a soft spot for the Cherries and am a huge admirer of what Eddie Howe has managed to achieve on limited resources. It is refreshing that the team is still largely built around the players who won promotion in 2014/15 and that they continue to play in a more open style than many other Premier League clubs are prepared to do. On last week’s respective showings, the movement of Wilson and King could well cause some headaches for West Ham’s uncoordinated defending.
We are all, I think, anticipating significant improvement from West Ham after last week’s woeful performance – albeit against a very good side. Just one week into the new season and I am already avoiding Premier League highlight’s shows! It would be nice to see signs that the players have at least been introduced to each other even if it will take a little longer to build complete understanding.
There are sure to be some changes in personnel this weekend and I am wondering whether there might also be a change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2, to accommodate Javier Hernandez.
In the back line I would expect Aaron Cresswell to replace Arthur Masuaku; neither are exceptional defenders and, although I didn’t see Masuaku as culpable for the Liverpool goals as some observers did, Cresswell just about shades the full back, rather than wing back, role. Other than that I think the back four will be unchanged and given another chance to prove their worth.
In midfield, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere should be guaranteed starters leaving one or two from Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang and A.N. Other depending on whether it is a four or five man midfield. Obiang would be my first choice every time for midfield defensive duties but it appears that successive managers feel very different about his talents. For me, he is stronger, more athletic and has greater mobility than anyone available (assuming that Carlos Sanchez is not yet match ready). I would be very disappointed to see any of Michail Antonio, Robert Snodgrass or Declan Rice (unless he is defence) in the starting line-up.
Fitness permitting, Marko Arnautovic is a certain starter up top. After limping off last week there may be some doubt on his fitness but rarely a game goes by where he doesn’t have a few moments of hobble. As mentioned, I have an inkling that Pellegrini may show his attacking intent by also starting with Chicharito. If the Mexican is ever going to get a starting berth then this is exactly the type of match, against an unconvincing Bournemouth defence, that should fit the bill nicely.
The match referee is relative youngster Stuart Atwell from Nuneaton – although not as young as recently retired Robert ‘Bobby’ Madley who was in the doghouse following some of his decisions in West Ham’s game at Bournemouth last season. One website which claimed that last week’s referee appointment (Anthony Taylor) was good news for Pellegrini is now warning the Chilean that the Attwell appointment is bad news. I am hoping this is not an omen.
Evergreen pundits Lawro and Merson are predicting 1-1 and 2-1 respectively. Persoanlly, I have to be confident that we can get a result against a side that are not known for their on the road exploits. The pressure will be on from an expectant crowd for both a result and a performance to mark the opening of the home match season; and I will be looking for a 2-0 success. If it doesn’t go to plan ‘we could all be doomed, Mainwaring’.