Can Shape Shifting Be The Key To Hammers Success At Leicester

West Ham are hoping that the clocks can go back to last May to record a second successive victory at the King Power Stadium. With a depleted squad is tinkering with formation the key to success for Pellegrini?

It was this corresponding fixture last season that effectively guaranteed West Ham’s Premier League survival for at least another season.  The Hammers had triumphed 2-0 (Mario and Noble) against a Leicester side who had already packed up for the season and had failed to register an attempt on target until the final five minutes.

The end of that game saw a jubilant David Moyes celebrating with his players and it was his opposite number, Claude Puel, whose position was under intense pressure from disgruntled home supporters following a run of just four wins in nineteen games.  Yet it was Moyes who got the chop while Puel was given a stay of execution to prepare for a new Premier League term.  A few months ago I predicted that Puel would be in line as the first managerial casualty of the season but he has managed to keep his head above water in an uninspired mid-table no-mans-land.  Puel does remain one of the front-runners in the sack race but some way behind the leading pack of Mourinho, Jokanovic and Benitez.

With Mahrez having departed for pastures new in the search of further silverware, Leicester will rely even more heavily on Vardy’s goals for salvation.  There is some doubt as to whether he will be available for today’s game but, if he is, I hope the Hammer’s defenders have been well-drilled in understanding the Foxes primary tactic of the ball over the top.  Teams wanting to play a high defensive line can still be caught out as witnessed in the early stages of Leicester’s game at Arsenal last week.

The home side have a number of players in and around the England set-up in Maddsion, Maguire and Chillwell.  Maddison is an excellent player and just the sort of signing I would like to have seen at West Ham.  I’m not quite sure what to make of Maguire who has the look of the old fashioned big lump  who occasionally scores from a corner.  If the rumours of a 75 million Manchester United bid in the summer were true I would have taken it without a second thought.  It is a shame that Morgan is suspended as whoever they bring in as replacement is sure to be less erratic.

West Ham go into the game trying to avoid a third defeat on the bounce and, with mounting injury concerns, Manuel Pellegrini has few options to shake things up.  Andriy Yarmolenko joins the long term injured and Pedro Obiang is reported to be also missing.

If Pellegrini sticks with his preferred system then the only debate is whether it is Michail Antonio or Grady Diangana who replace Yarmolenko, and which of Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku claim the bothersome left back berth.  The only argument I can see for starting with Diangana on the bench is that it may be too much too soon for the youngster – and that he needs to be introduced gradually into the hurly burly of Premier League football.  Maybe Pellegrini will prefer to play safe with the experience of Antonio, even though the latter has offered little variety beyond his attempted foot races with assorted defenders along the touchline.

Keeping that formation will require Felipe Anderson to once again be charged with tracking back duties on the left hand side.  After his poor showing last weekend he badly needs rehabilitation.  Putting him in a more advanced role might well lessen his load but would also require Declan Rice to be moved slightly further forward reducing the protection he offers to the central defenders.  In effect 4-1-4-1 would become 4-4-1-1.  Either way, it is likely to be the same eleven players and in Obiang’s absence it will mean another start for Robert Snodgrass; all it needs is for the Scot to add some much needed quality to his new found energy.  He would, though, be a better option to support the full-back and it would take some of the pressure away from Anderson and allow him to focus on the attacking side of his game.  Rice had looked lost as part of a midfield four at Anfield but today’s opponents do not offer the same threat; he now has many more yards under his belt and I’m sure he would have learned from it.

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Today’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland who previously refereed the home win over Manchester United.  In 11 games this season he has flourished 36 yellow and two red cards.

On the pundit front, Lawro is predicting a 2-0 home win for The Foxes while Merson sees a 1-1 draw – which would be Leicester’s first stalemate of the season.  I suspect a low scoring game which West Ham will nick by the only goal.