Burnley were the surprise team of 2017/18, achieving a seventh placed finish and attracting plenty of praise for gravelly voiced manager Sean Dyche. Having scaled such heights, however, and only scoring thirty six in the process (only the three relegated clubs and Huddersfield scored fewer), it was always unlikely that a threat to the Premier League status quo was being built at Turf Moor. The Dyche philosophy is not a style of play that is going to prosper in the long term; although it might be adequate for pragmatic survival in the footsteps of Allardyce, Pulis and co.
The Clarets still managed to record three goals in two of their thirty eight league matches last season: the first in the season opener away at Chelsea; the second in the infamous day of protests at the London Stadium – a game in which West Ham had controlled the first half but self-destructed in the final half hour.
This season with the added burden of a Europa Cup campaign, where they were eliminated at the Play Off stage, it has been a disappointing start for the visitors who are one of two teams sitting below the Hammers by virtue of goal difference. Apart from a shock 4-0 win against high riding Bournemouth their performances have been underwhelming and they come into today’s game having conceded nine goals in their last two outings.
West Ham are now without a win in their last four games in all competitions – evidently still basking in the glory (and resting on the laurels) of victory against Manchester United. With today’s game heralding the start of a winnable streak, Manuel Pellegrini will be desperate to see some added points on the board. The dilemma is whether his team have enough guile and penetration to break down what will surely be a massed Burnley defence. If past performance is in any way indicative of future results the omens are not good.
The West Ham lineup for today pretty much picks itself. Not that the players have performed brilliantly just that there are so few options available due to either quality, injuries or suspensions. The goalkeeper and the core of the defence are givens and the return of The General, missing in midweek, will be welcome – I am convinced he would have prevented at least two of the Tottenham goals. The defensive problem area is left back where neither Arthur Masuaku nor Aaron Cresswell are comfortable as a traditional full-back – particular when midfield backup is so flaky. As Cresswell remains a doubt I would expect Masuaku to get the nod again. Declan Rice is a certainty to continue his impressive protection of the back four.
In Mark Noble’s absence, Pedro Obiang and Robert Snodgrass will be expected to put in the midfield yards but, while their energy is to be commended, it is a combination that doesn’t shout creativity.
In the advanced roles Marko Arnautovic will be back leading the charge with attacking support provided by Grady Diangana and Felipe Anderson. Diangana continued to look promising in midweek, in complete contrast to Anderson who looks to be shrouded in a cloak of lethargy. It is, perhaps, the best we have but has a worryingly one dimensional feel to it.
Javier Hernandez and Michail Antonio will feature at some point but both have been mightily disappointing. Hernandez is an impact player at best and Antonio has completely lost his mojo over the past couple of seasons – what happened to the player who one minute was tackling Liverpool’s Moreno just outside his own penalty box and then heading home at the other end a moment later?
Last season it was Barnes and Wood who did the damage but neither are expected to start this afternoon. You would like to think that Pellegrini and the players are aware of the Burnley threat particularly from crosses and set pieces – cutting off supply will be key to keeping a rare clean sheet.
The match-day referee is Roger East from Wiltshire who is taking charge of only his second Premier League game of the season. He was in the middle for the home win over Swansea last term as well as away defeat at Brighton.
Both Lawro and Paul Merson have predicted a 2-0 Hammer’s success which would be very welcome indeed. It is a game that we should and need to win to give the season a lift and to prove that this is a team that are not only motivated for the bigger games. Not picking up all three points would be extremely disappointing. The worry is that West Ham will be too predictable allowing Burnley to frustrate and dampen the mood in the stadium- much like last season’s game, in fact. Hopefully, an early goal will lighten that mood and set things up for a comfortable win.