For those still counting, today is the ninth day of Christmas and the notion of nine ladies dancing might bring back nostalgic memories of the Hammerettes strutting their half-time stuff to MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This at Upton Park. But that is all in the past whereas today is about new beginnings as West Ham welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to the London Stadium for the opening game of 2019. A new year brings with it renewed feelings of optimism; the opening of the transfer window has us dreaming of exciting new recruits to bolster the squad; and a reset of the yellow card count allows players added scope to hack, lunge, tug and dive knowing that the spectre of suspension no longer hangs over their head.
Brighton have become something of a bogey team for West Ham and will be looking to claim their fourth successive Premier League victory against the Hammers. In fact, West Ham have only won one of the six top flight games against the Seagulls – a 2-1 victory (Cottee, Dickens) back in March 1983. It was the consequences of the demonstrations at last season’s home fixture with Brighton, however, that prompted the Board to extend their previously short arms deeper into their pockets during the summer, finally employ a decent manager and take a welcome step away from Twitter.
Depending how you want to look at it, West Ham have won an in-form five from the last seven or are on the slide with two defeats in the last three. The common denominator in those two defeats was an opposition playing with aggression and intensity; it would be no surprise to see the same approach from Brighton tonight. Manuel Pellegrini suggested that fatigue was the major contributor to the disappointing showing at Burnley but it seemed as much about poor attitude and a lack of desire to me. Not that the effects of the festive programme with a squad badly hit by injuries didn’t play a part – just that it was not the whole story.
West Ham will hope to welcome back Pablo Zabaleta in defence but, with few other alternatives available, the rest of the back-line will be as you were. That leaves Angelo Ogbonna once again standing-in for the missing Fabian Balbuena and it will be fingers crossed that he will is more alert than he was at Turf Moor. I had an old computer that was like Ogbonna. It was fine when you first started it up but gradually over time its performance became slow and erratic until the only option was to re-boot. Hopefully, he has been cleared down, reformatted and had a firmware upgrade installed over the last few days to increase power. Issa Diop’s performances have also suffered in Balbuena’s absence and both will need to be on their toes tonight.
In midfield, Pedro Obiang must surely return as a replacement for the struggling Mark Noble, who is looking well past his best before date right now. Assuming Robert Snodgrass has recovered from his knock, the rest of the midfield should be unchanged. The wild card is Samir Nasri who is reported to be available for the game following his signing for the Hammers at the expiration of his doping ban. It would be a stretch to expect him starting the game (he has only played eight times since the start of the 2017 season) but can see him getting twenty minutes or so from the bench. At least he shouldn’t be tired!
Marko Arnautovic will lead the attack again and his presence is essential to take some of the spotlight (and attention) from opposition defenders away from Felipe Anderson. If other teams decide to double up on Anderson then it is up to the other players to exploit the extra space made available. My preferred choice as a partner for Arnie would be Michail Antonio who looks to have regained much of his appetite in recent weeks. Ideally, it will be Andy Carroll and Xande Silva on the bench with Lucas Perez safely at home watching the new season of Luther.
Brighton are at completely the other end of the injury league table to West Ham. Their only reported injury is Colombian bogeyman, Jose Izquierdo, and even then he may be available for selection today. They will, however, be missing Mat Ryan and Alireza Jahanbakhsh who are both on international duty at the AFC Asian Cup. In addition to Izquierdo, ageing striker Glenn Murray also revels in his games against the Hammers.
Referee Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes his second West Ham appearance of the season – the first was in the drawn game at Huddersfield in November. He has his fair share of yellow cards this term but just the one red – Maddison of Leicester against Brighton.
I heard West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini’s comments about the scheduling during the festive period – if that’s a problem then he shouldn’t have taken the job.
Lawro on Pellegrini
Despite having a dig at Pellegrini concerning the busy festive schedule, Lawro expects West Ham to return to winning ways with a 2-0 win. Paul Merson is going for exactly the same result and score. I am expecting to see a positive reaction following the disappointment at Burnley. Brighton will be well organised as usual and even though they are not good travellers this will be another stern test. Apparently, January is West Ham’s worst performing month for Premier League wins but having watched a poor Everton – Leicester game yesterday there is every reason to keep our sights on the ‘best of the rest’ title. It might ultimately turn out to be unrealistic but there is nothing wrong with setting challenging and ambitious targets. West Ham to win 2-1.