Even defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the final Europa League group game was not able to rinse away the remaining joy lingering from last Saturday’s late victory over Chelsea. It has been the sweetest of feelings.
But while thoughts may turn wistfully and seductively towards the exotic European nights to come – West Ham pitting their wits against the likes of Barcelona, Napoli, Dortmund, Lazio, Porto, and Monaco – there is that most mundane of matters to negotiate this weekend, a visit to Turf Moor. Flights to Sevilla in May will need to stay pencilled in the diary for now.
A wet Sunday in Burnley may not be as immortalised as a cold, rainy Tuesday night in Stoke, but it is as close as it gets these days. Maybe not typical but the two visits of Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham to Turf Moor ( consecutive 3-0 and 2-0 defeats) are stuck in my head as to how this one plays out – Sean Dyche’s Dennis The Northern Menace outsmarting Walter The Softie Southerners.
Today’s West Ham are made of far sterner stuff, however, and even managed to come from behind to win 2-1 in the equivalent fixture last May. Two Michail Antonio goals cancelling out Chris Wood’s penalty opener. A return to goalscoring ways for Antonio would be a very welcome bonus. He caused havoc in the Chelsea defence in the second half last week but has not found the net himself since the winner against Tottenham on 24 October.
It was surprising to see David Moyes field such a rookie team in midweek with Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma the only first team regulars to feature. It was an opportunity to see several fine, encouraging performances from the academy players drafted in. It would be good to see some of them given occasional run-outs from the bench in the coming weeks and months. Of course, it was only one game, but Emmanuel Longelo could well be the best cover for Aaron Cresswell that is currently available.
Following an unprecedented injury-free run, the physio room has started to get overcrowded again. The long-term injuries to Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are particularly worrying. It was a position where it was felt adequate cover existed but while Craig Dawson and Issa Diop are capable backups, they do not offer the same reliability as the first-choice pairing. This now becomes an important priority for January.
Talk in the media of using either Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek as centre backs sound foolish to me, unless it is an absolute and dire emergency. Both may be able to play the role competently but losing their services in midfield would be highly detrimental. With Cresswell hopefully fit to return tomorrow, my predicted line-up would be Fabianski, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.
Burnley currently sit 18th in the Premier League, having won just one game this season (home to Brentford). Their other games have seen seven draws and seven defeats. Draws have featured heavily in their recent form with last week’s loss at Newcastle their first reverse sine losing at Manchester City on 16 October. Their last defeat at Turf Moor was to Arsenal in mid-September.
Ashely Barnes is unavailable and top scorer Max Cornet is a doubtful starter, meaning Tom and Vlad’s Czech mate Matej Vydra will play alongside Chris Woods. In defence there will be another chance to see potential Hammer’s target James Tarkowski. Elsewhere, Dwight McNeil can be a danger on the left of midfield if allowed too much space.
I don’t see this game being a classic. More of a straight to video encounter that will not live long in the memory. Burnley don’t score many but then don’t concede too many either – no team currently in the bottom half of table has conceded fewer goals. As we know, West Ham never lose by more than one goal – or haven’t done in the past forty or so matches. So, a tight game is on the cards.
You’ll need to go back to the end of October for a West Ham away win – victory at Villa was followed by defeats to Wolves and Manchester City. A good time to reclaim the mantle as Kings of the Road. I will be more than happy to hear David Moyes proclaiming in his post-match assessment “we weren’t at our best but still came away with a 1-0 win.” COYI!