A Fair Result From A Scrappy Do: Five Takeaways From The Hammers Trip To Yorkshire

West Ham pick up their first point of the season from a losing position in a hard fought but scrappy game at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium. What did we learn?

Scrappy Game, Fair Result

Over the course of ninety minutes it was the fairest of fair results.  West Ham deserved no more and probably no less out of what was mostly a very scrappy affair devoid of quality.  Judged against pre-match expectations it was another disappointing day on the road for the Hammers who have picked up just five out of a possible eighteen away points.  Fair play to Huddersfield though for playing with tremendous spirit, determination and energy.  Whether it will be enough for them to dodge relegation for a second successive season remains to be seen but good luck to them all the same.  There were more positives for the Terriers to takeaway from the game than there were for the Hammers.  Despite the donation of the first goal to be scored by a Huddersfield player at home this season, we managed (with honourable mention to the woodwork) to avoid breaking their twenty-two match sequence of failing to score more than once in any single game.

What Preparation?

As with the away trip at Brighton, it was another painfully slow start for Pellegrini’s team.  It should not have come as any surprise that Huddersfield would play at high intensity and yet we once again look unprepared for it.  There are plenty of other teams in the crowded bottom half of the division whose main tactic is to close down quickly and deny time and space for players to settle.  It shouldn’t be met with bewilderment every time it is experienced.  There has to be a plan to cope with it and that includes matching the opposition’s effort and demonstrating greater technique to overcome it.  Is there something missing in preparation or do we lack leadership on the pitch.  Pellegrini suggested in his post match press conference that the team hadn’t stuck to the plan.  Either way they are still some way short of being up to the task.

A Lack of Guile

I read a review earlier in the week which suggested that the West Ham midfield was full of guile.  In my opinion, the complete opposite is true – it is a sadly lacking attribute!  I am not saying the players are not putting in a shift – but that they lack the footballing intelligence, craft or cunning to dominate the central areas.  The battle is so often won and lost in midfield and our boys rarely operate well when put under pressure.  The number of back passes yesterday was reminiscent of the bad old BFS days.  Declan Rice has been doing a very decent job as defensive cover (and is economical in distribution) but the likes of Pedro Obiang, Robert Snodgrass (and Mark Noble) have not done enough offensively this season in the more attritional type of game.  They need to be creating space and opportunity that allow front players to threaten in dangerous areas – not forcing them to come deep to search for the ball.   For all their possession, West Ham created few true clear cut chances.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

The changes made by Pellegrini at half time and shortly after seemed to work in West Ham’s favour.  Ironically, neither Javier Hernandez nor Michail Antonio played particularly well and so maybe it was the case of the substitutions changing the mindset of the players and the shape of the game rather than down to new personnel.  The Hammers were certainly more positive in the second period and, thankfully, Huddersfield reacted with caution rather than trying to take advantage of their greater numbers in midfield.  Antonio looks to be trying too hard to score and the destination of his hopeful wayward shooting is obvious the moment the ball leaves his boot.  Apart from an early neat pass which set up Marko Arnautovic for a one-on-one opportunity, Grady Diangana was a peripheral figure.  He is a player who needs the ball to feet with space to exploit rather than asking him to chase hopeful passes or win aerial duels.  Felipe Anderson was the Hammer’s most influential player and took his goal very well.  He did, however, look to have run out of puff by the end of the game.  Maybe West Ham could have stolen it with Issa Diop’s header but the clearance off the line showed the value of the player on the post.

The Full Back Connundrum

The full-back situation remains a conundrum.  In the Pellegrini setup you would expect that the full-backs need to be mainly defensively focused.  Yet three of the four senior candidates are generally suspect in that regard.  Aaron Cresswell did adequately yesterday apart from that suicidal attempted back-pass in the closing minutes but, as with Masuaku, his strength is supporting the attack.  Having said that, the position of the full-backs (even Pablo Zabaleta) is often puzzling in that they can be regularly seen in more advanced positions than the midfield players even when the opposition have the ball.  I don’t fully understand what the manager expects from them and we continue to be most vulnerable along the flanks.  Ryan Fredericks opportunity to impress (as a late replacement for Zabaleta) was short-lived and the Hammers were effectively down to ten men for the final minutes following his injury.

No Cockiness Please, We’re West Ham: Hammers Travel To Yorkshire

On the verge of something great or just another false down? Will West Ham’s momentum be in a forward direction or flat on their faces as they face lowly Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium?

Although we may not dare say it out loud, many of us will be looking at today’s fixture as the footballing equivalent of a ‘gimme’.  A mere formality; a case of going through the necessary motions to pick up the three points – just as when Manchester City visit the London Stadium the weekend after the international break.

Looking at the stats only serves to justify this confidence to ourselves.  Huddersfield have only scored five goals so far this season, of which just the one has been scored in a home game; and even that was an own goal despite it being enough to beat rock bottom Fulham – their first win in fourteen league matches.  Further, the Terriers have not scored more than once in any of their last twenty-one Premier League games.

West Ham, on the other hand, come into the match full of verve and confidence off the back of that barnstorming performance against Burnley.  That win may have been the first in five attempts but there’s no doubt we tell ourselves, that the team have finally turned the corner; the only way is up and all eyes can be firmly focused on seventh place.  That’s right, isn’t it?

There is another voice in our head, however. “Hold on” it is saying “this is West Ham.  Anything can happen.”  We are a team, for sure, with lots of previous in providing charitable handouts to struggling sides and allowing them to end their unwelcome sequences of defeats or goal droughts.  Complacency has always come easy in claret and blue and today’s game could easily be lost in the minds of the players before a ball is kicked.

Whatever Huddersfield may lack in technical ability, they will not be short of effort, passion and energy.  Despite having picked up only four points from six home games this season they have only conceded seven goals in the process.  It has the makings of a very tight game with goals at a premium – although statistically if we score then we shouldn’t lose!

It is going to long, tough season at the John Smith’s Stadium and the Terriers look like they will remain front runners for relegation. Having pulled off a miraculous escape last season, David Wagner will have his work cut out to repeat the trick.  Although Bournemouth are defying the odds with survival on a limited budget, Eddies Howe’s team and style was created over a longer period of time.  Wagner found instant success when he came into his job and it could well be taken away again just as quickly.

As both teams look for rare back to back wins, the West Ham optimism roller coaster has entered a steep climb.  Even suspended skipper, Mark Noble, was reported in the week to be dreaming of a best-of-the-rest seventh place finish.  I sense there are several more twists and turns, ups and downs before the season is over even though I believe the trajectory under Manuel Pellegrini is in a positive direction.  I don’t know what the various super-computers have to say about final league standings but my low tech equivalent (pin and piece of paper) suggests a finish somewhere between ninth and twelfth.

There seems little point discussing the afternoon’s starting line-up as it will be 100% guaranteed the same as last week – assuming no last minute flu epidemics or shower based accidents.  Allegedly, the post international break will witness unheard of selection option overload at the club with the recovery from injury of (big) Andy Carroll and (little) Jack Wilshere – plus the return of Noble, who serves the last of his three match suspension today.

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Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes the short journey over the Snake Pass as today’s match-day referee.  It is weird that so many of the elite referees are from the north of the country but, then again, if the other southern based refs are as bad as Wiltshire’s Roger East then perhaps that is a good thing.  Kavanagh was previously in charge of the Hammer’s defeat by Wolves.

Paul Merson has again tipped a West Ham win (this time by 2-1) while Lawro is back on his fence at 1-1.  I will be looking for early signs that the team are fired up and are not strolling into the match with an air of apparent superiority.  The fear is a repeat of the Brighton performance where they only start to play in the second half when the damage has already been done.  Intensity and energy levels need to be up from the first whistle.  If Pellegrini can ensure his team are raring to go from the off then I can see a second on-the-road win of the season.  It is Hammers to win 2-0 for me.

Excellent Hammers Need To Be More Emphatic: Five Takeaways From The Win Over Burnley

West Ham start the winnable phase of the season with a win that was commanding without the score ever being convincing. Nevertheless, there was plenty to be positive about.

Commanding But Not Convincing

What a pleasure it is to watch your team play with stylish attacking intentions; full of energy, movement, invention and just a touch of swagger.  West Ham were so dominant that the final score-line should really have been far more emphatic.  Seeing the scores level at half-time and the game tied at 2-2 with just over five minutes remaining was difficult to comprehend.  To their credit the Hammers kept pressing forward, boosted by adventurous substitutions, to secure a final result that, even if it will look more convincing in the record books that it seemed at the time, will be great for confidence.  Even at 3-2 Burnley had a gilt edge opportunity to draw level once again.

Anderson Puts The Win Into Winnable

Very pleased for Felipe Anderson that he finally had an afternoon to remember.  The goals were the icing on the cake but his all-round performance and level of involvement was impressive.  No West Ham player had more touches during the game.  The challenge now is for him to do the business on a regular and consistent basis.  Only then can he be considered as a player justifying his transfer fee.  There was a touch of fortune about both his two goals: the first squeezing between Hart’s flailing legs; and the second courtesy of a kind deflection.  In fact, his best effort was the first half chip headed miraculously from under the bar by Mee.  He might also have done better with the shot that hit the bar in the second period.  Probably, I am being picky because he did have an excellent game as did Grady Diangana and Marko Arnautovic.  There was another goal from Arnie, in his quest to be West Ham’s first ever Premier League 20 goals a season man, and Diang played with a quality of touch, vision and determination that you would expect from a seasoned campaigner.  However did the referee miss that penalty!

An Off Day At The Back

Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop have set the bar of defensive competence very high over recent weeks but this was one of their less dominant performances.  Perhaps the more direct and physical style of the opposition was new to them and something to learn from.  Both goals conceded were disappointing.  With the first: Diop failed to deal with the high ball; Burnley were unchallenged as it ran loose; and Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell seemed more concerned with offside than preventing the goal. For the second: it was a routine corner; why was it Robert Snodgrass who had the duty of marking Wood – and no-one on the posts to clear.  Wood was also given a free header late in the game.  While on the subject of playing to the whistle why did Chicharito (nice goal by the way) ignore the loose ball to claim a handing offence in the box?  Credit where it is due and Declan Rice was, once again, very impressive in his defensive midfield role.

A West Ham Way Philosophy

It was pleasing to read Manuel Pellegrini’s post match comments as they confirmed his philosophy is much closer to what many regard to be the West Ham philosophy than any other manager in recent history.  With the currently available resources the ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ approach may not always be successful but it makes for interesting spectating.  Instilling a calm, controlled, passing game into the team looks to be paying dividends at last.  Encouraging a positive and creative attitude in the players raises everyone’s spirits and generates a feedback loop from the crowd that maintains momentum.

Medium Term Outlook

Funny things can happen in football but it is difficult to imagine any scenario other than a steady rise up the table.  Outside of the top six there is not a massive difference in quality between any other teams but maybe West Ham have already lost too many games to threaten for a Europa League spot.  Despite the long injury list there are still weaknesses in the squad that need to be addressed if it is to improve.  Most immediately, more quality is needed in the heart of midfield and longer term full-backs who fit the system must be found.  Perhaps Jack Wilshere can still do a job (if he fully recovers from injury) in there and I wonder how will Manuel Lanzini fit in?  I guess like many of us, I would be surprised if the owners dig deep during the January transfer window – they are likely to believe they did all their spending in the summer.  In any case, we can all breathe a little easier after this weekend.

Up With The Christmas Decorations: Can West Ham Kick-Off A Winning Run?

A run of winnable games can see West Ham go up with the decorations in the run up to Christmas. Failure to create a level of consistency against lesser side could spell disaster.

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.

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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.

West Ham Take On Tottenham Again In League Cup Shootout

The Hammers seek a third consecutive League Cup success against their homeless north London neighbours. It’s a competition that West Ham have never won but who will want to win this one more?

West Ham will be seeking their third consecutive League Cup victory against Tottenham when they take on the homeless North Londoners in a fourth round tie at the London Stadium this evening.

This round represents the pivotal moment in the competition after which the bigger clubs, who initially treat it as a second class contractual obligation, suddenly realise it could be a way to keep the trophy cabinet topped up after all.  Like it or not, the cup (n its many incarnations) is more often than not hoisted aloft by the skipper of a top six side (apart from Arsenal who haven’t bothered to win it since 1993).  The best hope for the rest of us is a combination of mutual elimination (assuming the draw really is random) or by catching the big boys when they are focused on something more important.

Tottenham currently find themselves in the type of turmoil that is normally associated with West Ham.  With all the cash tied up in Levy’s vanity stadium rebuild project, currently massively over budget and over schedule, they are having to play their second game in three days due to weekend fixture congestion at their threadbare Wembley squat.  Yet, even at this stage of the season (all but eliminated from the Champion’s League and well off the pace in the Premier League), Pochettino may see the EFL cup as his best chance to finally nab a piece of consolation silverware.

While the Tottenham manager must decide which of his weary troops to hold back for the tough trip to Wolverhampton at the weekend, his West Ham counterpart has an equally difficult choice.  How to put together a competent enough side to demonstrate the claim of taking the competition seriously while at the same time avoiding any further damaging injuries that might impact a stuttering league campaign as it enter a period of apparently winnable games?

Once again, West Ham are top of the Premier League injury standings and, of the nine reported invalids, only Pedro Obiang has a chance of making it onto the pitch tonight.  The remainder: Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko, Andy Carroll, Lucas Perez, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Willshere, Carlos Sanchez and Winston Reid are joined by newly suspended skipper Mark Noble in sitting this one out.

The replacement of Noble by Obiang could be the most significant change from those involved at Leicester on Saturday.  Probably there will be starts for Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna, Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell; maybe Michail Antonio will get the nod over Javier Hernandez; or could there even be a rare sighting of, the now, lukewarm prospect, Reece Oxford?.  Elsewhere during the game expect some degree involvement for Joe Payne and Connor Coventry – you know you are getting old when professional football players look like they should still in school uniform!  Good luck to them anyway as it is always pleasing to see academy players getting an opportunity.

One League Cup tie that really sticks in my memory was when the Hammers beat Tottenham 1-0 at Upton Park in December 1980.  It was one of those electric nights under the lights of the Boleyn cauldron (quite appropriate for Halloween).   It may not have needed much to raise the roof off from those rickety old stands but it almost happened when David Cross scored the night’s only goal with just ten minutes to spare.  Rather than speculate of today’s lineup, here is a nostalgic look back to the team from 1980 that would eventually secure West Ham’s last visit to a league cup final.

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The match referee will be Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who was previously in Startford for the Hammers defeat to Bournemouth in August.  One way or another there has to be a result tonight and it would be no surprise to me if it all came down to the lottery of penalties.

A Captain’s Tale Of Woe: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Dropped Points At Leicester

With the game overshadowed by the dreadful post-match helicopter crash, what lessons were learned from events on the pitch?

Fatal Helicopter Crash

Ultimately, what happened on the football pitch was understandably overshadowed by the shocking helicopter crash that occurred an hour after the end of the game.   A sad and terrible tragedy for those involved, their families and friends.  An element of fortune, perhaps, that there were no further casualties among those on the ground.

A Captain’s Tale

The pivotal moment in the game was the needless Mark Noble red card at a time when West Ham seemed to be in full control of proceedings.  Difficult to argue against the referee’s interpretation of the laws except from the perspective that inconsistency by officials does sometimes leads to leniency.  I am certain that there was no malice involved in the tackle but then that is invariably the case in such situations; it makes it no less dangerous and that is the criteria like it or not.  It was a reckless lunge and an out of control tackle, and the captain should have known better.  To attempt it at that stage of the game in that area of the pitch was foolish – particularly as his tackles get a little bit later with each passing week.  Noble’s best days are some way behind him but his contribution is till required given the length of the injury list and the absence of fit alternatives.  It is impossible to know whether it would have been three valuable points gained had he stayed on his feet (and on the pitch) but the odds of it would have been greatly increased.

Yes, Ndidi

How to play when reduced to ten men is always a challenge.  In the end the tactic was to hang on for dear life by getting as many people behind the ball as possible and defending deep.  It was still quite surprising how much room Leicester were allowed, particularly down the flanks.  However, the defence was remarkably resolute and well organised managing to lure opposition forwards into offside positions on multiple occasions.  Aside from some early dodgy moments dealing  with crosses Fabianski, once again, pulled off some smart saves.  I had little confidence that the Hammers could repel the Leicester siege for the entire second half but, as I was starting to think it might just happen, the cruellest of luck intervened.  The latest in a long line of desperate long range shots, this time from Ndidi, was destined for obscurity until it pinged off the backside of a Hammers defender and deflected into the empty net.  Defeat (two points anyway) was snatched form the arse of victory.

Little Pea Fritters Away His Chance

In the absence of sick Marko Arnautovic there was a chance for Javier Hernandez to show what he was made of leading the attack.  Sadly, he just reinforced the view that his style of play is a relic of distant age – before football required every player to contribute both on and off the ball.  It might well be the case that he is the most gifted natural finisher in the squad but he remains a luxury that the team cannot afford – and we might already have one of those in Felipe Anderson.  This reliance on Arnautovic and the lack of any real striking alternatives conjures wistful thoughts about the return of Big Andy  – an event that is rumoured to be any day now, it offers a glimmer of hope even though experience suggests it will once more end in disappointment.  Maybe Angelo Ogbonna was making his case for an attacking start, demonstrating that he can spurn chances as proficiently as any of our strikers.  He could easily have had two goals in his brief ten minute cameo.  Any commentator writing off Ogbonna’s last minute effort as a defender’s finish surely hasn’t ever watched West Ham strikers over the years.

The Three Amigos

As in so many of our games this season, the shining lights were the defensive minded trio of Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena (in no particular order).  Great to see ‘The General’ get his name on the score-sheet – what an honest, wholehearted player he is and what a snip in the transfer market.    Rice and Diop show immense maturity, and no shortage of technique, skill and application, for such young players.  It would be nice to think that we could be watching them in claret and blue for years to come but it is probably wishful thinking, and we should make the most of them while we can.  With a quarter of the season now gone it is a three horse race for Hammer Of The Year!

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.