West Ham United begin their season with an away fixture with Manchester United on Sunday.
The game will be the start of a tough three weeks, with three league fixtures and a League Cup game being played away from the London Stadium, thanks to the World Athletic Championships being held during the first week of the Premier League calendar and the stadium conversion from athletics to football mode taking an additional two weeks to complete.
Going by the pre-season games and results, Slaven Bilic will be working hard on getting his team well drilled after the Manchester City demolition. Despite not having a clean sheet during the entire summer programme, I suspect the team will be fully focused on improving the backline by playing the formation which will be played on Sunday.
The team I think that will start on Sunday is as follows…
Some questionable decisions there, but here is an explanation.
No Hart – Joe Hart is England’s No.1 and is the better keeper at the club. But Adrian is the current No.1 at West Ham and he has to lose the shirt before Joe Hart takes his place.
Adrian starting the game will be a good decision for the opening game of the season for two reasons. Firstly, he is putting himself in the shop window to secure a move away and secondly, he knows he is one more mistake from being dropped.
So I expect the Spaniard to put in a good performance regardless of what club he will be at afterwards.
Winston the bench – Vice Captain Winston Reid has not had a solid pre-season. He had been recovering from an injury and his return against Altona was shortened by a first half sending off, which suspended him for the Man City game.
Although Reid played in the Development Squad’s 3-2 win over Spurs, Jose Fonte and Angelo Ogbonna played together on the last game last season in a 2-1 win over Burnley and have been playing alongside each other during the summer. Fonte and Ogbonna are the two fittest centre-backs at the moment and they are certain starters for me.
CHICHARI…NO? – £16m signing Javier Hernandez will not get a starting debut for a dream return against his former team.
I feel Toni Martinez has been performing really well and doesn’t look out of place by scoring twice during pre-season. I’m quite surprised by Martinez as he is quite physical with the opposition and likes to make a challenge (as Yaya Toure found out last week).
I think he can make the same impression against Man United as Reece Oxford did against Arsenal two seasons ago. By playing an unknown striker against a new centre back partnership of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, he could expose some errors early on in the game.
We will see Hernandez play and I predict he will come off the bench and cause a significant threat. He has played just under 60mins in pre=season and I feel the Man United game is one too early for him to have a starting place.
He will most likely start against Southampton where he will have another week of training under his belt and will have a much greater opportunity scoring against a weaker defence with no Virgil van Dijk.
Marko Arnautovic and Pablo Zabaleta will make starting debuts, as they have played a great part of the pre-season and have impressed doing so.
Arnautovic’s Premier League experience will be vital alongside Manuel Lanzini and linking up with Aaron Cresswell on the left to create chances by drilled in crosses. Zabaleta’s leadership and experience will help the back line try and control United’s attacking threat.
Noble will have to be on Pogba’s tail all game, as the Frenchman will be looking to continue his impressive pre-season by assisting Lukaku, who is no stranger in finding the back of West Ham’s net.
Hart, Reid, Chicharito, Snodgrass, Masukau and Byram will all feature on the bench, with a surprise inclusion of Diafra Sakho. Remember him?
I predict that West Ham will grab a sneaky draw and will most probably be late on in the game. Manchester United will be playing Real Madrid in the European Super Cup on Tuesday and will be trying their hardest to recover from a tough game.
The longer the game goes on (finger crossed it goes to extra time) the greater chance West Ham have in coming away from Old Trafford with some much needed early points.
I’m going for 1-1; Lukaku is bound to score and I can see Andre Ayew scoring a late equaliser thanks to a deflected shot from Chicharito.
Come on you Irons!