West Ham welcome Brighton to the London Stadium on Friday evening in a game that most Hammers supporters are expecting us to win.
As we have witnessed so far this season, there have been more than a fair share of unpredicted outcomes, including Crystal Palace’s stunning 2-1 home win against Chelsea last weekend. On the assumption that the optimal formations and player selections are made, we should be able to field a strong starting line-up against a well-organised Brighton side.
Brighton have had trouble scoring away goals, and this will be even more difficult in the absence of Israeli striker Tomer Hemed, who is out through suspension. That said, Brighton are a spirited and cohesive team, much due to the efforts of manager Chris Houghton who has enjoyed a great reputation in his ability to extract maximum performances from all players in his squad.
By contrast, West Ham will have come away from the previous encounter against Burnley feeling inspired by the performance they showed, particularly some of the superb passing movements in the early phases of the second half.
Our main injury concerns relating to Chicharito and Sakho; I was very enthusiastic about the prospects of watching Sakho and Chicharito play together, although young Toni Martinez should have been given a chance to further impress on his recent form in the U23’s.
The most recent news suggests that Sakho has picked up another injury, and Bilic has opted to leave Toni Martinez out of the squad. This leaves Bilic with problems in terms of striker selection.
Chicharito seems likely to play and the obvious question, assuming that a twin-striker unit will be employed, is who should partner him up front.
I am suggesting Marko Arnautovic, although Andre Ayew could also be employed. The selection of Arnautovic retains the big man-little man link, which often provides problems to defenders. In addition, Arnautovic is equally strong with both feet, is a good dribbler and has very good ball control. Furthermore, he is surprisingly fast for a man of his stature, and is very strong on the ball. His one main weakness is a tendency for over-reacting, which we have already witnessed once this season.
Andre Ayew would also give a good account of himself – he is a proven finisher and is a remarkably good in the air for a man of smaller stature. His agility, balance and fast reactions make him a dangerous prospect up front. Although naturally left-footed, he is more than handy with his right foot, but seems reticent to make use of this useful quality.
Once again, I have suggested the use of a staggered 3-5-2 formation…
The use of a five man midfield should be strong enough to overcome Brighton, in addition to providing numerous opportunities for the nominated strikers. Furthermore, it allows us to play narrow or wide, depending on the nature of the game.
In the absence of Carroll, Sakho and Martinez, Bilic could surprise everyone by resorting to a formation employing a single lone-wolf striker. Speaking personally, I hope he is not tempted to employ his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation, which would be warmly welcomed by the Brighton gaffer.
One alternative could be the use of the 4-4-1-1 formation, which can easily transform into a more defensive 4-5-1 set-up late in the game…
The strength of this formation lies in the strength and mobility of the midfield set-up, and the addition of a second striker to assist Chicharito up front.
I have also pushed Cresswell and Zabaleta a little further upfield in order to add further strength to our attacking midfield.
This should be an interesting encounter, and may be ultimately decided by the managerial tact employed by the opposing gaffers.
An inspired West Ham performance should result in a welcomed home win.