A week on from West Ham’s Europa League exit, the general consensus is that Slaven Bilic has been vindicated in his decision to field a weaker team against FC Astra following the 2-0 victory at the Emirates.
However, on Saturday, they face a very different test in the shape of a Leicester City team that has scored 14 goals and conceded only three in their last five Premier League games.
Their great escape will still be fresh in the minds of the fans, staff and the players. There is a very positive vibe around the club following the their great escape last term, which has been galvanised by five new signings and a 4-2 victory over Sunderland at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
The stats for the Sunderland game make for very pleasant reading if you’re a Foxes fan…
Shots – 19
On Target – 8
Goals – 4
But it is not all as it seems. Anyone that watched the game will tell you that Sunderland’s defending left a LOT to be desired. With the exception of the penalty, Sunderland’s defending had as much a part in the goals as did Leicester’s attacking – and don’t get me started on that offside goal!
You really have to feel for Sunderland, especially given how many times West Ham fell victim to blind linesmen last season.
Leicester also only had 44% of the possession, which is low for a team that scored three goals in the first half and, incidentally, is the first time that they have done so in 12 years.
Leicester’s defence, which kept only four clean sheets away from home in 14/15, also looked suspect at times, with a number of balls into the box not being dealt with. Wes Morgan in particular seemed to struggle with crosses into the box and he failed to deal with Steven Fletcher (Sunderland’s version of Modibo Maiga) time and time again.
“It must be hard to run about for long periods with Mesut Ozil in your pocket!”
He basically had to clothsline him at one stage in the game to stop him from going through on goal.
West Ham should only be set to make one change from the team that executed a flawless game plan against the Gunners, with Carl Jenkinson coming in for James Tomkins at right-back.
At Upton Park last season, West Ham set up in a diamond formation with Downing playing behind a front two of Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll, the end result being a solid 2-0 win.
I imagine that the formation this Saturday will mirror that of last season. Payet will play a trequartista role in the gap behind Zarate and Sakho, and Oxford should get another start at the base of that diamond protecting the back four – with Obiang not having any game minutes under his belt yet. That being said, I can see Obiang coming on for Oxford in the 70th minute, or thereabouts. It must be hard to run about for long periods of time with Mesut Ozil in your pocket!
A lot of Leicester’s success in their previous game came from their left wing, with Marc Albrighton getting two assists from balls into the box. However, Jenkinson won’t give their wingers anywhere near the space or time that Sunderland’s Billy Jones did, so don’t expect to see cross after cross into our box.
And for those crosses that do make it into West Ham’s box, enter Mr Ogbonna and Mr Reid. Both center backs had absolutely cracking last outings and Winston Reid picked up the Man of the Match accolade for his heroics. Both are also 6ft plus and shouldn’t be troubled in the air by Leicester’s hobbit-esqe front two of Vardy and Okazaki.
What is key is that we get the ball in wide areas and bombard Leicester’s area with a multitude of crosses. Given their defensive frailties when it comes to balls into the box, I am tipping us to score at least one headed goal.
One thing we need to watch out for is Leicester’s danger man Mahrez. If he is allowed too much time and space, he will enjoy running at our defenders and drawing fouls and free kicks in dangerous areas. I’m confident that if the players match the energy levels of the Leicester players, apply pressure to their main playmakers and involve Dimitri Payet as much as possible, then the result will be the right one.
I’m tipping a West Ham win – 2-0!
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