Next up is West Ham at our temporary home and our recent return to form must continue.
After our last meeting, when for a good long while we looked like we would cruise to an easy win – before it being too close for my liking – chances are this return will be a real blood and guts affair with only a sprinkling of quality – from either side.
We like West Ham face the ridiculous situation of playing two games in two days, but I expect us to have the drop on them in terms of fitness and that could prove a big difference.
We need a win to close the gap on Liverpool to just one point, dropping any points at home would be a disaster – it would take on even worse connotation if it was against the likes of West Ham, whose directors and fans seemed obsessed by our progress and the lack of theirs.
If there is one thing that Levy was absolutely dead right about is that they should have razed the Olympic stadium to the ground and started again and there isn’t a sensible West Ham fan who wouldn’t now agree. Ask any of their fans and the squirming begins, they squirm even more when you remind them of our home record against them – they’ve only won one of their last 15 league visits to our place (D5 L9), the last being back in October 2013.
Mind you, it’s been awhile since we’ve done the double over them, the last time being the 12/13 season. As we chase down a top four finish, this is a must achieve this season. Despite how much difficulty they will give us, we have the quality to get the win and bank another 3 points – but expect some scares along the way.
West Ham always raise their game against us. We’ve become their cup final match in the absence of achieving nothing much more than them avoiding relegation, which is the battle they face yet again.
The bad news for us is that Andy Carroll – who has an injury record to beat even the combined record of Arsenals Wilshere and Liverpool’s Sturridge – appears to have found some form after having a goal drought that looked like it would never end.
His brace against West Brom captured West Ham an undeserved 3 pts. Having now watched the game there is little doubt that you can see the difference that Moyes has now instilled in them; they have a formation, they hold their shape, they are all working hard for each other, forwards now chase back and close down and when they break, they now break in numbers and at speed. Sadly, their last win pulled them out of the bottom three and what it also did is underline their new ‘never give in’ attitude and I suspect give them renewed confidence.
Don’t assume this game is a guaranteed three points, because they won’t be. The best compliment I can give Moyes is that he’s making them very hard to beat.
I expect we’ll dominate possession and that they will start Carroll who will be a real test for Sanchez and Vert, especially if they start getting their crosses in.
They’ll probably line up with a 3-5-1-1 and be tough to penetrate getting past them on the outside channels will be essential, Davies will have to up his game, and I’m pretty sure (and hope) Trippier will return to the bench.
Depending on how he came through the Swansea game, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Victor start this one along side Sissoko, not because Poch will go safety first, but more because against their big units we will have to slog it out toe to toe and at times double up on Carroll. So Poch’s game management will come to the fore here and when the conditions are right will bring on Dembele, Son, Winks or Lamela later on in the game when the gaps start appearing and we’ve made them run around like headless chickens for 60 mins or so.
Harry’s return to (I hope) full fitness must mean that he starts. I expect Lamela to drop back to the bench.
So this is how I think we will line up;
Dier, Sanchez, Vert
Aurier Victor Sissoko Davies
Eriksen, Alli, Kane
I expect us to win by at least a two goal margin – in which case we’ll mash them – or only one if Harry isn’t yet fully recovered , but in any event there will be only one set of fans doing a knees up at the final whistle.
p.s. one to watch on their side is Lanzini – the one real quality player they have, the small Argentinian has yet to reach the heights of some of their previous South American imports, but he looks to me to be getting better and better – which is probably why we keep getting linked with taking yet another player off of our nursery club sometime in the future….