West Ham United have a huge chance for two victories in a row on Saturday as Sunderland visit the London Stadium. More importantly, it will be a chance for the Hammers to put in a winning performance at their new ground, which should in turn help to create a positive atmosphere around the stadium.
Sunderland have been struggling. Without a win on this year’s Premier League trot, David Moyes will be pushing for a good performance as his side sits in last place in the league. Last week, Sunderland were handily beaten 2-0 by Stoke City. The Potters are not in fine form either, sitting in 18th place in the Premier League.
Sunderland have yet to keep a clean sheet this season, and are tied for second worst goal differential in the league with -9. Four of the Black Cats’ six goals this campaign have been scored by Jermain Defoe. The 34-year-old striker, and former Hammer, remains in fine form after a 15-goal season last year.
Other than Defoe, goals have been at a premium for Sunderland, with the other two goals coming from Patrick van Aanholt. Perhaps that is the reason Sunderland have been linked to Robbie Brady and Shane Long.
Just like the Hammers, the Black Cats have their own injury struggles. Fabio Borini, Lee Cattermole, Vito Mannone, Jan Kirchhoff, Adnan Januzaj and Seb Larsson are all still out for Sunderland.
Simone Zaza proved me wrong. I called for Ashley Fletcher or Antonio Martinez (Who is injured) to play at least 45 minutes instead of Jonathan Calleri or Zaza. The 25-year-old Italian striker did not score last Saturday at Selhurst Park, but it was his best game in a West Ham shirt, and he should get the start again.
His movement opened space for midfielders, seen most successfully on Manuel Lanzini’s 19th minute goal. When Slaven Bilic’s system works to perfection it is the midfield who scores the most goals. Zaza did his job, creating space for attacking midfielders like Lanzini, winning enough headers and holding up play.
André Ayew has returned from training, but will not feature this Saturday. Nor will Andy Carroll, who is taking longer to recover from his preseason injury than originally anticipated.
Pedro Obiang again put in a masterclass shift against Crystal Palace, and deserves to be in the midfield this week as well. A buffer between the defense and midfield, Obiang fits the bill and helped earn West Ham their first Premier League clean sheet since August’s 1-0 victory over Bournemouth.
Mark Noble showed improvement against Crystal Palace as well. The West Ham captain has struggled a bit in the past weeks, but with 50 completed passes and seven tackles, he deserves a role this Saturday.
West Ham’s 5-2-3 formation worked against Crystal Palace. Cheikhou Kouyate slid back into a central defensive role to the right of Winston Reid, and Angelo Ogbonna played to Reid’s left. On the wings, Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell both contributed to the attack.
The formation allows Antonio to get up field and put pressure on the opposition’s full back – he completed seven dribbles against Crystal Palace.
Unfortunately, Cresswell is out on a red card suspension. It will be interesting to see how Bilic chooses to line up the Hammers without him. Should Bilic substitute Alvaro Arbeloa into Cresswell’s left-wing back role, the Hammers will lose out on some of the attacking potential coupling with Dimitri Payet on the left wing.
However, a riskier idea – but one that would add to the attacking play – would be to employ Sofiane Feghouli as a left-wing back. The Algerian international does not have experience playing in a deeper role than the wing before, but was by far the most impressive player during West Ham’s preseason tour, and is in desperate need of game time to prove himself in the Premier League.
Obiang brings confidence that if either Antonio or Feghouli – or both – were caught too far up field, the Spanish holding midfielder would be able to cover for them.
Adrián faced critics after some dodgy performances, such as against Watford. While he did not have too much action against Crystal Palace, his last-minute save to keep out Connor Wickham’s back post header was indelible for the cause. The Spanish keeper earns his starting spot and his 99th Premier League appearance against Sunderland on Saturday.
Prediction: West Ham 2-0 Sunderland
While it would be oh-so West Ham to lose in spectacular style, gifting Sunderland their first Premier League win of the year, I am still going for a steady victory over the 20th place Black Cats. I was wrong in doubting the Hammers last week, choosing a 1-1 draw instead of a win. It was stop-and-start in places last weekend, but it was a passionate performance from all. Bilic will keep West Ham well away from the relegation zone, and back-to-back victories over two beatable teams is the way to do it.
Simone Zaza has been unlucky shooting on goal so far this season, but I see him getting on the score line for the Hammers on Saturday. Payet is due for a little magic to finish the deal late in the match to secure all three points for West Ham.