West Ham United have three wins in a row. Traveling up to Goodison Park on Sunday to play Everton, there is every reason to believe that run will be pushed to four games. Wednesday’s EFL Cup victory over Chelsea was the firm victory the Hammers needed.
Previously, back-to-back 1-0 victories over Crystal Palace and Sunderland secured much needed points, but in shaky fashion. The clean sheets earned were positive takeaways after a leaky opening to the season.
It was not a straight-forward match against Chelsea. The Blues had more shots and possession than West Ham. But the Hammers scored twice and saw out a match at the new London Stadium, despite Gary Cahill’s garbage time goal.
A fourth-straight victory on Sunday could, if results go the Hammers’ way elsewhere, push West Ham to ninth in the Premier League. The early season relegation fears could be dumped, and the Slaven Bilic skeptics can back off the Croatian manager in his second season in charge.
Everton started the Premier League on the right foot, winning four of their first five Premier League fixtures. The Toffees still sit in sixth place in the Premier League, but without a win in five matches, West Ham can capitalize on Everton’s slide.
Everton will be without Leighton Baines and James McCarthy on Sunday. Additionally, West Ham loanee Enner Valencia is unavailable for the match.
Romelu Lukaku leads Everton in scoring, with six to start the campaign. The Belgian striker has a knack for scoring on the Hammers. In 10 career appearances, he has eight goals and three assists. It is simply unfair.
André Ayew had his first action back from a groin injury on Wednesday. Bilic said the Ghanaian is “very close” to being fit enough to start for the Hammers. If he is, it would be great to see West Ham’s record signing lead the line for West Ham on Sunday.
Simone Zaza works hard, but he does not have the end product of goals the Hammers need to get out of him. Ayew may seem undersized to play alone as a striker. In a perfect world he would play off of a bigger target like Zaza, Andy Carroll or Diafra Sakho, the latter two still recovering fitness from injuries.
But West Ham can play attractive attacking football on the ground in open play and use some of the bigger targets, like Angelo Ogbonna, Winston Reid and Cheikhou Kouyate, on set pieces. With the brilliance of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to either side of Ayew, and Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio ready to overlap both of them, the attack will work just fine.
When Pedro Obiang plays for West Ham, the Hammers are without a loss in six matches. Without the Spanish holding midfielder, West Ham have five losses.
His participation in the side is vital. Since the 24-year old’s first domestic start against Accrington Stanley in the EFL Cup in September, the Hammers have yet to concede more than one goal. Prior to Obiang starting, West Ham uncharacteristically conceded three or more goals four times in only five matches.
Mark Noble has had rejuvenated form, with 89% passing accuracy in his nine matches. Mr. West Ham keeps his role in the central midfield.
It is hard to know whether to put Antonio and Cresswell as midfielders or defenders. I will go with midfield due to the way they both add so much to West Ham’s attack. Both Cresswell and Antonio allow Lanzini and Payet to cut inside and find space in the middle of a defense. Antonio did not add much as a striker on Wednesday and will likely be back in his right wingback role.
It is harsh to not find a starting spot for Edimilson Fernandes. The Swiss Under-21 scored on Wednesday in his second-straight start. But with the possibility of Ayew returning to the starting squad, it will be difficult to fit the youngster into the starting rotation each week. He has shown pace and an attacking instinct on the wing against both Sunderland and Chelsea, and could be called upon should West Ham need late reinforcements.
Kouyate has proven pivotal as a center back in West Ham’s back three. His thumping header against Chelsea reassured fans he can still be a threat on the attack through set pieces. Against Sunderland last weekend, the Senegalese international had a team-high 15 clearances and a 100% aerial dual record.
Reid has also stood out. The New Zealand international captain scored a shock goal to secure all three points in the last minute against Sunderland, but also added four blocks and six clearances.
Prediction: West Ham 2-1 Everton
It truly seems inevitable that Lukaku will score against West Ham. But Bilic seems to have righted the ship, and a trip to an Everton side in poor form should only add to the Hammers’ confidence.
West Ham can hope for an Ayew goal on his potential return to the starting squad, and Payet is always a danger on the attack. West Ham’s defense should keep out a less-than-impressive Everton attack force of late (Barring Lukaku).