Last week against Everton did not go as planned for West Ham United. With all the confidence the Hammers had after a midweek cup victory over Chelsea, plus back-to-back Premier League victories over Crystal Palace and Sunderland, West Ham flopped.
The 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park had all the makings of a disappointing West Ham match:
The Hammers’ good start was marred with wasted efforts on goal, keeping Everton in a game in which a West Ham early lead would put it to bed. An early second half deficit by the head of Romelu Lukaku, his ninth goal in 11 appearances against West Ham, led to unconverted pressure to level on Everton’s goal. Then, Lukaku added his fourth assist against West Ham when Ross Barkley finished the Belgian striker’s cross, and finished the Hammers’ chance at a fourth-straight win.
Now, West Ham sits in 17th place in the Premier League thanks to their Saturday competitor Stoke City. The Potters’ 3-1 win over Swansea City on Monday leaves the Hammers one place and three points clear of the relegation zone.
Stoke City started the season with only one point from their first five matches. Since then, the Potters are without a loss in five matches, having won their last three.
Joe Allen leads the team with four goals as the former Liverpool man excels in his new attacking midfielder role. Xherdan Shaqiri is close behind with three goals, while Wilfried Bony scored his first two goals on loan for Stoke City against Swansea on Monday.
A West Ham target this summer, the on-loan Manchester City striker finally broke out against his former team Swansea. West Ham’s central defense must be ready to deal with the poacher.
Shaqiri left the match on Monday with an injury, but is expected to play. Stoke City could be without defender Geoff Cameron and goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard for the trip to London, and will definitely be missing Ibrahim Afellay, Jack Butland and Glen Johnson.
Please, no Simone Zaza this week. With the Italian striker’s agent coming to London for talks, it appears likely Zaza will not last the year at West Ham on loan from Juventus. His poor form has been forgiven when the Hammers still pull off a win. But it was all too obvious as he came off the bench against Everton that Zaza adds little to the attacking force.
Let’s see Ashley Fletcher, the 21-year-old English striker. This week, he scored once and forced an own goal during West Ham’s Premier League 2 victory against West Brom.
Goal ✔️— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) November 2, 2016
Assist ✔️@AshFletcher___ put on a show for the PL2 team on Monday evening! pic.twitter.com/udekxS8A7T
Fletcher has had opportunities with the first team this season. He has made five substitute appearances and started against Manchester City, adding three shots, in the early season defeat. Fletcher’s size makes him a more traditional target in the box, but his pace adds another element to his game.
With André Ayew back from injury, he will likely start up top instead of Zaza or Fletcher. But Ayew would prosper from having a tall central forward to play off of. When Andy Carroll returns, the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker would be the perfect fit for the job. Until then, Fletcher can step up into that role.
Sofiane Feghouli was the Hammers’ most exciting player to watch in preseason matches. Given a chance, he performed. An untimely injury at the start of the Premier League season has seen the Algerian stuck on the bench, given 10 minutes here or there to prove himself again.
It would be great to see the right winger have a chance, and with Michail Antonio less than impressive in recent matches, Feghouli should swap in for the 26-year-old England international. Antonio leads the Hammers in scoring, with five, but all of them came in West Ham’s first six matches. Seven matches on, Antonio is without a goal or assist to his name.
As average as Dimitri Payet has performed since his brilliant solo run against Middlesborough, the France international must keep his place in the side. Making room for Ayew in the attacking midfield would come at the detriment of Manuel Lanzini.
The Argentinian attacking midfielder is second on the team in scoring, with two goals. Lanzini has been far from poor, but it is a crowded midfield. The 23-year-old could prove to be the spark needed off the bench should West Ham need one on Saturday.
Winston Reid earned his fifth yellow card of the season, enough for a one game suspension. The New Zealand international captain has a hamstring strain which would have kept him out of the side anyhow. In all likelihood, it will be James Collins filling in for Reid.
Giving Reece Oxford a shot at the London Stadium, though, could prove a smart move. The 17-year-old sits without first team experience while West Ham’s other Academy stars enjoy the lower English leagues and consistent game time.
More than keeping the England U19 international happy in East London, Oxford has proven time and again last season his ability, starting against Arsenal in the opening match of the season. This year, however, Oxford has been an unused substitute seven times for the first team.
Adrian deserves criticism on what led to Lukaku’s goal last Sunday. The Spanish goalkeeper failed to hold on to Seamus Coleman’s low shot from distance. He deflected it into no-man’s land. Yannick Bolasie got to it first, crossing it back to a wide open Lukaku.
He must do better there with holding it or deflecting it far enough out to not be an immediate threat. Adrian did have four saves, including a wondrous stop to deny Barkley in the first half.
It is enough to see him keep his place in the team when Stoke City visits the London Stadium, although there will be calls for Darren Randolph if Adrian has another slip up on Saturday. Randolph performed well to limit Chelsea to only one goal last Wednesday in the EFL Cup.
Prediction: West Ham 2-1 Stoke City
The Hammers have a chance to shake off one poor performance against Everton and to start climbing the table again. Sitting in 17th with only three points separating West Ham and Hull City, Slaven Bilic needs points, and needs them now.
It is also a chance to make it three wins in a row at the London Stadium. The turbulent feelings for the stadium can be quieted with success, but do not expect pretty football. It does not have to be. No one complains about wins, not even West Ham fans (Actually, it has been seen after Sam Allardyce’s park-the-bus tactics).
I think Bilic has it in him to steer the Hammers to victory, even over an in-form Stoke City side. The Potters will likely find a way through the West Ham defense eventually, but strong play between the Hammers’ attacking three – that is, between Fletcher, Ayew and Payet – can secure three points.