West Ham’s season has turned greatly since three straight victories pushed the Hammers into 11th place in the Premier League. At first, it was good fortune to scrape out 1-0 results over Burnley and Hull City. Then, it was a clinical performance in the 4-1 win over Swansea City, costing Swans manager Bob Bradley his job.
Traveling to the struggling defending champions on New Years Eve offers a realistic chance to jump into the top half of the table. West Ham are four points behind Everton in seventh place.
At the beginning of December, as the Hammers lost 5-1 to Arsenal, West Ham were a point above the relegation zone. Now, there is an eight point cushion between the Hammers and Sunderland in 18th, but Slaven Bilic and West Ham cannot afford to relax now.
The Foxes are far from their title-winning form of a year ago, with only one win in their last six matches. Jamie Vardy is still suspended following a red card against Stoke City, but the 29-year-old striker has not recovered his yesteryear form with only five goals scored in 17 matches this season.
Without Vardy, Islam Slimani should get the nod up top for Leicester before the Algerian is unavailable for the better part of two months due to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Center backs Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs are both available for Leicester after serving their yellow card suspensions. Riyad Mahrez could be back in the lineup after being left out of the Boxing Day defeat to Everton.
But Leicester’s main concern has to be their defense. The Foxes are without a clean sheet in 11 Premier League games.
Andy Carroll scored his second goal of the season with a half volley driven past Łukasz Fabiański late against Swansea last week. The Englishman is back from injury, yet has to be monitored closely with so many matches close together. Surely, Carroll will start up top against Leicester.
Before André Ayew leaves with Ghana for the AFCON, he will likely start under Carroll again. Against Swansea, Ayew proved to be adept at gathering Carroll’s won headers. It is one thing to win the first ball - and with Carroll the likelihood is good, he won 71 percent of aerial duels against the Swans - but the Hammers need to win the second ball in order to start an adequate attack.
The Hammers did not win too many of the second balls against Burnley and Hull City, despite Carroll winning well more than half of his aerial duels in either match.
Ayew also scored his first goal as a Hammer, coming against his former club Swansea. Bilic may see fit to ride any confidence the Ghanaian gained from his performance one more week before he is due in Gabon.
Dimitri Payet was up to his usual tricks against Swansea, creating six chances with 84 percent passing. He added his sixth assist of the season with a corner kick which Winston Reid headed home. The Frenchman is, as always, a must start for the Hammers as the left wing of a 4-2-3-1.
Manuel Lanzini is back in training following an abdominal strain which kept him out against Swansea, but it could be too soon for the Argentinian to return. With Ayew heading to the AFCON at the start of the new year, it would be worth saving Lanzini until he is fully fit to return.
While Pedro Obiang missed the Swansea match due to a yellow card suspension, sitting the Spanish holding midfielder for the match against Leicester could be wise as well. West Ham will lose Cheikhou Kouyate for the AFCON.
Kouyate played well on his return to the midfield. The Senegalese captain had four interceptions and 90 percent passing accuracy as he linked up besides West Ham captain Mark Noble. Obiang will have nearly two whole months as the anchor of West Ham’s midfield while Kouyate plays at the AFCON.
Michail Antonio scored a nice redirected shot against Swansea, and should keep his place on the right wing.
As part of Bilic’s unchanged side, Havard Nordtveit will play as right back once more. The defensive shape was much better with a four defender formation. Nordtveit is far from a permanent solution at right back. The spot should be the Hammers’ number one priority in the January transfer window. But the Norwegian offers adequate cover before Sam Byram is ready to return or another option is brought in.
Reid has been instrumental in West Ham’s last three wins. In those matches, Reid has had eight or more interceptions, and no fewer than three interceptions. He was a significant presence in the air as well, winning all three duels against Swansea.
For one, he finished Payet’s cross for West Ham’s second goal of the match. He also nodded away a Swansea corner kick intended for Mike van der Hoorn, and tackled Llorente in the 90th minute as the striker pushed for another consolation goal.
James Collins is back fit after missing several matches due to a muscular injury, but Angelo Ogbonna should keep his place in the central defense. Aaron Cresswell will surely be lining up as a left back against Leicester, too.
Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 West Ham
The Hammers can extend this win streak to four matches against the Foxes, and even move up to the top half of the table if matches go West Ham’s way elsewhere. A healthy Carroll matching with Ayew can cause problems for a defense that has not held a clean sheet in 11 matches.
Leicester still possesses quality in the attack, but in a more familiar four defender formation, and with Reid proving his ability as a field general, the Hammers should be able to limit their scoring chances.
All statistics compiled from Squawka.com