West Ham United close out 2016 with an intriguing match at the King Power Stadium against champions Leicester City.
If the Hammers are to secure a fourth straight win in the league, they will produce a memorable December turnaround that brings them from the bottom three to the top half of the table. While Slaven Bilic’s side has ascended in the final month of the year, Claudio Ranieri’s side have gone the opposite direction from being the miraculous story of this calendar 12 months.
The fairy tale title holders could be in a real struggle the rest of their league season, with Champions League Round of 16 tie vs Sevilla also a major test. After their terrific 4-2 home win vs Manchester City three weeks ago, Leicester have only picked up one out of nine points. They sit in 16th place just three points ahead of Sunderland, where there is amazingly some pressure on Ranieri’s shoulders despite leading them to an extraordinary moment in May.
It’s an unchanged starting lineup for the Hammers, with Pedro Obiang back from suspension and available on the bench. Sam Byram is still not ready to be put in the 18 and the same can be said for Reece Oxford. Diafra Sakho, Gokhan Tore and James Collins still are out. Manuel Lanzini was thought to be a doubt for this one, but his ab muscles have improved enough for him to be on the bench.
For Leicester, Jamie Vardy is still serving his suspension, but the rest of their side is healthy. Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez return to their starting lineup.
First Half Recap
It was an entertaining first half, but Leicester have been the better side and deserve the one goal lead.
The main story of the half is how Islam Slimani has, in all honesty, dominated Winston Reid. The Foxes record signing has had his way with the Kiwi star, as his movement has troubled Reid all throughout the first half resulted in his header goal and header off Darren Randolph’s right post before scoring. Reid is a class centerback but shows again how he isn’t at that world class level to completely shutdown a top forward like Slimani. He will have to do better in the second half if the Hammers are to get a point.
Also not winning their matchups are Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate, as Danny Drinkwater and even Daniel Amartey have had their way. Drinkwater’s movement has been outstanding, where Bilic will need vast improvement from Noble and Kouyate to shut his influence on the game down.
West Ham knows they can certainly equalize, but they have to do a better job of handling Slimani and Drinkwater if they are to finish the first half of the season in the top half.