Thursday’s public fallout with Dimitri Payet is the main talking point surrounding West Ham. But on Saturday, Slaven Bilic must have the team prepared to play Crystal Palace and former West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, with or without Payet in the side.
It is a time demanding unity. Not only is it vital between the manager and the players, but it is a must-have between the fans in the London Stadium and those players still willing to play for West Ham.
Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace is one in which the players can prove their ability to overcome adversity, to shed the ‘one-man team’ and ‘Payet FC’ nicknames bestowed upon the club. Against former-manager Allardyce, it is a must-win grudge match.
It is also a chance to jump higher up the Premier League table with a good performance. The Hammers are in 13th place, but are only behind 9th place Bournemouth by three points.
Things are more dire for Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Glaziers are one point above the relegation zone, but it is a territory Allardyce is adept in maneuvering. A good performance at the London Stadium can keep Big Sam from earning his first win as Palace manager.
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako are both away at the Africa Cup of Nations, but striker Christian Benteke could be back in the squad after a shoulder injury. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is also expected to be fit for Saturday’s match.
West Ham have to brace themselves for another battle against long-time Hammer James Tomkins, who is set to start while Scott Dann still sidelined with a hamstring injury.
But the possible return of Benteke helps to recover some of the loss of Zaha. Benteke leads Crystal Palace with eight League goals, while James McArthur has five and Zaha has four. Palace will be without Zaha’s creative ability for the next month and a half. He leads the team with six assists.
Crystal Palace have one win in their last 14 matches, a record worthy of 17th place. The Eagles have also conceded a goal in each of their last 20 away league matches, dating back til Boxing Day 2015’s 0-0 draw to Bournemouth.
Allardyce has a decent record against West Ham, suffering only one defeat in his last 10 Premier League matches against the Hammers. That loss came last season in February, when Allardyce was in charge of Sunderland.
Michail Antonio’s ability to play on Saturday surely changes the squad. The 26-year-old winger has an illness, and is doubtful to play on Saturday according to the Guardian. But if the do-it-all player can play, he will be the most likely substitute for Payet on the left side of the midfield.
Antonio does not create as many chances as Payet does, but he finds ways to finish those chances, leading West Ham with eight goals. Manuel Lanzini and Sofiane Feghouli must take on the role of the primary suppliers, although Lanzini can show his finishing ability too. The Argentinian attacking midfielder has three goals in his last three appearances against Crystal Palace.
The drop off in scoring after Antonio’s eight goals is steep. Lanzini has three goals, but it will be Andy Carroll with two goals who is essential for the Hammers. With reports stating West Ham and Brentford were unable to reach an agreement over the transfer of striker Scott Hogan, it appears as if West Ham must find goals from within.
Carroll will lead the line for the Hammers, and Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang are likely starters in the central midfield.
After Sam Byram played the entire 90 minutes of the Premier League 2 match against Norwich City on Monday, he could be set for an immediate return to the right back position. A natural right back will do the back four good. Havard Nordtveit has admirably filled in the gap, but it is clear the Norwegian is not a long-term option.
Should Antonio be too ill to play, Bilic may elect to start two strikers. While there is a lot of noise calling for Toni Martinez in the first team, Bilic is more likely to start Ashley Fletcher, since Martinez joined first team training as recently as Thursday.
With Lanzini and Feghouli as wide attacking midfielders, it will either be Fletcher forced to drop back and cover space below Carroll, or Lanzini and Feghouli will need to cover the wings as well as the central part of the pitch.
It is vital, with or without Antonio starting, to have Carroll on the shoulder of the last defender, or in the box ready to challenge for a ball. Too often Carroll drops back into the midfield and is caught out of position and cannot be the big body in the box the Hammers need on the end of crosses.
In either formation, Noble and Obiang will be key to the defense, as well as springing an attack. Obiang is a stronger defender, allowing Noble to advance up field to help out an attack.
Darren Randolph will be back between the sticks to face Crystal Palace. Adrian had little fault in the 5-0 loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup, but the Irish international has the League spot down as his.
Prediction: West Ham 1-0 Crystal Palace
The Hammers need a statement victory, and can find one against Crystal Palace. Without Payet, West Ham may struggle with attacking build-up play, but a sturdy defense will be enough to gain three points.
The back line is rooted by Winston Reid. The New Zealand captain has performed week in and week out. Should Byram return to the side, having a natural right back will only make Reid’s life easier en route to their sixth Premier League clean sheet this season.