West Ham will play Manchester City on Wednesday at the London Stadium. It will be the Hammers’ first match since Dimitri Payet officially left East London for Marseille on Sunday for a £25 million fee.
But to call it the end of an era at West Ham would be a bit melodramatic. The French international was a star last season, and was much of the reason the Hammers even qualified for European football with a seventh-place finish in the Premier League.
But Payet did not reached the same heights this season as he did a year ago. He did not look committed on the pitch, and his strike showed his lack of respect for the club that arguably rose Payet to international stardom.
Facing Manchester City will not be the first match without Payet in the first team, either. The Hammers took care of business against both Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, with scorelines of 3-0 and 3-1, respectively. Facing Manchester City will prove a much steeper challenge than two teams flirting with the relegation zone, though.
Slaven Bilic will want to put up a better fight against City than in the 5-0 rout suffered at the start of January in the FA Cup.
The rallying cry Keep Calm and Carry On is so overused that it risks losing any meaning, but in this case, it is exactly what the Hammers must do on Wednesday and for the rest of the season.
Without Payet in the lineup, it looks on paper as if the rest of the squad will have trouble creating opportunities. But three goals in each of West Ham’s past two matches is cause for hope that other players can fill in the gap.
Most of all, the way the Hammers come out and play on Wednesday will be a sign of what is to come post-Payet. West Ham played well against two lower half teams, but Wednesday will prove if the likes of Andy Carroll, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio can secure West Ham a top half finish.
Manchester City maintain their race for Champions League spots, currently sitting in fifth in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola has not found his transition to England as an easy one, as his side are 12 points behind title-leaders Chelsea.
Guardiola’s side will receive a boost with striker Sergio Aguero likely to play against the Hammers, but Ilkay Gundogan remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Aguero leads City with 11 goals scored, and Raheem Sterling is second with five. Kevin De Bruyne leads Manchester City with five assists, while Sterling and David Silva are tied for second with four.
The Citizens have had turbulent form since defeating West Ham 5-0 in the FA Cup. In their three matches since, Manchester City lost 4-0 to Everton, before drawing Tottenham 2-2. In the FA Cup on Saturday, they defeated Crystal Palace 3-0 to continue on to the fifth round of the competition.
Carroll has scored three goals in the past two matches, and should be ready to start for the Hammers on Wednesday. Playing alongside of Carroll, or just off of him, should be Antonio.
Antonio leads the Hammers with eight goals, while Carroll follows with five. Lanzini, who will likely play his natural center attacking midfield role on Wednesday following the signing of Robert Snodgrass, is third in scoring with four goals.
Those three players should be able to cause a few problems for Manchester City, as they have against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough.
With West Ham reportedly pulling out of a deal for Brentford striker Scott Hogan, Antonio may see himself playing as a forward frequently. Diafra Sakho is sidelined until March with a back injury and Andre Ayew is at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mark Noble may miss Wednesday’s match with an ankle injury. The captain was forced off the pitch in the 54th minute against Middlesbrough. As a result, a midfield diamond may be used by Bilic.
Lanzini is a stronger attacker, and would lead the diamond, while Pedro Obiang will be the midfield’s anchor in front of a defensive four. Obiang leads the Premier League with a 91.1% tackle success rate, winning 41 of his 45 attempted tackles. Against Middlesbrough, he did it all. Obiang added three blocks, three interceptions and five clearances.
Both of West Ham’s new signings could receive debuts for the club on Wednesday. Snodgrass will fill into Payet’s old position in the left midfield. The 29-year-old Scottish midfielder arrived at West Ham on Friday.
Snodgrass may not be as creative as Payet was, but Snodgrass certainly has the ability to threaten from free kicks as well as open play. He scored seven Premier League goals and assisted another three for Hull City.
Sofiane Feghouli will maintain his place in the side on the right wing. Since his red card against Manchester United, Feghouli has shown some attacking prowess. The Algerian may have taken a while to settle into English football, but he seems to have hit his stride.
Jose Fonte, West Ham’s second January signing, is likely to start against Manchester City. After news that Angelo Ogbonna required season-ending knee surgery, the signing of the 33-year-old Southampton captain made sense. His presence alongside of Winston Reid should solidify the Hammers’ defense.
Reid on his own has held together a makeshift defense at times. Bilic has had to experiment with a back three formation while Sam Byram was injured. Now that the 23-year-old right back is healthy, a back four is a viable option. Against Middlesbrough, Reid led with four interceptions, 13 clearances and added three blocks.
Aaron Cresswell was in strong form despite three missed tackles against the Boro. The 26-year-old left back created two chances from his wide position, and added three interceptions, four clearances and four blocks.
Darren Randolph remains in the net for West Ham. In the FA Cup, Adrian did not have the best of luck against Manchester City’s attack, conceding five goals. None of which were the Spaniard’s fault, but it will be interesting to see how Randolph and the rest of the defense performs against City.
Prediction: West Ham 2-3 Manchester City
The Hammers have what it takes to stay competitive, but may not be able to secure all three points from this clash at the London Stadium. Manchester City’s strike force is dangerous, and it may take some time for Fonte to fit into the West Ham defense.
But going forward, Carroll, Antonio and Lanzini should create chances on the Citizens’ goal. With a loss, West Ham could drop as far as 13th in the Premier League, but a good effort from the team could offer a boost before playing Southampton on Saturday.