With breathing room between West Ham and the relegation zone, Slaven Bilic can afford to put a strong side out for the 3rd Round FA Cup match against Manchester City on Friday. After two-straight defeats to Leicester City and Manchester United in the Premier League, the FA Cup can serve as a boost for the Hammers before a full-week’s rest ahead of facing Crystal Palace.
West Ham are somewhat unfortunate to have dropped points the past two games. Against Leicester, the Hammers controlled much of the second half but could not find a goal to draw the match level at one.
Against the Red Devils on Monday, the 2-0 defeat came with controversy. An early red card to Sofiane Feghouli has since been rescinded, but the damage was done with West Ham forced into playing with 10 men. Then, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was offsides for Manchester United’s second goal, putting the game well out of reach.
Bilic admitted in his pre-match press conference that the Premier League was the priority, “but we are also dreaming about trophies.”
“There was more rotation with the game with United because we had two games in three games, now there is a gap,” Bilic said.
“I am not saying there won’t be changes, but from Monday to Friday there is a normal gap and we then have a game next Saturday against Palace.
“Considering we are playing in the FA Cup, where we have big ambitions, we play at home against Manchester City, a big club, so we play a very strong side.”
Manchester City will be without Ilkay Gundogan, Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph and Leroy Sane through injury, while Fernando may miss Friday’s match with a knock. Fernandinho starts his four-match ban after his red card appeal was not overturned.
Still, Pep Guardiola has plenty of firepower for his first FA Cup match in charge of the Citizens. Sergio Aguero should be fit to play a role at the London Stadium. The Argentinian striker needs only one goal to become the third highest scorer in City’s history, tied with Colin Bell with 153 goals.
Manchester City’s other striker, Kelechi Iheanacho, is in fine form, too. The Nigerian has four goals and one assist in his three previous FA Cup appearances
Ashley Fletcher could start up top for the Hammers, with Andy Carroll acting as an impact substitute once more. Fletcher scored in his last cup match, the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United in the EFL Cup.
The FA Cup is a great time to give younger strikers a chance to prove themselves. Fletcher has already shown promise, while Toni Martinez lights up the Premier League 2. There is a pretty strong case as to why West Ham should look for the 19-year-old striker for help before splashing cash on someone else, as Trevor Criswell of Brace The Hammer wrote.
But against Manchester City, Bilic will likely elect to go for what he knows. With eyes on saving Carroll for the rest of the Premier League season, Fletcher should start up top against City..
Captain Mark Noble should return from a knee injury which kept him out of Monday’s loss to Manchester United, filling in for the hole Cheikhou Kouyate leaves. The Senegalese midfielder will participate in the African Cup of Nations (Read Brace The Hammers’ guide to AFCON here.)
Feghouli could be in the squad once more after his red card was rescinded, giving Michail Antonio a break. In Feghouli’s 15 minutes of action against Manchester United, the Algerian was lively, creating one chance with 78 percent passing.
Dimitri Payet should be in the team, with Bilic wanting to make full use of the French international while he is here (Although, Bilic did say Payet will not be returning to Marseille). Payet has scored three goals and assisted another two in his six total appearances in the FA Cup.
Pedro Obiang will play a huge part in the squad while Kouyate is at the AFCON. The Spanish holding midfielder saw frequent game time with Kouyate as part of a back three formation earlier in the season.
Manuel Lanzini will have more than a month with Andre Ayew with Ghana at the AFCON to lock down the attacking midfield role. Ayew played well just behind Carroll, and while Lanzini generally plays a little deeper, both players have the creative ability to score and set up goals.
Lanzini had two shots against Manchester United which worked goalkeeper David De Gea. Early on, Lanzini sent an effort just wide of the post, before forcing a diving save just before halftime.
Reece Oxford is back in training, but is unlikely to start on Friday. To be thrown in straight away after his ankle injury against Manchester City would be daring of Bilic. As a result, Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid are the likely center back duo, with James Collins still injured.
Sam Byram has been training since 29 December, and may return to the field after a hamstring injury suffered against Middlesbrough in October. Alvaro Arbeloa, his initial replacement, has been out with an injury, too. Havard Nordtveit has filled in as a right back for the last three matches and has performed decently against lesser competition like Swansea City, but he did struggle against the Red Devils.
Nordtveit only completed 29 percent of his tackles as he struggled to cope with Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford.
Adrian could get his first start between the sticks since the end of November. Darren Randolph has taken over as the first choice League ‘keeper, leaving Adrian with a contract set to expire this summer and in charge of cup matches.
Prediction: West Ham 1-2 Manchester City
The Hammers have won only two of their last 15 League or cup matches against Manchester City, and while West Ham should make it a contest, Manchester City may wear down this side.
Regardless of Nordtveit or Byram starting at right back, it does pose a weak spot for players like Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne to exploit. With Aguero healthy and ready to start, Guardiola should leave London Stadium with a ticket to the next round.