Manchester City gave West Ham a battering on Wednesday in their 4-0 victory. It is the third loss to the Citizens this season, and the series concludes with a 10-1 aggregate score line between the three fixtures.
While it is generally forgivable to lose to Manchester City, Wednesday was one of the rare examples (As was the 5-0 defeat in the FA Cup) when it is unacceptable. To get steamrolled for the second time in a month to City draws questions to more than just the talent on the pitch. It draws concern over the manager’s tactics, or the way the players put those tactics into effect.
Slaven Bilic and the Hammers are now pressed with the task of bouncing back against Southampton on Saturday. A good performance on the south coast can push West Ham toward the top half of the table, keeping Southampton below. The Hammers sit in 11th in the Premier League, one point above the Saints.
All eight of West Ham’s victories have come against teams on the lower half of the table (That is, placed between 11 and 20). The 12th place Saints offer a chance to extend that record, but Bilic will have to make some changes to the side and to the tactics.
Southampton are unexpectedly struggling, and it may add up for them after news of the loss of Virgil van Dijk for up to three months with an ankle injury. After not replacing West Ham new boy Jose Fonte, the Saints will be short on center back options should more injuries or suspensions threaten their ranks.
Up top, the Hammers must focus on Charlie Austin and Shane Long. The latter of which has scored two goals in his last two matches, including the match winner against Liverpool in the EFL Cup. Austin leads the club with six goals, and fellow forward Jay Rodriguez has four.
Both Rodriguez and James Ward-Prowse are likely to make a return to the side after injury stints, and new signing Manolo Gabbiadini could feature. The former Napoli forward lacks match fitness, however, after being out of the Serie A side for a month.
After great success against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, scoring three goals between the two matches, Andy Carroll fell back to earth against Manchester City. It would be unfair to blame the frustrated striker. The delivery into the box in which he is so strong with attacking was not there on Wednesday.
After Manchester City seemed prepared for Bilic’s 4-4-2 formation, the Croatian manager may revert to a lone-striker formation, with Manuel Lanzini playing as a number 10 rather than a winger. Michail Antonio, Carroll’s strike partner for the past three matches, would return to his natural wing position. Antonio struggled to find a way through City’s central defense despite a high work rate for the full 90 minutes.
Robert Snodgrass made his West Ham debut against City after subbing on in the 64th minute, and immediately made a difference. The attacking options with him down the wing or cutting into the middle of the pitch seemed to cause Manchester City more difficulty, although West Ham could not find a conciliation goal.
The Scottish international’s free kick reputation did cause a stir of excitement when the Hammers earned a free kick on the edge of the box. His effort struck the elbow of Aleksandar Kolarov, but the referee did not deem it as intentional.
Sofiane Feghouli is most likely to make way for Snodgrass. The Algerian had a nice string of matches, but failed to provide much attacking play on Wednesday.
With Cheikhou Kouyate returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, his energy in the midfield could be used against Southampton. While it would be interesting to see a Kouyate and Pedro Obiang partnership, Bilic appears unlikely to drop captain Mark Noble.
Antonio dropping back to a winger could add to the delivery into the box for Carroll. Antonio had 100% passing against City, including two completed crossed and one key pass. His lone shot from distance was easily saved. Lanzini is better served in the central of the park. He too completed 92% of his passes, but failed to meet his target on both crossing attempts.
Fonte will hope for better when he returns to his former club Southampton on Saturday. He gave up a poor penalty when the game was all but over, and the pairing of he and Reid definitely looked only a week old.
But Fonte is an experienced central back, and seems dedicated to making amends. After the match, the 33-year-old admitted to not following the gaffer’s instructions as well as the team should have. He and Reid should figure out the chemistry between the two of them as time passes.
West Ham’s full back situation is shaky at best. Aaron Cresswell struggled greatly against Manchester City. One of his misplaced passes led directly to City’s first goal, and according to WhoScored.com, Cresswell has made more errors, 10, than any other Premier League outfield player in the past three seasons. With Arthur Masuaku injured, Cresswell is the only left back available.
West Ham’s right back position is a concern, as usual. According to Bilic, Byram picked up a hamstring injury on Wednesday and is questionable to play. Without Byram, the question becomes who fills in at right back while Havard Nordtveit and Alvaro Arbeloa are both injured?
BILIC: "Injury-wise, we had a recover day on Thursday and we have nothing serious. Sam Byram has a hamstring but we hope he will be OK."— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) February 3, 2017
With Kouyate back, he could play there. Another option, however, would be to scrap a four-defender formation and employ a three center back formation, with James Collins or Kouyate alongside of Fonte and Reid. Bilic has a dilemma on his hands as he looks to level out West Ham’s -11 goal difference.
Prediction: Southampton 1-1 West Ham
While every Hammers fan should hope for a win, the team could be reeling after Wednesday’s loss. A draw against Southampton could prove to steady the ship before a match against West Brom at home could get the Hammers humming again.
Limiting Southampton’s attack should be the main focus for Bilic, Fonte and Reid. Finding chemistry between the two center backs is vital, and against his former club, Fonte will not want to give Southampton anything to cheer about.