Monday night football was not kind to West Ham United, as Chelsea grabbed a 2-1 win at the London Stadium to extend their lead on top of the Premier League table. Despite the return of Andy Carroll, the Hammers managed only one goal, and that was in stoppage time as Manuel Lanzini was able to knock home a brilliant shot to make the scoreline look more respectable than it actually was.
This Saturday, West Ham travel to AFC Bournemouth and hope for a repeat of the success of the last time the team went to the south coast of England, a well-deserved 3-1 win at Southampton. Beating teams like Bournemouth is critical for the Hammers, as result against teams like this have been the team’s bread and butter this season. West Ham have had a decent run of results, but have not won a match in over a month, not since drubbing the Saints on February 4th. While Andy Carroll being out for two matches was a big factor, most Hammer fans would have hoped for more than 2 points against West Brom, Watford, and Chelsea in the last three games.
The Hammer sit on 33 points, in 11th place in the table. Bournemouth sit in 14th place with 27 points, six points behind the Hammers and only five points above Middlesbrough in the relegation zone.
Bournemouth has had a rough stretch in the league lately. They have not had a win in their last eight matches (three draws and five losses) and have not won in the league this calendar year. They have also failed to win their last five home games, losing three games and drawing twice. After a pretty good start to the season, including a wild 4-3 home win against Liverpool, the Cherries have been unable to keep the ball out of the back of their own net, with Burnley, Southampton, Chelsea, Arsenal, Hull City, and Millwall (in the FA Cup) all putting three goals past Bournemouth and Everton scoring six goals in a nine-goal thriller on February 4th.
Last weeks shenanigans involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings overshadowed what otherwise was a great result for the Cherries. A one-all draw is a great result at Old Trafford, with Artur Boruc playing hero by saving Ibrahimovic’s 71st minute spot-kick. It was by far the best result for Bournemouth since the shock Liverpool win and the three-all draw at home against Arsenal. It should give Bournemouth a boost, however, the loss of Mings will mean that a defense that has struggled all season is without one of their better players.
Andy Carroll looked slow and tired against Chelsea, and was unable to get his head onto many of the seemingly dozens of crosses that West Ham launched into the box in his direction. Hopefully he is in better shape and fit for this match, as the team seemed lost at times without him up front in the Watford FC and West Bromwich Albion matches. Michail Antonio will likely join Carroll up front, playing just behind Carroll in what will likely be a 4-4-2 formation.
Ashley Fletcher and Jonathan Calleri will likely either start on the bench and get 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the match to run around or, in the case of Fletcher, be dropped altogether. It seems a waste to leave both of them on the bench, but neither of them got a sniff of consistent playing time when Carroll was out, and with the big man (hopefully) fully fit, their time to shine has come and gone.
Slaven Bilić can be considered a creature of habit, as his unwillingness to shuffle his lineups in the past few weeks has shown, with only fitness issues, suspensions, and players away at the Africa Cup of Nations has caused any changes. With that in mind, despite calls for Robert Snodgrass to be dropped by many fans, he is likely to once again start on the left side, with Sofaine Feghouli on the right wing. This means that Manuel Lanzini and André Ayew will start on the bench again, which would be a shame, because Lanzini has been in great form the past few weeks and Ayew needs a run of games to get into form and score goals like he did while playing for Swansea City and Marseille.
Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang have been a very consistent pair in the middle of the pitch for the Hammers, with Bilić keeping the captain Noble on the pitch despite some inconsistent performances this season. Obiang has been one of the best players for West Ham this season and dropping him to the bench would cause a riot in East London.
After a less-than-ideal start to their defensive partnership against Manchester City, José Fonte and Winston Reid have been absolutely rock-solid at the back for West Ham. A team that was leaking goals and looking unsure at the back has looked much more comfortable in the back. While a lack of clean sheets has been concerning, the defense has stepped up and largely given West Ham a chance to win each match, apart from the match against Manchester City. With James Collins being an afterthought this season, the partnership of Fonte and Reid has needed to be good this season.
It would a surprise to see the fullbacks changed in this match, as it appears that Cheikhou Kouyaté has supplanted Sam Byram at right-back in the mind of Bilić. While Byram has struggled with injuries and fitness this season, apart from a rather poor showing against Manchester City, when the whole team rolled over and played dead, Byram has played pretty well. Against Crystal Palace, for example, he was brilliant at joining in the attack and getting dangerous balls into the box. Kouyaté filled in after Byram got a knock and despite looking a tad unsure of himself and out of position at times, he seems to have the position won for the time being.
Aaron Cresswell is another Hammer who has had an inconsistent season. The Cresswell of last year has not always appeared this year, with some rather shocking passing against Manchester City highlighting what has been a rough year for the left back. However, barring injury, he seems to be preferred to Arthur Masuaku.
Prediction: Bournemouth 0-2 West Ham
Bournemouth was lucky against Manchester United, converting a penalty with 10 men to draw level with United and having Boruc save a penalty to keep the draw alive. The Cherries run of form has put a lot of pressure on the team and the manager, and with Mings suspended, Bournemouth will likely be forced to start Baily Cargill in central defense who made his debut for Bournemouth last week at United. West Ham won the reverse fixture 1-0 in the first Premier League game at the London Stadium. West Ham have done a great job of getting results on the road and this Saturday should be no different.