West Ham are hoping to bounce back against Leicester City, after a disappointing 3-2 defeat to Bournemouth. They face the Foxes at a very strange time, as the reigning champions come off an incredible success against Sevilla in the Champions League. It’s a crucial game for West Ham, who really need to bounce back after a poor run of form. A morale boosting victory heading into the international break could give West Ham the confidence to fight for Europa League spots.
The loss to Bournemouth was, frankly, an embarrassing defeat, with Josh King and Benik Afobe each missing a penalty. The Norwegian, King, still managed to score a hat trick and goals from Antonio and Ayew ended up being for naught. The West Ham defense was totally overwhelmed, while the midfield provided no protection. Obiang and Noble looked badly out of form in front of the defense.
West Ham have already played Leicester once this season and lost 1-0. The Foxes scored through a twentieth minute Islam Slimani header. 3 months later, Leicester’s season has taken a few incredible turns. First was the bombshell sacking of Claudio Ranieri, an action widely criticized by the footballing community. What has followed is an incredible run of form, highlighted by wins against Liverpool and Sevilla.
Interim boss Craig Shakespeare, now confirmed as coach until the end of the season, hasn’t really made any lineup changes, but he has managed to reinvigorate Leicester’s squad. Most noticeably, Christian Fuchs has starred from the left back position, while Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have stepped up in a big way over the past few games.
With Riyad Mahrez, Marc Albrighton, Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy all returning to scoring form in the last few games, the goalscoring threat possessed by the Foxes is suddenly quite imposing. If they can show the same attacking flair as the last few games, West Ham could be in for a long night.
For once, everyone’s fit in attack. That means Slaven Bilic can start Andy Carroll up front, and take his pick of attacking players behind him. Manuel Lanzini is unlikely to lose his starting spot in the number 10 position. On the wings, England International Michail Antonio is sure to start after scoring against Bournemouth. That leaves Feghouli, Snodgrass and Ayew vying for the left wing spot. It’s fair to say we here at Brace The Hammer have made up our mind on this matter.
Whoever features on the left wing, they’ll need an impressive game if West Ham are to win this match. Right Back Danny Simpson is probably the weakest link in Leicester’s back four. With the rest of the defense in strong form, attack from the left could be the most effective avenue for offensive incursions.
Another important question is how West Ham’s wingers will cope on the back foot. With Leicester’s dangerous wingers and full backs bombing forwards in attack, the full backs will desperately need support. If the wide men cannot perform in both directions, the team could fall behind quickly.
The big story for this game is that Mark Noble will be rested. The captain is out with a dead leg, though after a run of horrible form, it’s possible he would have been dropped anyway. There are a few options for replacing Noble in midfield. Havard Nordtveit is the natural option, as he could slide in as a more or less like for like swap. However, the Norwegian has yet to perform for West Ham this season, and frankly there’s no reason to think he would start now.
Another option is to play Edimilson Fernandes. The young Swede is an energetic presence in midfield, but he’s rarely got the chance to play this season. Fernandes provides a different attacking presence than Noble, but he’s nonetheless a solid midfielder.
However, by far the most popular option is to move Cheikhou Kouyate to midfield. This would allow Sam Byram to move to Right Back (More on this in a second.) Kouyate would bring an aggressive strength to the midfield, with his pace and athleticism providing a useful foil to Pedro Obiang.
In defense, we can expect the central defensive partnership to stay the same. Jose Fonte and Winston Reid are both decent players, and despite conceding three goals last match, they’ve been in decent form. Hypothetically, James Collins or Havard Nordtveit could take up a spot on the back line, that’s very unlikely.
Darren Randolph will certainly start in goal, despite some questionable goals conceded lately. Adrian is suffering from a nightmare run of form, and is probably on his way out in the summer. Raphael Spiegel has never played for West Ham, and probably never will. Randolph is the only realistic option.
At left back, for some indiscernible reason, Aaron Cresswell is undroppable. The Englishman has been horrifically poor, contributing almost nothing in attack, while becoming a liability in defense. Arthur Masuaku is a talented full back who certainly deserves a chance to play. Instead, it looks like Cresswell will continuing starting.
At Right Back, Sam Byram simply must start. Fans are quickly losing patience with Bilic and his insistence on starting Cheikhou Kouyate out of position at right back. It’s a woeful mistake that is repeatedly costing the team goals and points, and the consistent oversight of Byram is nothing short of baffling.
Prediction: West Ham 1-3 Leicester City
I hate to say it, but the outlook for this match is grim for the Irons. Leicester put a very strong Sevilla side to the sword on Wednesday, and triumphed over a very good Liverpool team. It will take a very good game from West Ham to keep this match within reach.
That said, we all know that West Ham are capable of great games, and that Leicester are capable of bad ones. While things may look dark, The Hammers certainly still have hope.