West Ham are stuck in the depths of mid table, coming off a run of indifferent results and an international break. On Saturday they face a Hull City side reinvigorated by new coach Marco Silva. It’s a battle between two clubs facing a key moment in their Premier League stories. For West Ham, the next ten games could very well decide the fate of Slaven Bilic, and perhaps that of numerous players as well. If West Ham sit in purgatory though, Hull are chained deep in Hell. Looked into a death march towards relegation since the end of matchday 5, the Tigers sit in eighteenth, four points away from safety.
It’s a game with massive implications for both club’s features, but neither team will be able to start their best side. Hull City have lost former Tottenham duo Ryan Mason and Michael Dawson to injury. For the Iron’s things look even worse. Pedro Obiang, Winston Reid and Michail Antonio will all miss out. In addition, long term problems will prevent Angelo Ogbonna, Gokhan Tore, and Diafra Sakho from featuring.
Hull City have clawed their way out of the bottom spot since Marco Silva took charge, with an influx of new signings and a rigid defensive set up working minor miracles. Make no mistake, the Tigers have still struggled, but in between thrashings handed out by Everton and Leicester, they’ve grabbed crucial points from Liverpool, Burnley and Swansea.
An influx of new signings at the January window has proved hit and miss. Alfred N’Diaye has given steel to the midfield, while Oumar Niasse has found the back of the net three times since joining. Andrea Ranocchia has given the defense an edge. Unfortunately for Marco Silva, his team still faces some major issues. Wide midfielders Grosicki and Markovic have yet to score, and with Tom Huddlestone banned, Silva is missing one of his best players.
Hull City’s last game out was a 4-0 thrashing against Everton, but the score doesn't tell the whole story. Three of the goals came after Huddlestone was sent off, and two were in stoppage time.
The big news on the offensive front is that top scorer Michail Antonio will be missing against Hull with a suspected hamstring injury. Luckily, West Ham are drowning in wingers at the moment, so Bilic will still have options. Two locks to start are Manuel Lanzini, who has been one of the best performers this season, and Andy Carroll, who is the only real option up front.
Andre Ayew suffered a frustrating night against Leicester, but the Ghanaian was a constant threat and deserves to start again. That leaves Robert Snodgrass and Sofiane Feghouli fighting for the opposite spot. Snodgrass would be returning to his former team, with whom he was having the best season of his career. The game could be a great chance for Snodgrass to kick start his West Ham form. The other option is Feghouli, who has rarely looked the player he was at Valencia this season. The Algerian is extremely talented and hardworking, but through a combination of bad luck and poor form, he has flopped this season.
Again, an injury dominates the headlines as Bilic confirmed the horrible news that Pedro Obiang, the club’s best midfielder this season, would miss the rest of the year with an injury. That means a return to the side for Mark Noble. Beyond that, things get interesting. Cheikhou Kouyate played in midfield last match, but with the defense conceding three goals, he could be prefered at right back, or even center back.
While Kouyate is, obviously, the preferred option, West Ham has plenty of alternatives. Havard Nordtveit could be handed a second chance, or Edimilson Fernandes could come into the side. Other options include something even stranger, such as playing Alvaro Arbeloa or Manuel Lanzini in a central midfield position. For the most part though, these suggestions are simply idle speculation. Kouyate is almost certain to start.
Shock, horror, it’s yet another injury. This time Winston Reid is set for a spell on the sidelines. In his stead, options are thin. Kouyate will be playing in midfield, and with Ogbonna pout long term, James Collins and Jose Fonte are the only fit pairing.
Outside of Collins, the options are scarce. Nordtveit is capable of playing center back, while Alvaro Arbeloa might be able to. The game could be a rare opportunity for Doneil Henry to make the bench. The Canadian has played only once in his three seasons with the club. Another outside of the box option is Josh Pask, who made 15 appearances for Gillingham last year.
On the flanks, Byram and Cresswell are almost certain to continue, despite poor form. While the likes of Masuaku and Kouyate might be preferable options, its unlikely either will start in defense.
Prediction: Hull City 1-2 West Ham
Hull have looked more focused, talented and structured under Silva, but a porous defense and a weakened midfield should allow West Ham’s attacking talent to create chances. With clinical finishers like Carroll and Ayew available in attack, the goals will come, it’s merely a matter of how well the makeshift backing holds up.