West Ham have a magnificent opportunity to extend the separation between them and the relegation spots. Facing a woeful Sunderland side, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Irons to take advantage of their oppositions misfortune. David Moyes has watched in vain as his side has stumbled to the bottom of the table. Outside of Jermaine Defoe, Sunderland have no real attack. Outside of Lee Cattermole, they have no real midfield. Sunderland are a hard working side plagued by a complete lack of quality players.
For West Ham, this game may well be the last chance to earn points before a nightmare run in that features Everton, Stoke, Liverpool, Tottenham, and an away match against Burnley. A win would be enough to push the Irons 15 points away from the relegation zone, a result that would effectively guarantee safety. That would mean Bilic has the opportunity to experiment in the final games, finding out which players deserve to stay for the next year, and which players need to be sold on.
It’s difficult to accurately explain the timidity of Sunderland this season.It’s almost as though the sides players don’t believe they belong in the Premier league. Every game, the side turns out and puts in a tired and slow performance. For a club rooted to the bottom of the table, they seem to lack urgency and aggression. Between the blinding mediocrity of many players and the arrogant apathy of a few, Sunderland have only one game changer. West Ham academy product Jermaine Defoe.
Never before has a time relied so much on one player. Defoe has scored 58 percent of Sunderland's league goals this season. Outside of his 14, the next highest scorer is Victor Anichebe, with three. It’s no exaggeration to say that, without Defoe, Sunderland would already be relegated.
Sunderland will be missing Kirchhoff, Watmore and McNair through long term injuries. Further, Seb Larsson will be suspended, while Bryan Oviedo is an injury drought. That will leave Moyes with few chances for rotation, even though the team desperately needs a change.
After Bilic’s comments during his press conference, the main question is Andy Carroll’s fitness. The Englishman made the bench last match, but didn’t feature. In his stead, Jonathan Calleri could be handed a start. A decision that can be best described as questionable.
With Michail Antonio out for the rest of the season, West Ham need improved performances from one of their underperforming trio of Ayew, Snodgrass, and Feghouli. While Ayew has shown flashes of competence, the other two have been distinctly unimpressive. Last week, apart from Kouyate's stunner, West Ham showed little initiative in attack.
With Antonio, and perhaps Carroll, missing this game, the burden for midfield attack falls on Manuel Lanzini. The Argentine attacking mid has performed in fits and starts this season, but even in inconsistent form, he's proven to be an effective attacking outlet. Without the goal scoring talents of Antonio to draw attention, Lanzini will be double teamed for much of the game. Even with that in mind, any West Ham supporter will tell you that Lanzini has the talent to change games.
Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble will both miss, with injury and suspension respectively. Will Cheikhou Kouyate will surely continue, the question of his partner remains something of a mystery. Edimilson Fernandes seems most likely to take his place. While the Swede is undoubtedly an exciting young player, he is also very different to Noble. The sides style of play will have to be dramatically altered if he is brought in.
Another option is Havard Nordtveit. The Norwegian is constantly ignored, and with each passing game on the bench, his signing grows more perplexing. Still, with almost no other options, this could finally be the chance for Nordtveit.
Winston Reid will again miss out, but the team kept a clean sheet last match so even if he was fit he might have been left out. As it stands, Collins and Fonte will certainly continue as a partnership.
On the flanks, Sam Byram put in the best performance of his career in the last match, and despite an injury scare, looks set to start at right back. If he can continue his imperious form, he may finally justify the large fee West Ham paid to sign the Englishman ahead of Everton. Aaron Cresswell is also fit, after missing the last matches with injury. However, it would be harsh to drop Arthur Masuaku after a decent performance. Perhaps Cresswell will be forced to settle for a spot on the bench.
Speaking of a spot on the bench, reports suggest that youth team defender Declan Rice has traveled with the squad. The youngster is experienced at the u21 level, and has played for the Ireland under 19 squad. With no recognized central defenders available from the senior team, Bilic seems prepared to look towards younger players to make up the numbers.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-4 West Ham
West Ham aren’t in great form, but against Sunderland, that is no excuse. With all due respect, the side is composed of has-beens, flops, failed wonder kids and overpriced underperformers. Unless Defoe can work his magic, Sunderland lack attacking threat, while Lamine Kone has been below par all season, leaving the defense porous. Even an injury plagued West Ham side should expect nothing outside of a comprehensive victory.