Sunday will bring a merciful end to West Ham’s nightmarish season. After a few good results raised spirits, a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Liverpool has left fans near the breaking point. It’s a chance to say goodbye to some players and good riddance to others.It feels as though each player will be looking at the game in different ways. Some, like Sofiane Feghouli and Havard Nordtveit are fighting for first team places next year, while others may be hoping to put themselves in the shop window (Please stay Manuel Lanzini!)
Facing off against a Burnley team that are clearly already at the beach, West Ham will not be challenged to the extent they were against Liverpool. That said, Burnley are still a decent side, and West Ham need to put in a good performance to give fans hope for next year if nothing else.
Burnley were picked by many for relegation this season, but Sean Dyche’s team stepped up to the Premier League in impressive fashion. Tom Heaton, Michael Keane and Ben Mee have proven to be a formidable defensive force, while Andre Gray and Sam Vokes have both seemed well suited to the Premier League this year.
Last week, Burnley struggled against Bournemouth and fell to a 2-1 defeat. However, with both starting center backs out missing, defensive struggles were to be expected. This week, Michael Keane is expected to return, and should bring defensive solidity with him.
Andy Carroll is out injured. Again. In his stead, Jonathan Calleri has been inexplicably starting. The Argentine is on loan, and West Ham have nothing left to play for. In a normal world, the opportunity would be given to a youth team player, but instead they’re wasting time on a player who won’t be here next season.
Alongside Calleri, Manuel Lanzini and Andre Ayew will probably play. It is worth noting that Sofiane Feghouli was actually fairly impressive against Liverpool. Perhaps, with Winston Reid out, Bilic will switch to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate more attackers.
Mark Noble and Edimilson Fernandes are still the only fit midfielders, however, on evidence of the last match, West Ham would be better off selecting two players from the stands. More realistically, a youth team player could be brought into the starting eleven, however, Bilic has been unwilling to give young players a chance this far, and it’s difficult to see that changing.
Another option is to play Robert Snodgrass in midfield. The Scotsman has played the position before, and it could bring the best out of his passing and shooting ability. Snodgrass has been a major disappointment this year, going from a star at Hull City to a flop at West Ham. Perhaps a positional change might allow for improved performances. In a meaningless game, the experiment won’t hurt.
Winston Reid has picked up an injury, and he’ll be missing out for this match. Slaven Bilic, in his press conference, suggested that Declan Rice might take the New Zealander’s place. Giving the youngster the opportunity would be a popular move from Bilic, but another option is to play Angelo Ogbonna, who has just recently returned from injury.
A third option is to play just four in defense, starting Collins and Fonte together. However, this partnership would be nightmarishly slow, and it would allow Andre Gray to easily exploit the space in behind them.
Other questions about the back line the goalkeeping position and the wingback spots. Adrian will probably play between the sticks, despite concerns over his long term future. Meanwhile, Cresswell and Byram will start on the flanks.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 West Ham
Both teams will be focused on vacation. However, neither of Bilic and Dyche like to rotate much, so unfortunately we'll probably just see some unmotivated first teamers. West Ham have the edge in quality, Burnley are in better form. It’s a game that seems poised for a boring draw.