West Ham United vs Crystal Palace
Venue: London Stadium
Referee: Stuart Atwell
TV: Not live in the UK
It’s a Saturday afternoon date for two teams in the midst of an exciting period for different reasons, as Crystal Palace travel north to play West Ham.
The Hammers are at the top of the table. They have scored eight goals, Michail Antonio is the league’s joint top scorer and both he and Saïd Benrahma are the first ever pair of players to have both scored and assisted a goal in the opening two Premier League games.
David Moyes has his confidence back and this has transferred to the players and their performances on the pitch have done the talking for the last 12 months. They also play their opening Europa League match on the 16th of September. What is there not to be excited about?
On the contrary, things look bleak for their opponents, Crystal Palace. It was a predictably difficult watch for Palace fans on the opening day against Chelsea and a nil-all draw against promotes Brentford would not have calmed the waters. Then to lose to Watford in the Carabao Cup, who they beat 3-1 in pre-season, was not a good look. However, change takes time.
Patrick Vieira has tried to instil an more progressive, attacking style of play in a team that largely consists of the same players who have been taught mostly how to defend for the best part of three seasons. Slowly but surely, Palace are obtaining players that suit their manager.
Vieira all but confirmed the acquisition of versatile central midfielder Will Hughes. While Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen have been exceptional and central to the fourth lowest expected goals against tally so far this season.
More signings are coming as well, yet Vieira is confident in the current crop of players, despite the treacherous start, and his system, this much he confirmed in his pre-match press conference.
Conor Gallagher starred in the first half of his league debut last week. He was pressing, running all day and making the much desired runs into the channels that Vieira seeks from his 8s in midfield, before Brentford altered tactics purposefully to nullify the loanee. James McArthur has also continued to work tirelessly, taking more of a leadership role this season and captaining the side. Whilst Wilfried Zaha is back on the wing and causing problems. Teams continue to double, and triple-team him as seen against Brentford last week.
With at least a striker promised to come in, and both Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise to return, the team is taking shape. There is much to be positive about; the right players will fit the system. A few more composed heads and they would have been with a win in the league and through to the third round of the Cup, such has been the quality of some of their chances. Patience is needed.
West Ham’s side, however, has already taken shape. They are counter-attacking in numbers and defending together. They have the second highest expected goals tally – 4.8, only behind Liverpool’s even 5.0 – and the most goal creating actions (the two offensive actions that lead directly to a goal, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls, as per fbref.com). They are clinical and a large number of goal creating actions is encouragingly positive as it means everyone knows what they are doing and where to be.
The only two points of contention could be their poor defensive work so far and the quality of their opponents, relegation candidates Newcastle and a 10-man forlorn-looking Leicester City.
Against Newcastle there were gaps to be exploited, and Allan Saint-Maximin did so expertly making the Hammers defence appear slow which is nothing new and has not hampered them too much previously. Can Zaha find and run through these same gaps this weekend? Overall, though, the positives far, far outweigh the negatives.
Tomáš Souček and Declan Rice have absolutely not missed a beat after last season and a long Euros campaign; have continued a formidable midfield partnership that contains everything. Rice’s on-ball ability has improved immensely and he so far has carried the ball for an accumulative 855 yards, the third most in the league only behind Manchester City pair Rúben Dias and Jack Grealish.
Souček’s height will also be a problem with his late, barnstorming runs into the box reaping a goal already. In the opening pair of games, and historically, Palace have struggled to defend against these types of midfielders with Gallagher himself scoring in a similar fashion against Palace last season in a 4-1 win for the Eagles. On the counter, there is the potential for him to do just that if the Eagles can get forward in numbers.
West Ham United
There are no fresh injury concerns for the hosts. Arthur Masuaku is the only absentee and is travelling well currently on track for a return after the international break.
Everyone is on form, it is still early in the season and with a break upon us, expect West Ham to go in unchanged.
Luka Milivojevic returned to first team training after missing several weeks for personal reasons. Along with Olise and the newly arrived Will Hughes, Milivojevic is set to return after the international break. A welcome return of quality and strength in numbers.
Predicted Starting XI’s
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Souček; Bowen, Fornals, Benrahma; Antonio.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita; Ward, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell; McArthur, Riedewald, Gallagher; Ayew, Benteke, Zaha.
Score Prediction: West Ham United 3 – 1 Crystal Palace
Palace shouldn’t prove too much trouble for a West Ham side high on confidence. The changes are happening, there are more to come and as the players start to trickle back for Palace results should improve. An away trip to a bubbling London Stadium with the personnel they have available will prove too troubling.