West Ham United vs Newcastle United
Venue: The London Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Premier League
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
West Ham play host to an in-form Newcastle United side on Saturday evening, as the Hammers attempt to bounce back from an unfortunate midweek loss to Manchester City.
After Wednesday’s defeat, West Ham sit in a respectable 10th position. However, due to Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers slipping up elsewhere, the Hammers are just four points off seventh place. Their summer investment signalled a desire to battle for the European places, and despite a catalogue of injuries, they remain in the hunt. If those ambitions are to remain realistic, then Manuel Pellegrini’s side simply must beat Newcastle to apply further pressure to the faltering clubs above.
Failure to capture all three points would be seen as an opportunity spurned for the Hammers and possibly another season that drifts into mid-table obscurity, despite noticeable improvement under Pellegrini. Their minus six goal difference is the worst of the sides battling for seventh position, which could be decisive as to whether they achieve their European goal.
Meanwhile, Newcastle will attempt to pick up three consecutive victories in the Premier League, when they visit the London Stadium. Their previous two wins over Huddersfield Town and Burnley mean that the Magpies have moved up to 13th place in the table, six points above the relegation zone. Victory on Saturday evening could see Rafael Benitez side leapfrog A.F.C Bournemouth into 12th place.
Though a draw could be considered respectable against a resilient West Ham side, dropping points may see Newcastle drawn back into the thick of the relegation battle, with Crystal Palace and Burnley just a point behind on 30.
A loss against the Hammers would likely see Newcastle slip back down the table, and the deficit to the drop zone reduced. On multiple occasions the Magpies have shown they are at their best when the pressure is off so maintaining the gap will be critical for their survival.
For yet another season West Ham have been plagued by injuries, and it’s severely disrupted Pellegrini’s ability to select the same starting eleven consistently. Currently, Jack Wilshire, Carlos Sanchez, Andriy Yarmolenko, Fabien Balbuena, Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku remain side-lined, while Manuel Lanzini is yet to return to match fitness. No doubt the inability to select his strongest starting line-up will have frustrated the Hammers manager and throughout the course of the season cost his side valuable points.
However, one benefit of the growing list of absentees has been the promising young talent that has stepped into the side when called upon. Declan Rice emerged after a few questionable performances last season, while recently Ben Johnson made an outstanding debut against Manchester City. Had all the summer acquisitions been at full fitness it’s unlikely either player would have played such an important role, or in Johnson’s case started at all. Pellegrini will likely receive plaudits for these decisions, but his hand had been forced, and the players should be commended for their impressive displays.
Rafael Benitez has found himself in an incredibly similar situation, with Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-Yeung both absent in the centre of midfield for significant spells. Though Sean Longstaff has emerged from the Newcastle academy to excel in the pair’s absence; it’s also worth noting that alongside Longstaff Isaac Hayden has put in some of his most impressive performances in a Newcastle shirt to keep Ki and Shelvey out of the side after their return to availability.
As well as this, for an extended period, Newcastle’s front line appeared disjointed; Benitez created a system to accommodate three central defenders, and the attackers were an afterthought. Although with a straightforward addition all that has changed. Miguel Almiron who will likely line-up alongside Ayoze Perez and just behind Salomon Rodon may provide the perfect balance to the Spanish tacticians attacking trident.
Almiron is a blur in attack, but unlike Christian Atsu, the player he replaced, his brain moves as fast as his feet. Meanwhile Perez has always been technically adept but slightly lacking composure; fortunately, Almiron‘s speed is capable of disguising any lose passes. While Rodon has proved to be a capable target man all season, but previously lacked anyone direct enough to latch on to his flicked headers forward and was constantly forced to bounce the ball back towards his own goal.
The ‘three amigos’ as they have already been nicknamed on Tyneside might have provided Benitez with just enough promise to remain at St James’ Park for another term. Newcastle have never recruited an individual , but they may have finally found three players who equal the sum of Shearers parts.
Predicted Starting XIs
West Ham (4-3-2-1): Fabianski: Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Johnson; Rice; Antonio, Nobel, Snodgrass, Anderson; Arnautovic
Newcastle (4-5-1): Dubravka; Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Lejune, Ritchie; Hayden, Longstaff; Perez, Almiron; Rondon
Prediction: West Ham 1 Newcastle United 1