Just a few weeks on from us reflecting on our worst start to the season for over 100 years, we weren’t far from cloud nine on Monday night, with the final whistle at Turf Moor signalling our third win on the trot, taking us up to 13th and FOUR clear of the drop zone all of a sudden.
It was a game we should’ve won much more comfortably, but that’s almost a positive sign given we have often struggled to create chances away from home this season.
This weekend we welcome an out of sorts West Ham side who’ve won just ONCE in their last seven – although they’re bound to find form soon enough, with a generous set of festive fixtures, a top manager in Pellegrini and a squad full of talented players after some big spending over the summer.
It’s fair to say tomorrow will be decided on what NUFC side turns up. Play like we did against Leicester and Brighton (two home defeats to nil) and we’ll be put away, but there’s been more evidence recently to suggest we could get the better of West Ham – with us beating better sides in Watford and Bournemouth in our last two at home.
As ever, here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
Benitez is facing TWO big dilemmas ahead of this one:
1) Does he stick with five/three at the back (as used at Burnley) or revert to 4-2-3-1; a system that’s got us back to back wins at home?
2) Now they’re fit, does he bring Lascelles or Shelvey back into a winning team?
Personally, I’m hoping he sticks with the side that beat Burnley – although I would be in favour of him putting Lascelles in for Clark, with he, Fernandez and Schar clearly looking like our best three CB’s when fit (while Lejeune is still out at least).
Five at the back may seem negative, but we created so many chances at Burnley and looked good both on the ball and off it. Not only that, this system allows us to be strong defensively without the ball, and expansive offensively on the ball – as displayed below:
Shelvey’s back, but there’s no way he should be dislodging Ki OR Diame from that team after how impressive they were at Burnley.
Perez, Kenedy and Yedlin – three players who’ve had real ups and downs this season – were all much better on Monday night, so let’s hope we get more of the same from them.
Predicted NUFC team – (3-4-2-1) – Dubravka – Schar, Fernandez, Clark – Yedlin, Ki, Diame, Ritchie – Kenedy, Perez – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this West Ham side:
Marko Arnautovic: The enigmatic Austrian hasn’t been training much, has been on pain-killing injections and was initially a doubt for this one, but he’s now been passed fit. He’s their match winner and their main man, but work rate is often questionable, so it will be interesting to see which Arnautovic turns up.
Felipe Anderson: The Brazilian winger cost them just shy of £40m over the summer and has been coming into form of late, with four goals in the league so far. DeAndre Yedlin will need to be on his game.
Isaa Diop: The big French centre-back cost them £22m over the summer and he looks the part – with PSG already linked with big money moves to sign him in January. Salomon Rondon has a tough task on his hands, with Diop looking quick, strong and good on the ground.
Lukasz Fabianski: One of the best goalkeepers outside the top 6. A brilliant shot stopper and the sort of keeper who, on his day, looks like nothing will get past him.
Predicted West Ham XI – (4-2-3-1) – Fabianski – Zabaleta, Diop, Balbuena, Cresswell – Noble, Rice – Anderson, Antonio, Diangana – Arnautovic.
Paul Dummett has been ruled out once again with a hamstring injury – however Rafa said he was ‘very close’ – with Jonjo Shelvey, Jamaal Lascelles and Yoshinori Muto all in contention again after returning to training.
Florian Lejeune was in full training again this week but this one will come too soon for him again.
For West Ham, Marko Arnautovic has overcome a knock after being initially rated as a doubt, while Andy Carroll and Jack Wilshere could be on the bench after months out.
Winston Reid (Knee), Carlos Sanchez (Knee), Andriy Yarmolenko (Achilles), Manuel Lanzini (ACL) and Ryan Fredericks (Fibula) are all ruled out with longer term injuries.
With us winning three on the spin and them winning just once in seven, we are quite clearly the form team coming into this one, with an added spring in our step on the back of a well deserved 2-1 win at Burnley on Monday.
That said, they have a talented group of players at West Ham and an experienced manager, so a part of me feels like they’re going to get onto something good soon enough, however they still look a bit fragile to me and a soft touch.
If we can get into them, play with the intensity we’ve shown in the last three AND keep creating chances as we have done recently, I think we may have a bit much for them – but we can’t be complacent with the quality they possess.
Head says 2-2 but I’ve often said draws and we’ve then won, so I’m following my heart this time and saying we’ll win again!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 West Ham
Howay the lads!