With safety secured, there’s now just two things left for us to focus on this season – a push towards the top 10 and an attempt to keep performing with the same level of quality and commitment as we did in that brilliant battering of Bournemouth on Wednesday.
The test here is to replicate that, especially when our last impressive Premier League win before that (the 3-0 win over Sheffield United) was followed by a sloppy and slow-paced performance in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa a few days later.
The visitors are a West Ham side scrapping at the bottom who will be buoyed by a huge 3-2 win over Chelsea.
They SHOULD be bang up for this and keen to extend the breathing space they’ve created between themselves and the bottom three, however they’re down there for a reason, being a temperamental team who are often guilty of going missing and making errors at the back.
Let’s hope we get at them and continue from where we left off in midweek – not sit off and be happy we’ve now secured another season in the Premier League!
(4-4-2): Dubravka – Krafth, Lascelles , Fernandez, Rose – Lazaro, Hayden, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin – Gayle, Carroll.
Dubravka will start in goal, but Bruce may have to make a late decision on one or two defenders ahead of him.
Lascelles was rated as an early doubt with an ankle injury, but training photos from Friday showed him taking part, making me hopeful he’ll be OK to start. Given Lejeune and Clark aren’t fit, Schar will be the only option should the skipper miss out, so we’ll have to hope he is MUCH better than he was against City last Sunday if Bruce is forced to start him. Based on how solid they’ve been since we switched to a four-man defence, I hope it’s Lascelles, no Schar, partnering Fernandez.
At right-back, Manquillo has started every game since football returned and has done well, however he limped off with a knock at Bournemouth so this could be a good time to rest him – especially when Krafth did such a good job on Wednesday.
Yedlin hasn’t been named in Bruce’s 11 since football returned and will want game time, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he came in, but I reckon Bruce will reward the Swede for his solid display in midweek and give him rare back to back starts.
On the other side, Rose was rested at the Vitality and will almost certainly return to the side, with him our only recognised left-back now Willems’ loan has ended and Dummett is ineligible.
In midfield, Shelvey seems to be one of Bruce’s main men and one of the first names on the teamsheet when fit, so he seems set to start again after a top draw display on Wednesday. It’s also worth noting he’s made a habit of performing well or scoring against the Hammers in recent seasons. The question is, who partners him? Bentaleb doesn’t deserve to be dropped, but it’s hard to see Hayden missing out again after he was benched at Bournemouth. I’d prefer to see the Schalke loanee start again and think he deserves another chance, but I can see Hayden returning.
In attack, Ritchie may well return IF he’s deemed fit enough, but it’s Lazaro who surely deserves a chance to impress from the off after he made a huge impact from the bench last time out. He looks a class act to me and a very lively player, but we aren’t going to pay £20m for him if he’s constantly used as nothing more than a impact sub!
On the other flank, it’ll surely be Saint-Maximin – providing Bruce reckons he’s OK to go again. There’s been some talk that hell be assessed before the game after he started his fourth game in 11 days in midweek, but we’re a totally different side when he starts and he didn’t exactly look like a player that needed a break at Bournemouth!
Almrion was meant to be rested in midweek, but he ended up playing over an hour after Longstaff was forced off early on. The Paraguayan played well when he came on and scored a great goal, but I see him being rested here and Bruce going with Carroll and Gayle up top as a result.
With Joelinton said to be nursing a slight calf problem, I can see him giving the pair who combined so well against Aston Villa a chance to play together – especially when Gayle scored his second in as many league games at Bournemouth and Carroll looked sharp off the bench.
North-East writer Ian Murtagh said Bruce was considering starting the two up top in our FA Cup clash with City last weekend along with Gayle saying after the Villa game that they’d been linking up really well in training, so I have a sneaky feeling they might play together here.
After all, Gayle will be keen to build on a confidence boosting goal at Bournemouth and Carroll eager to get one over the club that didn’t deem him fit enough for a new deal last year!
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in David Moyes’ Hammers side:
Michail Antonio – The powerful wide man often plays in a more advanced central role these days and is a real handful. Powerful, quick, strong in the air and has a knack of arriving into the box at the right time. If Lascelles is out and Schar has to fill in, he’ll have to play much better than he did last Sunday to deal with him.
Jarrod Bowen – A player who was heavily linked in January and someone Steve Bruce was said to be keen to sign. Bagged two assists in their 3-2 win over Chelsea and may be keen to prove a point here given we didn’t seem to think he was worth the money both in January and last summer. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back to haunt us!
Issa Diop – The Frenchman can be brilliant on his day, possessing a impressive blend of pace and power for a 6ft 4′ centre-back, but he sometimes dives in and had a few moments of madness in our 2-3 win at the London Stadium last time we met!
Jamaal Lascelles (ankle) and Joelinton (calf) are both doubts, however it’s worth noting both appeared to take part in training over the weekend.
Sean Longstaff did not, however, after tweaking his hamstring in midweek, so he will definitely miss out here.
Florian Lejeune is sidelined out once again, and could be out for the season according to Bruce, while Ciaran Clark is still recovering from ankle surgery.
It remains to be seen if Matt Ritchie and Javier Manquillo are deemed fit enough to start after picking up recent knocks.
Felipe Anderson is doubtful with a muscle problem.
Mark Noble, Arthur Masuaku and Sebastien Haller will all be ‘assessed’ before the game after a spell on the sidelines.
The Hammers will arrive with more confidence following that 3-2 win over Chelsea in midweek, however they’ll be keen to build on that given they’re still only 3 points clear of drop zone.
With that in mind, we can’t afford to have another Aston Villa-esque display, with us appearing to switch off and take our foot off the gas in our last home game in the Premier League after a big win.
Do that here and I think a buoyant West Ham side might come away with the win, but play as we did at Bournemouth and show our hunger to finish the season strongly with a push towards the top 10 and we can easily beat this leaky Hammers side who can fall apart if you put enough pressure on them.
Tough one to call. Could go either way, depending on which Newcastle/West Ham turn up, so I’ll go with an end to end draw with a few goals.
That said, if this one’s anything like the reverse fixture – which saw ASM run riot and us cut them open like a knife through butter – we’ll win comfortably!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 West Ham