Monday, 28 December 2015

Full back dilemmas key to Southampton visit

Which will it be today?

The Hammers may be unbeaten in five games but the visit of Southampton will severely test Slaven Bilic's troops ability to avoid defeat. The injuries to key offensive players are well documented, with Payet, Sakho, Lanzini, Moses and Carroll in the sick bay of late, but the Villa game threw up additional concerns with the early exit of James Tomkins at right back and Aaron Cresswell at left back. With the Saints buoyant after thumping the Gooners 4-0 on Boxing day, this will be an anxious test.

At right back, Carl Jenkinson did well after coming on for Tomkins after the makeshift right back sustained an eye injury due to a clash of heads with Alan Hutton. Jenks has had a difficult season strewn with defensive errors, but does offer options coming forward (including two goals this year!) and if he can tighten up defensively can be the phenomenon that we almost splashed out £10 million on in the Summer!

At left back we are the victims of Cresswell's reliability as the normally injury-avoidant star tweeked a hamstring and looks unlikely to be risked today. Enter Stephen Hendrie - a player that impressed for Hamilton Academicals and was courted by West ham for a sustained period before finally arriving after the Summer. His opportunities have been restricted by Cresswell's presence.

If Tomkins is fit, one option would be to switch Angelo Ogbonna to left back - a position he has played in to good effect in the past with Juventus. However, Bilic will hardly want to break up the Collins-Ogbonna pairing, especially with Shane Long in sparkling form. Long is the type of forward that Collins is least comfortable playing against and Ogbonna's pace will be in demand against the pacey Irishman.

Joey O'Brien has provided useful cover at full back in the past but looks to have fallen off the radar under Bilic. A January exit, perhaps again joining up with Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, looks increasingly likely.

Southampton are favourites to win with the bookies at 7-5 versus the Hammers at 21-10. At 11-5 the draw looks attractive.

Expect Adrian to be busy!

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