Saturday 17 September 2016

Hammer Time for Saggy Baggies

It's back to the grind today for Slaven Bilic's troops who will be looking to bounce back from last week's embarrassing implosion against Watford where they were rampant for the first 30 minutes before squandering a two-goal lead.

Perhaps the biggest question is how Bilic will try to turn things around. There have been calls for wholesale changes to the starting XI as fans look to kick start the stuttering season that sees the previously buoyant Irons lurking on the edge of the bottom three after four games.

Bilic has been applauded for his ability to manage his players expectations and even though Adrian had a howler against Watford, one suspects that SuperSlav will avoid the temptation to over-react and will persist with the usually excellent netminder.

In contrast, the Collins vs Ogbonna conundrum raises a variety of issues. Collins was a major culprit for the first two Watford goals and may well be benched to allow for the return of Angelo Ogbonna who has been strangely overlooked since returning from Euro 2016.

However, Ogbonna engaged in some foolishly ambiguous social media activity after the Watford game that may have annoyed Bilic who demands discipline and loyalty from his players. On balance, it seems likely that Bilic will feel obliged to make at least one change to his leaky back four and with Alvaro Arbeloa (probably) still short of match fitness, Ogbonna seems the obvious choice.

Elsewhere, West Ham will be hoping to emerge with a similar silkiness in attack that graced the first half hour last weekend. Having Lanzini and Payet together again is a big boost creatively, while Michail Antonio is simply on fire and will relish the chance to add to his haul of four goals in as many games this season. Newby Simone Zaza impressed in spurts last weekend and will hopefully have found his Premiership gear for today.

If Bilic wants to shake it up he can bolster the defensive side of the midfield with Havard Nordtveit, while up front Sofiane Feghouli is ready to return and many fans are predicting that he can form a brilliant partnership with Mr Payet.  These options seem more likely to be used from the bench according to how the game sits after an hour or so.

Meanwhile. the Baggies are not in a good place right now with manager Tony Pulis unpopular with many fans. Having amassed four points to date, they haven't won at the Hawthorns for almost six months and will hope that West Ham's visit might provide suitable fodder for a much needed victory. Soloman Rondon will be vying for a starting place with Saido Berahino. The Baggies will be hoping to exploit West Ham's disorganisation out wide with recent arrivals Nasser Chadli and Matt Philips served with trying to open up the Hammers defence.

West Ham will need to be patient as Pulis sides rarely panic in response to crowd tension and even as the home side will be only too happy to absorb some pressure if it creates space for counterattack.

Probable West Ham Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Adrian; Byram, Reid, Ogbonna, Masuaku,  Kouyate, Noble, Antonio, Lanzini, Payet, Zaza.

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