Premier League | Cardiff City Stadium | Sat 11 Jan | 3pm
In one corner, the new (baby)face of football at the start of his Premier League career; in the other, the withered old ham-face at the end of his. Supposedly.
The man they call ‘Ollie’ starts Premier League life with a must-win. There can be no easing yourself into a job when the team is one point above relegation and hosting a team haemorrhaging goals, especially with Cardiff having won only one of their last 10.
- Newcastle 1-2 Cardiff (FAC)
- Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff (Prem)
WEST HAM FORM
- Man City 6-0 West Ham (LC)
- N Forest 5-0 West Ham (FAC)
- Fulham 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-3 WBA (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem)
Solskjaer isn’t Cardiff’s first love affair with Norway. Lovable child-scaring psychopath Roald Dahl was born in the Welsh capital to Norwegian parents, Cardiff Bay has the Norwegian Church Arts Centre – where Dahl was christened – and the city’s twinned with Hordaland County, home to Bergen with its stunning landscapes rather than dull Danish drama (that’s Borgen). OK, we had to look that last one up.
Key for Solskjaer is a good transfer window. The squad needs thinning, the attack sharpening and a leaky defence (conceding 10 goals in four games) unleakening. He has brought in Magnus Wolff Eikrem with Mats Daehli on the way, two Norwegian youngsters he took from Manchester United’s reserves to Molde, Eikrem later moving to Marco van Basten’s Heerenveen. Solskjaer rates them – he’s said before that 18-year-old Daehli is “on a par with” Adnan Januzaj – but the Premier League is a sterner test.
It’s a test West Ham are flunking. While Big Sam’s kids failed their 11-plus in the FA Cup, the old hands aren’t faring any better in the league. The Hammers have taken two points from seven games, which, if our Maths GCSE still holds, means they haven’t won any of them.
The 6-0 gubbing to Manchester City was as humbling as it was predictable, with only goalkeeper Adrian performing and debutant Roger Johnson deciding the best way to deal with a rampaging Yaya Toure is to run away from him. Cup games they may have been, but conceding 11 goals in two games has a funny way of damaging morale. The spiral of despair must stop... erm... spiralling.
Cardiff are without full-backs Kevin Theophile-Catherine (knee) and Andrew Taylor (a ‘knock’, possibly to his confidence after humiliations against Southampton and Liverpool). Top-scorer Jordon Mutch is a doubt with a hamstring pull and Craig Bellamy is Craig Bellamy.
West Ham’s injury woes are well-documented, if not well-handled. Centre-back trio James Tomkins, Winston Reid and James Collins are all weeks away from a return, while Ricardo Vaz Te has a dislocated shoulder. Mark Noble and Joey O’Brien are doubts but should still feature and the suspended Kevin Nolan is being told to think about what he’s done. But at least Andy Carroll and his beard are back in training, eh?
Player to watch: Ravel Morrison (West Ham)
It’s hard to speculate on Solskjaer’s first league line-up – not least as he’ll probably put the best players on the bench for a super-sub stealth attack – but West Ham’s starting XI almost picks itself. An unfortunate injury crisis at centre-back and a self-inflicted one up front has left them so short of options that Johnson will step in (to play in defence, not up front... you’d assume). However, the return of Morrison after an injury spell – presuming he plays, after being rested midweek – is a reason for cautious optimism. In West Ham’s last league win, the 3-0 defeat of Fulham back in November, Morrison created 3 chances, completed 4 take-ons and brilliantly set up Joe Cole’s goal – and he was only on the pitch for 15 minutes.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 3-2 Cardiff (LC, Sep 13)
- W Ham 2-0 Cardiff (Prem, Aug 13)
- W Ham 3-0 Cardiff (Ch, May 12)
- Cardiff 0-2 W Ham (Ch, May 12)
- Cardiff 0-2 W Ham (Ch, Mar 12)
Sam Allardyce is under real pressure. The only thing keeping him in a job, it seems, is the owners’ reluctance to fund his pay-off, and he’s about as popular at the Boleyn Ground as Zampa the Millwall Lion. Expect things to get ugly if the team crumbles in Cardiff.
Solskjaer has said he wants to improve the Bluebirds’ squad, but how much does he have to spend? Given Vincent Tan’s fury with Iain Moody and Malky Mackay about their alleged overspend in the summer, the talk of £25 million on the table may be just that – talk.
Still, there are funds available, unless the manager does something to upset his master, in which case he’ll be told there is “not a single penny”. That’s how you run a football club, you see.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Cardiff have the worst first half record (W1 D11 L8) and scored the fewest goals (4).
- Only Fulham and Norwich have conceded more (16).
- They have won just once in their previous 10 home meetings with West Ham (W1 D3 L6).
- There have been at least 3 strikes in 5 of West Ham’s last 8 matches against bottom-six sides and they have lost 6.
- West Ham have picked up fewer points in their last 6 (2) than any other side.
Best bet: Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Solskjaer opens his account with a 2-1 win and Big Sam leaves the stadium in disguise.