The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs West Ham
Bubble-blowing Hammers bouncing, Potters blowing hot and cold.
- Stoke 2-3 So’ton (LC)
- So’ton 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Swansea (Prem)
- S’land 3-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 2-1 Man City (Prem)
- Burnley 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 QPR (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
Heady days indeed down at Upton Park: four wins in five, sitting snugly in a Champions League spot after nine matches, above Arsenal, having dispatched last season's top two Manchester City and Liverpool. Nothing can go wrong now...
The new-look, more adventurous east Londoners are seven points better off compared to their equivalent matches against the same opposition from last season, a record no other team in the division can rival, and now “can push right on for Europe” according to a full-of-beans Andy Carroll, back in training and “feeling fantastic”.
West Ham have now scored in eight successive Premier League games, their best run in the competition since November 2009, and are causing chaos in the air. Their 35 headed efforts this season is a whopping 17 more than any other team, with seven of them hitting the back of the net including the winner against City last weekend.
A fourth successive top-flight win on Saturday would be the second time West Ham have achieved such a feat this year, seeing off Swansea, Aston Villa, Norwich and Southampton back in February to fire them away from the drop zone.
But it’s not something Hammers fans have become accustomed to seeing too often; the previous quartet of three-pointers coming back in 2007, when Carlos Tevez inspired successes in their final four games to avoid relegation on the last day.
There’s a new hero in E13 these days, but free-scoring striker Diafra Sakho is 'touch and go' for the trip to the Potteries. The man from Metz became only the second player in Premier League history to score in his first six starts against Manchester City a week ago, but a shoulder injury may deny him the opportunity to make it a magnificent seven against Stoke and hold the record outright.
Given the chance, West Ham would probably have picked somewhere other than Stoke in search of back-to-back away wins in the Premier League for the first time since December 2007 at Blackburn and Middlesbrough. The Midlanders have won eight of their last 12 league home games, including the last two, and allowed their opponents fewer shots on target than any other side in the division (22). But they’re far from unbeatable.
Shot-shy Villa and struggling Leicester have already left the Britannia with three points in the bag. And they’ll be glad to see the back of Southampton after losing twice to Ronald Koeman’s side in the space of five days. Wednesday’s League Cup loss, having fought back from 2-0 down, came with the added cost of Peter Crouch picking up two bookings and a suspension for Saturday.
"We put in a huge effort in the second half," said manager Mark Hughes. "We needed to because in the first half we didn't really get anywhere near the intensity that I was hoping for in terms of making it a real cup tie. The difference with the second half was marked. It was a real effort and I thought the momentum was with us.
"At 2-2 I felt we were in the ascendancy and we could go on and possibly win it from a situation where at 2-0 down you think it's going to be very hard against a very good Southampton team.”
Stoke completed the double over West Ham last season, as they did in 2009/10, but the Potteries has been a happy hunting ground for the Hammers, who registered four consecutive away wins there from 1990-2009. You don’t have to delve too deep into the archives to find their last triumph at the Britannia; Jack Collison sealing a 1-0 success in March 2013, but it’s their only victory in the last five visits.
Stoke will have do without Robert Huth (calf), Glenn Whelan (broken leg) and Peter Odemwingie (ACL), while Crouch and Phil Bardsley are banned. Aside from Sakho and Carroll, West Ham have ongoing worries over fellow forward Mauro Zarate and defender Guy Demel, who have both been receiving treatment.
Player to watch: Alex Song (West Ham)
The Barcelona loanee is having a ball since returning to England, and is already making noises about extending his stay in the Premier League beyond the current campaign. “I think my future will be here [in England],” he said. “My family, everyone is happy here, I’m very happy to come back to England. I’ve always said if I move from Barcelona, I’ll come to England and my future is here anyway.”
Music to the ears of Allardyce, who sang the praises of the former Arsenal midfielder after he helped see off Man City. “[Song has] been in the shadow of Sakho and [Enner] Valencia but this lad has outstanding quality,” he said. “He prompts with his passing and his protection to the back players is excellent.”
After another summer signing, Cheikhou Kouyate, made a standout start to the season before getting injured, Song has picked up the mantle in central midfield. Against Man City, Song was the home side’s second best passer, but made a chart-topping 11 ball recoveries and attempted a game-high 7 tackles.
The Cameroonian was also happy to stop the champions by all means necessary, committing 4 fouls high up the pitch (black triangles) to stop City building momentum from the back.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 3-1 W Ham (PL, Mar 14)
- W Ham 0-1 Stoke (PL, Aug 13)
- Stoke 0-1 W Ham (PL, Mar 13)
- W Ham 1-1 Stoke (PL, Nov 12)
- Stoke 2-1 W Ham (FAC, Mar 11)
Hughes leads the head-to-head with his fellow former Blackburn boss 7-3 (with four draws) since first locking horns in 2004 when his Rovers side won 1-0 at Big Sam’s Bolton thanks to Paul Dickov’s stunning 20-yard volley. While the Trotters gained revenge for that derby defeat with a 1-0 win of their own at Ewood Park later that season, it has proved one of few victories for Sam over the former Barcelona and Manchester United forward. Hughes has emerged victorious in four of the pair’s previous six meetings; Allardyce’s sole success over Sparky during his Upton Park tenure to date coming courtesy of Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te strikes in an October 2012 win at QPR.
There’s been plenty of bonhomie between the two over the years; Allardyce insisting in 2010 that Hughes "deserved longer" at Manchester City, before Hughes backed Big Sam to succeed Fabio Capello as England manager. “Sam’s record in the Premier League stands comparison with any British, England or foreign manager at any level of the clubs he’s been at,” he said. “If you can get positive results in this league, the strongest in world football, you’re a good manager.”
They got a little too close for comfort following Man City’s opening day beating of Blackburn in August 2009, however, when Hughes slipped over when going in for the customary post-match handshake. “People were probably looking to see if we fell flat on our face and in the end it was just me,” said Sparky. “It’s a good job I’m an athlete because I was able to keep my balance.”
Facts and figures
- Marko Arnautovic is yet to hit the target with any of his 11 shots in the Premier League this season (including blocked).
- Only Paolo Di Canio (47) has scored more Premier League goals for West Ham than Carlton Cole (41).
- If he features, Cole will play his 200th Premier League game for West Ham. Only 2 players, Steve Potts (204) and Mark Noble (201 currently), have featured more.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Just six league goals have been scored at the Britannia so far this season, fewer than any other Premier League ground. The feelgood factor among the Hammers' squad can ensure at least a draw. 1-1.
Back 1-1 at 11/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication