The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Man City
Slick, fluid, free-scoring top-four residents... face Manchester City.
WEST HAM FORM
- 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)
- Hull 2-2 West Ham (Prem)
MAN CITY FORM
- CSKA 2-2 Man City (CL)
- Man City 4-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Villa 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 1-1 Roma (CL)
- Hull 2-4 Man City (Prem)
Manuel Pellegrini’s men go into this early kick-off reflecting on their continued struggles in Europe. The Citizens (seriously, somebody please invent a better nickname) can still make it into the knockouts, and could even afford to lose at home to Bayern Munich if they beat Roma in Rome and Pep Guardiola’s charges do them another favour against the Italians, but their woeful performances on the continent are of serious concern.
It doesn’t matter how well City play in the Premier League; they cannot work out this European Cup lark. They’ve had tough groups, of course, thanks to a combination of UEFA’s coefficient system punishing upwardly mobile teams and sheer bad luck, but nonetheless fail to replicate domestic form whenever they have to whip out their passports.
The second-half display against CSKA Moscow showed City at their European worst: lax, tactically naïve and bluntly refusing to learn from previous mistakes.
They’ve launched a distraction job, as is the way these days (see Brendan Rodgers deflecting criticism onto Mario Balotelli, and Jose Mourinho saying anything, at all, on any subject): the club are seeking compensation for travelling fans not allowed into the stadium; captain Vincent Kompany made an impassioned speech against UEFA; Pellegrini complained about the cold. Anything to cover up the fact that City, once again, are in big trouble on the European stage.
West Ham are keen to show them how it’s done. “We could definitely play in the Champions League in the new stadium,” Andy Carroll has said – but maybe it’ll happen sooner than that.
West Ham are fourth, after all, and in danger of qualifying for a European campaign they can’t afford: Upton Park would need renovation for just a single season before the Hammers move to the Olympic Stadium.
Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But with 15 goals already compared to eight at this stage last season, Sam Allardyce’s team have been far more exciting to watch than before, even though this new, vibrant, attacking unit is still orientated around aerial delivery.
The Irons have scored a league-high six headed goals, three of them in the win over Burnley last weekend, and have had more than twice as many headed efforts as any other side, averaging four per game. And we’ve yet to see Carroll, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia and Carlton Cole up front together in a 4-2-4 (we can only hope).
Against City, West Ham may as well stick with the formation that seems to be working: the 4-4-2 wide diamond (wiamond?) as played by Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United and previously only seen on computer games.
It offers midfield protection against Yaya Toure’s powerhouse runs, and allows Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson – who each created a goal against Burnley – to charge up the wing. We may be presented with the bizarre sight of the Premier League champions playing an Allardyce team on the break.
West Ham’s last win over City came in 2009, when Mark Hughes picked an impossibly defensive team, Jack Collison scored the only goal and the Hammers finished above them in the table. Remember last season’s double humiliation in the cup? Don’t expect a threepeat.
James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate are back in the squad, the latter fit a whole month ahead of schedule. However, Mauro Zarate is a doubt, so is Ricardo Vaz Te, Guy Demel is unlikely to feature and Carroll’s long-awaited return won’t be this month. City have very few fitness concerns: just that Samir Nasri is still out with a groin injury and Frank Lampard may not recover from his muscle strain in time for this game.
Player to watch: Diafra Sakho (West Ham)
West Ham have scored in every game since the opening-day defeat to Spurs, largely because Sakho has scored in every match he has played (six in six, including the League Cup).
Signed from the French second division, having been in the third tier the season before that, he wasn’t meant to be ripping up trees reserved for Valencia and the Zarate kid, yet he’s the Hammers’ biggest goal threat.
Against Burnley the 24-year-old completed only 54 per cent of his passes, won fewer than half of his aerial duels and completed 0 of 4 attempted dribbles. But he popped up in the box to score and that’s what matters – not to mention creating chances with 3 of his 14 passes. That clinical nature will worry City.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 2-0 W Ham (PL, May 14)
- W Ham 0-3 City (LC, Jan 14)
- City 6-0 W Ham (LC, Jan 14)
- W Ham 1-3 City (PL, Oct 13)
- City 2-1 W Ham (PL, Apr 13)
Pellegrini has some awkward questions to answer after the draw with CSKA. Many have questioned his tactics in the second 45, neither killing off the game nor looking to defend the lead, as well as the apparent lack of motivation given to his players at half-time, judging by their performance after the oranges. Winning this lunchtime fixture would at least steady the ship. For Allardyce, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, a home win would help those contract talks. He fancies an upset, too, having noted that City may be vulnerable coming off the back of a trip to Russia.
Facts and figures
- Sergio Aguero (108 mins) has the best mins-per-goal rate of any player in Premier League history (excluding players with fewer than 20 goals).
- Sakho is only the second player in Premier League history (after Mick Quinn) to score in each of his first 5 starts in the competition.
- West Ham have allowed the opposition fewer clear-cut chances (7) than any other Premier League team this season.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
It depends on how City react to their midweek Moscow disappointment: breathing fire, or breathing a hungover whiff of last night’s kebab. So it’ll be either 2-2 or 0-7... we’ll go with the first one.