Saturday. 5:30PM. Sky Sports 1.
The World Cup Qualification break is over and Premier League football returns this weekend. At The Boleyn Ground, West Ham United welcome Manchester City in Saturday’s evening kick-off and it’s set to be a fascinating encounter.
Sam Allardyce’s men will be fresh and raring to go following that incredible 3-0 win at White Hart Lane a fortnight ago. Whereas City’s squad of international superstars have spent the last week jetting across the globe, the majority of West Ham’s team have had a full two weeks to prepare for this fixture.
One of the few West Ham players required for international duty was the energetic Ravel Morrison, who made his England Under 21 debut in San Marino before scoring his first goal for the team against Lithuania on Tuesday. The feisty midfielder has been electric for both club and country this season and is already establishing himself as one of The Hammers key assets, particularly in the absence of striker Andy Carroll.
*Morrison is 16/1 to score first with BetFred & this match is also part of the Double Delight / Hat-Trick Heaven promotion.
The win at Tottenham was a truly inspirational effort from a side that played without a genuine forward. The tactics were perfect on the day and they will need another faultless performance if they are going to gain anything against Manchester City. Carlton Cole has finally re-signed, which will at least provide the Hammers with a target man up top, but it will be the away side that enjoys most of the possession.
Last season the corresponding fixture (which coincidentally was also televised) ended 0-0 but in truth the away side dominated from start to finish. On that occasion, then manager Roberto Mancini opted to name Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli in his starting eleven and yet somehow City could not find a way through despite having 18 shots in the match.
However, West Ham should be under no illusion that this game will be another clean sheet even if they have already shut out four of their seven opponents so far. Pellegrini has a wealth of talent to call upon and will be confident of claiming all three points regardless of which eleven take to the pitch. One cause for concern though may be Joe Hart; the England stopper did well for his country but will be aware that one more slip up could cost him his place in City’s team. Fortunately, he could be in for an easy day at Upton Park.
The next few weeks will have huge importance on the season as teams aim to build momentum before entering the busy Christmas period. For West Ham, the probability is that it will be another mid-table finish but for City their ambitions will depend on a successful period between now and the transfer window and in that sense this game potentially carries more significance to Pellegrini’s men.
Even away from home, City have the slight edge and it could well be a repeat of last season’s encounter at The Etihad in which the Manchester outfit demonstrated their superiority and eased to victory.
*A repeat 2-1 win for City is 17/2 with BetVictor
However, West Ham are a very tough unit to beat and at home last season only lost 4 times. Defeats to Everton and Stoke will not have pleased the Hammers faithful and a third loss on the spin would be a genuine cause for concern. Allardyce will be doing his utmost to ensure that outcome doesn’t happen.
It’s always difficult to predict what will happen when players return from international duty, especially when one of the division’s top teams travels to a notoriously difficult away fixture. It really is one that could go either way, but then that’s why we love the Premier League so much.
One thing’s for sure though, it’ll be more entertaining than The X Factor. You can bet your house on that one.