West Ham welcome Everton to Upton Park as the festive period kicks off this weekend.
The home side have been inconsistent of late, with injuries not helping the cause, resulting in a run of only 1 victory in 6 games.
After the Arsenal game on Wednesday has been called off due to railway strikes, Sam Allardyce will be able to field his strongest possible side on Saturday, knowing fitness in midweek will not be an issue, compared to all the other teams. Plus the side that arrives in London at the weekend will be without their star player and major influence…Mr.Fellaini.
The Belgians suspension against Stoke was beyond reckless and Everton will miss his presence against a big West Ham side. Even with their star, the Toffees have been unable to win many games, drawing 4 out of their last 5 games.
In fact, in their last 10 games, they have drawn 7 times, more than any other team in the league; David Moyes will be desperate for his team to have that cutting edge and finish off teams. With the players at his disposal, it is a wonder how they haven’t already. Yet, with only 6 matches won all season, his side are still in the hunt for European places, only 2 points of Spurs in 4th.
Ironically, just as the form of Everton has been, the last 3 matches between the sides have ended in score draws.
West Ham have failed to beat The Toffees for 9 games in all competitions, the last win coming at home in 2007, as Bobby Zamora scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
In those 9 games, there have been a total of 28 goals, an average of over 3-a-game. With Everton scoring at least once in all of their last 14 games, as well as conceding at least once in each of their last 12, goals are on the cards at the weekend.
West Ham will be missing several players, as their injury list grows by the week.
Yossi Benayoun, George McCartney and Andy Carroll are all out with knee problems, meaning Carlton Cole will most likely be leading the line once more. Mohammed Diame is sidelined with a hamstring problem, as is Ricardo Vaz Te, who still has shoulder problems. Jack Collison is close to a recovery, having not played since the Championship Playoff win in May, however his inclusion will be decided on the day.
Everton will obviously have to do without the in-form Marouane Fellaini. Moyes will be thankful his midfielder only misses 3 games through suspension, as it certainly could have been more.
Kevin Mirallas and Tony Hibbert have been struggling with hamstring and calf injuries respectively and are unlikely to feature, as is captain Phil Neville who is suffering from a knee injury.
Ones To Watch
The Hammers vice-captain Mark Noble is one of the sure starters in the side, having played in 16 of the 17 league games this season. The Englishman is a vital clog in the midfield, with an all-round tenacity giving the team several different options going forward, as well as breaking up play. Without Fellaini to worry about, Noble should be able to get forward more, allowing a defensive midfielder to keep the first line of defence covered. Who that will be is a mystery, but with Diame and Alou Diarra unavailable, James Tomkins or Gary O’Neill are the most likely candidates.
Nobles’ passing outshines all his teammates and if he can get on the ball and keep the team ticking over, alongside Matthew Jarvis supplying agility and speed on the wings with the unstoppable Kevin Nolan in attack, Everton could struggle.
However, every David Moyes side has more than one character to win matches. They will have to find alternatives to their style, without the star performer of the season so far.
While Steven Naismith could prove vital with his pace on the counter-attack and clever movement, Leon Osman will want to control the game from midfield.
The similarity between the England International and Noble is unbelievable, as they both want to get the ball and find a simple pass, before a long one.
Osman has also been vital in breaking up play, making the most tackles and winning the most ground duels in the team.
Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka have won 73% and 63% of every aerial duel respectively and it will be important the centre-halves stop these aerial challenges that West Ham will certainly give them; especially as Cole has had 11 attempts on goal with his head and their midfield boast the players who have supplied the most crosses in the league.
I do feel this is a tough game to call. West Ham are at home and do get buoyed by the phenomenal Upton Park crowd, however injuries to key players has given Allardyce unwanted selection dilemmas and a lack of cohesion amongst the squad. Their recent record against an impressive Everton outfit is poor and if there were to be one winner, it would be the away side. Although, I would be surprised if either team was to pick up all 3 points.
Prediction – West Ham 1-1 Everton