West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini will face his former club Manchester City for the first time since leaving the Etihad Stadium in summer 2016 on Saturday afternoon, when the Hammers face a Citizens side under his successor Pep Guardiola in the Premier League at London Stadium.
But with players returning from injury and suspension and other stars out through injury and suspension. How will the veteran Chilean gaffer’s West Ham line up against the table-toppers and reigning English top-flight champions? Under 24 hours prior to kick-off in East London, we will attempt to answer that question in our statistics-driven tactical analysis.
GK: Lukasz Fabianski
Despite a frustrating international break that saw him benched by Poland for a friendly defeat to the Czech Republic and UEFA Nations League draw with Portugal, the man with the second-most saves in the PL this season will start between the sticks for the Irons tomorrow. He has the small task of trying to keep his second clean sheet of the campaign against one of the world’s best attacks.
RB: Pablo Zabaleta
Having tasted defeat in two meetings with the club he is held in such high regard by after leaving at the end of the 2016/2017 term, Pablo Zabaleta will be out to get one over his former team, a club in which he holds legendary status. A severe injury to back-up right-back Ryan Fredericks that will keep him out until 2019, has put more pressure on the 34-year-old’s shoulders, but his experience should hold him in good stead as familiar Blue Moon visit Stratford.
RCB: Fabian Balbuena
To see Pellegrini not field his strongest centre-back partnership, which has been together since late-August against a side of City’s attacking calibre would be a major shock. And Fabian Balbuena is the right-sided half of that successful pairing, he will be full of confidence on the back of his first Paraguay appearance of 2018/2019.
LCB: Issa Diop
To the left of him within the back four in our predicted Xl will be another player who returned to the international scene with their nation in the November international break, France U21 star Issa Diop. When alongside Balbuena, the team have conceded just one goal on eight occasions, but are still somehow searching for that elusive second clean sheet.
LB: Aaron Cresswell
After nudging ahead of fellow left-back Arthur Masuaku in the build-up to the international period, you can fully expect Aaron Cresswell to be in the starting Xl for the third league match in succession. It was in this fixture last campaign, a 1-4 win for Guardiola’s men, that the former England international scored his first goal in two years and ten days, he will be hoping to call on those positive memory of his excellent free-kick for inspiration.
RCDM: Mark Noble (C)
Returning to the side after serving the entirety of his three-game suspension for the red card he received in the away draw with Leicester City, we are predicting club captain Mark Noble to be a starter. However, if it wasn’t for the suspension of fellow midfielder Robert Snodgrass for the accumulation of five yellow cards this season, we may not have been.
CDM: Declan Rice
At the base of midfield in the middle of the trademark Pellegrini West Ham midfield three will be youngster Declan Rice, who has not missed out on a PL starting Xl since before the September international break. Supporters will hope speculation about his future and contract won’t start to affect the extreme high quality of his performances since getting his place back.
LCDM: Pedro Obiang
Although there is now stiff competition from the returning Jack Wilshere, we are tipping recently-made Equatorial Guinea international Pedro Obiang to keep his place in the starting team, as he has done when fit since mid-September. The central midfielder will be featuring to the left of Noble and Rice in the trio.
RF: Grady Diangana
With a point to prove after being substituted off at half-time in the last match before the break, a 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town, 20-year-old Grady Diangana will be a hungry starter. However, the England U20 debutant last Monday now faces stiff competition from the fit-again Andy Carroll, as well as the likes of Javier Hernandez, Michail Antonio and Lucas Perez.
ST: Marko Arnautovic
In the wake of an eventful international break that saw him heavily linked with a move away from London Stadium and pop up with his first international assist of the term in Austria’s last-gasp Nations League victory over Northern Ireland, Marko Arnautovic will lead the line. He is one of if not the main hope if the East Londoners are to become only the third team to defeat the Manchester club in the league since early April 2017.
LF: Felipe Anderson
Rounding off the fearsome front three is arguably the most in-form star in our predicted Xl, fresh from his three goals in two games in Claret & Blue, a brace against Burnley and the equaliser at the John Smith’s Stadium, Felipe Anderson. The club-record signing will be keen to continue his dazzling form as his new club look to make it four PL outings unbeaten.
If Pellegrini has stuck with his trusty modified 4-3-3 formation for the last eight league matches, only two of which have been lost, don’t expect him to change it for the toughest test that this league and possibly world football, has to offer. It will be interesting to see how this system fairs up against the expected 4-1-2-2-1 of Guardiola’s team that have won their last seven in all competitions, scoring 26 times along the way.
So, now that you’ve heard our predicted West Ham starting Xl for Manchester City at home at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, we want to hear yours! Head over to our Twitter page @WestHamMatters_ to tell us and have your say on everything else Hammers-related!
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