West Ham have made a solid start to life back in the top flight but will have to be at their best to avoid defeat when reigning champions Manchester City visit Upton Park on Saturday (5.30pm BST, Live on ESPN).
The Hammers spent just one season in the second tier, returning to the Premier League at the first attempt under the stewardship of former Bolton and Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce.
West Ham’s first nine matches back in the big time have yielded four wins, two draws and three defeats, results that currently see them in ninth place with 14 points to their name. They have three wins from five at Upton Park, including a 4-1 victory over Southampton in their last home fixture.
The Hammers’ summer transfer dealings made it clear that Allardyce intended to stick to the long ball tactics that have become his hallmark. The arrivals included James Collins, Alou Diarra and Andy Carroll, all north of six foot, two inches, and Alou Diarra and Modibo Maiga, both six foot plus.
They joined a squad that already included Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan, an Allardyce mainstay. The pair worked together to good effect at Bolton and have continued their strong relationship in East London.
Nolan is rarely involved in the creation of play but is a consistent threat in the penalty area, latching onto crosses, flick-ons and set-pieces to finish expertly. The 30-year old midfielder has scored four times this season, all at Upton Park and all from well inside the penalty area.
The statistics tell the story of West Ham’s approach under Allardyce. Only four teams enjoy a lesser average share of possession than their 43.8%, only four teams complete a lower percentage of passes than their 76.2% and only three teams play more crosses and long balls as a percentage of total passes than their 23.06%.
It is a functional approach, but one that has yielded decent results to date. However, there is a clear profile that emerges from the teams who have inflicted the three defeats West Ham have suffered thus far and it is one that their opponents on Saturday, Manchester City, fit perfectly.
West Ham’s defeats have come away to Swansea and Wigan and at home to Arsenal, all teams that generally favour a short passing game. Over 85% of both Arsenal and Swansea’s passes are short passes or through balls and the two sides comfortably sliced their way through the Hammers defence, each scoring three times in defeating Allardyce’s men.
87.46% of Manchester City’s passes this season have been short passes or through balls and even in the likely absence of pint-sized playmaker David Silva, the likes Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero could well have some joy weaving their way through an oft leaden-footed Hammers defence.
City also possess the height and strength to ably defend West Ham’s threat from long balls, crosses and set-plays. The towering central defensive pairing of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott will be joined in defending set-plays by Yaya Toure and possibly Edin Dzeko, depending on who starts in forward areas.
The reigning champions are undefeated thus far this season, recording six victories and three draws, and are currently in third, just a point shy of leaders Chelsea. They are yet to reach top gear, but have nevertheless recorded four wins on the bounce coming into this weekend’s fixture.
City have kept just two clean sheets to date and have often had to rely on late comebacks to secure points. They scored winning goals in the last ten minutes against Southampton, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and an 80th minute equaliser in a draw away to Liverpool. 38.9% of their goals have come in the final 15 minutes of matches.
Roberto Mancini’s side have conceded the first goal in all of their four away matches to date and will be defensively weakened on Saturday due to injury absences. Pablo Zabaleta is touch and go to return to the side, but Maicon and Micah Richards (now out for four months) will definitely miss out.
Midfielders Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia are also doubtful, the latter likely to be rested for next weekend’s Champions League encounter with Ajax even if he does make the squad.
West Ham vs Man City Betting Tips Verdict
Despite their injury absences, City are the favourites for this one. They have the requisite attacking talent to cause serious damage to the West Ham defence and should have the necessary height and strength to deal ably with the home team’s aerial assault.
They, do, however, have a propensity to start matches slowly this season, while West Ham have taken the lead in four of their five home matches to date. This suggests backing City to come from behind to get a result would be an intelligent choice.