20:00 BST, Monday 16th April, London Stadium (London, England) Sky Sports
Premier League attention turns back to the bottom of the table with Stoke in grave danger of being cut adrift. With four consecutive defeats and ten matches since they last won, belief is currently in short supply for the Potters. Already six points and an unfavourable goal difference behind 17th-placed Swansea, victory on Monday is essential if their dwindling survival hopes are to live on.
Their hosts for this fixture find themselves in a much brighter situation, however, things are running far from smoothly for the Hammers. Without back-to-back home wins since 2016, West Ham may have found better form since David Moyes joined them in November but consistency continues to elude them. A win over the Potters would see them rise to 12th and relative safety, but they have failed to win the last five meetings against Stoke when enjoying home advantage.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 1-1 West Ham United (Premier League)
The Hammers took another small step towards survival after clawing their way back from a poor first half. Joe Hart could maybe have done better to prevent Chelsea’s opening goal, however, he made five big saves in the first half to keep the Hammers within touching distance.
Whether due to Chelsea stepping off the pace, West Ham improving their own game or a more probable combination of both, the second half was much more promising for the visitors. While West Ham were finding it hard to break down the Blues and produce a goal, they were the team in the ascendancy after the interval.
The introduction of Javier Hernandez changed all of this, the Mexican scoring three minutes after being called from the bench to record his six career goal against Chelsea. While the Hammers were unable to find a winner, the scoreline reflected what had generally been an even game over the course of the full 90.
Stoke City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
Stoke were left empty-handed as Tottenham plunged their opponents further into trouble as the Potters best efforts went unrewarded. Similar to the battling display they gave against Arsenal in their previous fixture, Stoke proved worthy opposition to the North London side only for the result to fall away from them.
Stoke began well and were equal to Tottenham for long periods although admittedly Spurs had little reason to step out of second gear. Jack Butland was equal to Son Heung-min’s first half strike in what was Stoke’s only really scare from the first 45 minutes, however, Mame Biram Diouf twice found himself wasting good opportunities. The Potters forward did eventually find the net after Christian Eriksen’s opening goal, albeit luckily, as the ball was gifted to him by Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham’s winner also brought questions over Butland’s keeping as he missed a long-flighted free-kick. While Xherdan Shaqiri almost restored parity to the game only for the woodwork to prevent him, the game again finished with individual mistakes blighting Stoke’s overall performance.
West Ham United lineup
Moyes still has significant injury problems to contend with as Winston Reid (knee), Sam Byram (ankle), Pedro Obiang (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring) and Andy Carroll (ankle) are all definitely out of this fixture.
James Collins (hamstring) and Manuel Lanzini (knee) could also remain sidelined while Aaron Cresswell could join them on the treatment table after picking up a knock in the second half against Chelsea.
Stoke City lineup
Charlie Adam serves the final part of his suspension while both Konstantinos Stafylidis (rib) and Eric Choupo-Moting (knock) are still injured. Kurt Zouma is likely to return to the starting lineup for this match with Geoff Cameron another player who could return to the side if Paul Lambert plays his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation.
Key Battle: Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) vs Jack Butland (Stoke)
Arnautovic faces his old club knowing full well his actions could help relegate them but that is unlikely to rein in his efforts. Having already upped his game to score in the reverse fixture before pointedly celebrating in front of Mark Hughes after both his goals two weeks ago, there appears to be little love lost for the Austrian who moved last summer. Coming into this match looking to score his tenth goal of the season, he’s currently on a hot-streak of six goals and five assists from his last ten appearances for the club which should strike fear into the Stoke defence.
Stoke’s defensive problems from earlier this season may be less of a problem than they were, however, they are still far from having a watertight ship. Individual mistakes have continued to be a problem for the Potters and Jack Butland is one such player who is currently struggling. Since his disastrous own-goal against Leicester in February, Butland has been unable to regain his best form. With the World Cup fast approaching, this is a problem he will want to address to send out a strong message to Gareth Southgate.
Ironing out the wrinkles
With their Premier League status close to being assured, West Ham will need to plot carefully their future over the coming months. David Moyes’ short-term contract is due to expire next month, paving the way for the Hammers board to implement changes as they see fit.
If the current Premier League season has taught us anything, it’s that teams should be careful in what they wish for. Many of the 'bigger', established sides outside of the top-four have struggled to live up to their early season expectations. With the old-guard British managers finding their place at the table less welcoming and heavy investments in the transfer market not guaranteed to bring a sizeable return, what West Ham really need is stability guided by a long-term plan.
Adding insult to injury
There have been many reasons for Stoke fans to be upset about their team’s performances this season, however, the players' behaviour probably tops this list now. After Xherdan Shaqiri’s belatedly published comments regarding a lack of quality in the club’s dressing room, Jese Rodriguez has become the latest player to draw fury from the supporters.
Having been granted compassionate leave by the club following the complicated birth of his son Nyan, he was given another chance to impress on the pitch with Lambert’s arrival. Looking unfit and lacking in quality, he was again cast to the periphery of the team. His reaction to this has been to miss training against his club’s wishes, posting pictures of himself happily lying on his bed to Instagram.
Stoke are rumoured to be looking for legal ways to terminate his contract for gross misconduct, a move which perhaps should have been employed earlier against teammates such as Saido Berahino or Ibrahim Afellay to stem the player petulance and negative attitudes which seem to have taken root in the squad.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-1 Stoke City
The last three results between these two clubs have ended in a draw and this match looks set to continue the trend. Despite a big win over Southampton, the Hammers have continued to perform below expectations while Stoke have been unable to significantly improve their own standards. With both sides requiring a win but fearing a loss, they could well cancel each other out to put another nail in Stoke’s ambitions.