15:00 BST, Saturday 28th October, Selhurst Park (London, England)
With five losses from his first seven games in charge in South London, Roy Hodgson has not had it easy on his return to club management. Their previous two games have seen the Eagles concede a single goal in each while the last league game brought victory over last year’s champions. This has shown a steady improvement and also proved there is potential available to be mined in the squad. Whether the ex-England manager can harness this potential on a regular basis is his next challenge.
Slaven Bilic has also faced a challenging start to this campaign. With only one win from their first six Premier League fixtures, there are now glimmers of light breaking through the gloom. The Hammers away form remains a concern, however, with only a single win coming from their last 12 games on the road. Having won four of the last six meetings between the two sides and facing a team struggling for a win, Bilic has the perfect opportunity to see his team’s fortunes continue their upward turn.
Last Time Out
Bristol City 4-1 Crystal Palace (Carabao Cup)
The Premier League’s bottom team were given a harsh reminder that plenty of work lies ahead as the team seventh in the Championship inflicted a humbling defeat for the Eagles. Roy Hodgson made wholesale changes to his squad with only Patrick van Aanholt retaining his place in the side following last weekend’s defeat at Newcastle. Bakary Sako was arguably Palace’s best player and things were looking good when he calmly converted a fine ball from Ruben Loftus-Cheek after 20 minutes of play.
The wheels quickly fell off though and two goals in five minutes had the Robins ahead at the interval. With Jairo Riedewald unimpressive in a defensive midfield role and individual errors plaguing the defenders, Bristol City always looked like extending their lead as Palace faded out of the game and the competition.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-3 West Ham United (Carabao Cup)
With Slaven Bilic continuously being linked to a parting of ways with the Hammers, this was just the sort of rousing display his side needed to produce. After going into the half-time break two goals down, the Hammers re-emerged from the dressing room a transformed side.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for Bilic was the way in which his side recovered in the game. It wasn’t through an individual that the game was catalysed, it was a collective effort by the team who worked in harmony with each other. This is something which has been sorely missing for many games so far this season and just maybe sees the team turn a corner after a start which has fallen a long way short of expectations.
Crystal Palace Lineup
Yet again, Roy Hodgson remains without his strike force with Christian Benteke (ankle) and Connor Wickham (knee) unavailable for the upcoming game. After resting many of his key players from the midweek match, only small changes are expected from the previous Premiership match with Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek likely candidates to earn a recall.
West Ham Lineup
James Collins (ankle) and Diafra Sakho (back) have been ruled out for the weekend while Bilic could also be without Michail Antonio who has a rib injury and failed to make the bench against Tottenham on Wednesday. Andy Carroll is available after serving a one-game ban for his two-yellow sending off, which could prompt Bilic to play 4-4-2 with Chicharito partnering Carroll in attack once more.
Key Battle: Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace) vs Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Having been in charge of seven games including both league and cup matches, Roy Hodgson has watched 16 goals fly past his keeper during this time. Without any clean sheets this season, any chance the Eagles have of claiming more points in the coming weeks will depend on a greater defensive solidity. Mamadou Sakho is the lynch-pin of these hopes with many hoping he can discover the sort of form he showed in the final stages of last season as Sam Allardyce’s Palace avoided relegation.
His biggest threat will come from Andy Carroll, one of the strongest aerial players in the league. With many of West Ham’s attacks recently built around sending the ball into the box, Carroll was a huge miss in their lineup last weekend. While he is yet to score in the Premiership this season, he provides a constant problem for the opposition and can bring other attackers into the game through the space he creates on the pitch.
When things are going well for their team, the atmosphere inside Selhurst Park can rival that of most stadiums across Europe. As Pape Souaré found out at the end of Tuesday’s defeat away to the Robins, the Palace fans are equally adept at showing their frustrations when things haven’t gone quite so well.
Souaré came on for the final 25 minutes at a stage when the game had already ebbed away from the Eagles as he looks to regain his fitness following a car crash last year. In applauding the travelling supporters at the end of the match he threw his shirt into the away end only for the fans to return the favour by throwing his shirt back onto the pitch.
In contrast, the intensity that the home support created in the stands during the previous home game when they beat Chelsea was electric. If Palace are able to begin this weekend’s London derby in a positive fashion, the home crowd could again help play a major part for their side, a factor which West Ham will remember with fond memories before they switched stadiums.
A Watershed Moment
Many monumental speeches have been made in the Wembley dressing room over the years. However, the events on Wednesday evening could well prove to be one of the most important parts of West Ham’s season. Trailing by two goals, the Hammers appeared to be even further behind considering the level of their game during the first half.
Having gone into the match complaining his players weren’t playing intelligently enough or with sufficient desire, the first half proved him right. What the interval proved was that Bilic can still get a response from his team.
With rumours of Bilic’s job security still persisting, this is a greater message than the dreaded chairman’s vote of confidence. It also could be a strong message throughout the squad and a moment which finally gets them playing closer to their potential.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 West Ham
The pace and trickery of the Eagles front two will cause problems for the ageing West Ham defenders and Roy Hodgson’s side go into this game with a good chance of taking a positive result. Despite be plagued by inconsistencies, West Ham have been slowly improving over the past few weeks. With both teams in need of the points, this should be an attacking game and following the Hammers dramatic comeback against Spurs, West Ham will have additional belief and confidence that could be the decisive factor.
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