Tonight’s Premier League fixture brings together two teams who are sat side by side in the table but who will feel very different about how their respective seasons have gone so far.
For Slaven Bilic’s side, the new season has brought little respite from the criticism they faced last season. Having been in residence at the London Stadium for over a year now, fans of the East London club were hoping that last season’s stadium hoodoo was long gone. A poor start to the season, though, has done little to convince anyone that West Ham are back to their best, with many people tipping Bilic for an early departure from the club.
Brighton, on the other hand, will be delighted with the start they have made to life in the Premier League. In spite of the fact that they are only 2 points clear of the relegation zone, there are a number of teams below them performing sufficiently poorly to convince the South Coast side that they will stay up this season.
RealSport look at three key battles which could decide this fixture.
Manuel Lanzini vs Dale Stephens
Since picking up an injury at the end of last season, the Hammers have badly missed Lanzini’s creative genius in the middle of the park. The Argentine has made only one Premier League start so far this season and results have reflected how important the little playmaker is to their attacking play. Lanzini has wonderful vision, and his close control and dribbling ability mean that he is an effective operator within tight spaces.
As Lanzini is one of the few players in the West Ham squad who is capable of providing the link between midfield and attack, Dale Stephens will have to be at the top of his game to restrict the Argentine. So far this season, Stephens has averaged 3.3 tackles so far in the league, making him crucial to Brighton’s organised and disciplined start to life in the Premier League. If Stephens can stop Lanzini, he will stop the majority of Slaven Bilic’s side’s creativity.
Michail Antonio vs Markus Suttner
With his pace and ball-carrying skills, Michail Antonio offers Slaven Bilic a level of versatility that the Croatian manager often takes advantage of. Playing on either side of the pitch and from anywhere from full back to wide attacking player, Antonio also chipped in with a number of goals for his club last season, with many coming from his head. Antonio’s driving runs forward can be a nightmare for teams to deal with, often forcing defenders onto the back foot. His average of 1.9 dribbles per game so far this season shows how often he aims to carry the ball forward for West Ham.
West Ham will no doubt then look to get Antonio isolated against left back Markus Suttner. The Austrian has made a satisfactory start to life in the Premier League. However, he may find himself exposed in one-on-one’s against Antonio. Having averaging two tackles per game so far this season, that number will no doubt have to increase if he is to halt Michail Antonio in his tracks.
Solly March vs Pablo Zabaleta
Solly March rarely gets spoken about in discussions about Brighton’s most important players. However, the former England under-23 international is a talented wide player who has impressed so far in his eight Premier League appearances. March is a technical player who provides good creativity for a side who rely on individual moments due to their defensive set up. He also possesses a good appreciation of space, constantly looking to pick up the ball in between the opposition lines.
In Pablo Zabaleta, though, he is coming up against one of the most experienced professionals in the Premier League. The Argentine, who won the Premier League twice with Manchester City, will fancy his chances of denying March as he looks to find space on the left-hand side of the Brighton attack.
Zabaleta is also an energetic and powerful runner and will look to get forward to provide the support at any given opportunity. March, then, may have to sacrifice some of his attacking output in order to track the runs of Zabaleta himself to ensure another solid display from Chris Hughton’s side.
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