As the international break goes away and league football returns it always feels like the rain stops and the rainbow appears in the sky. It’s even better when your favourite team comes out of the monotonous 10 days without an injury to one of their key men. For both of these sides, there are a number of talking points in which to add a bit of flavour to Monday nights fixture: West Ham United v Newcastle United.
The main storyline going into this game sees Steve McClaren head to London in search of revenge as he goes up against Slaven Bilic once more. Bilic, the manager of the Croatia side to stop England – at the time managed by McClaren – from qualifying for Euro 2008, gaining McClaren the ‘wally with a brollie’ nickname for years to come. Seven years later, people still feel the need to mention this above the football. So, let’s mention the football.
West Ham began this season earlier than any Premier League club, entering the Europa League Qualifying stages via the Fair Play award. Europa League Qualifying – the more boring way of saying ‘Intertoto Cup’ – took West Ham to Andorra and Romania 6 weeks before they could think about Premier League football. This allowed the Hammers to prepare for the season, but didn’t allow a lot of time to regroup and get some rest before the last season at the iconic Upton Park. Losing in Europe may have been an annoyance for the fans; who had seen the club come so close and risk injuries and fatigue by starting so early in the season, only to see their team crash out. However, this season without Europe will certainly be seen as a blessing for Bilic in his first season in the English top flight.
After a number of interesting signings, Dmitri Payet and Angelo Ogbonna from Marseille and Juventus respectively, the first game of the season was a nightmare that turned into a dream. What looked like a certain pummelling on paper, away to FA Cup Winners Arsenal, goals from Cheikhou Kouyate and Mauro Zarate meant the Hammers picked up all three points and took a number of positive performances from the game. However, all that good work was sniffed out when West Ham welcomed Bournemouth to Upton Park. Looking disjointed and tactically oblivious, they fell to a 4-3 defeat, and although getting 3 goals at home should be enough most weeks, the defence was abysmal and they could never claimed they deserved more than they got. The inconsistency continued, as a 3-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield followed, and Bilic’s side were proving to difficult to handle when on the attack (even if they were gifted a goal by Dejan Lovren!)
The main positive for Newcastle here is that West Ham’s home form has been poor, while their away form looks unbeatable. Retaining Alex Song for another season and bringing in more fire power up front with Nikica Jelavic and Michail Antonio, this is going to be a busy one for Newcastle’s defence and midfield.
However, there will be problems for the Magpies. They are yet to score since the 2-2 draw against Southampton on the opening weekend, and the lack of fire-power up front hasn’t been helped by Aleksandar Mitrovic finally picking up his first red card of the season last time out against Arsenal. With no reinforcements on ‘Deadline Day’, McClaren and co. must trust the instincts of Papiss Cisse and the creative prowess of Florian Thauvin, Siem De Jong and Georgino Wijnaldum. This will be the first test to see if Newcastle’s failure to bring in another striker was the right decision or not. With no defensive structure to speak of, this could be the best opportunity to prove the sceptical fans wrong.
There might even be a return of a former fan favourite and forgotten man, as Andy Carroll looks set to feature in his first game of the season. With the poor home form so far and the hunger of the travelling Magpies, they just might need him to prove why he was signed for 35 million all those years ago.
3 Players to Watch:
- Cheikhou Kouyate – ability to stop anything in his tracks, and not bad going forward, too. A nightmare at set-pieces which is just what Newcastle don’t want.
- Michail Antonio – New signing from Nottingham Forest, intrigue over whether he can make the step up to the Premiership. If his form for Forest was anything to go by, Newcastle’s full-backs could be in for a long evening.
- Dmitri Payet – The most creative player in the French league last season, wouldn’t have looked out-of-place if he was signed by the opponents this summer. Has the ability to change a game and cannot be given too much space.
The positivity around the club and the performances by the players are crucial if Newcastle United are to kick-start their season here. If they channel into that positive energy and don’t let their heads drop after some unfortunate results then this could be the game that Newcastle ordered. West Ham are a good attacking side and this has the potential to have a lot of goals.
Prediction – West Ham United 2-3 Newcastle United.