Even at this early stage of the season, this match may be a crucial six-pointer for these two problem clubs in the Premier League who are in serious need of a lift to kick-start their respective campaigns. Visitors Middlesbrough occupy the lower mid-table positions and lie 16th ahead of their first ever visit to the London Stadium, whereas hosts West Ham are in turmoil.
Not only are they losing games and shipping goals; having conceded 14 in their last four league games, but more disgruntled supporters are turning against chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan week by week and an internal investigation is now taking place amidst reports that players Andy Carroll and Darren Randolph had been drunk on Tuesday afternoon.
In the meantime, the pressure is mounting on manager Slaven Bilic, and he will be desperate for his side to register a victory against another out-of-sorts side on Saturday afternoon.
Slaven Bilic’s Hammers are in a poor run of form. The Croatian was in despair at his side’s performance in their 0-3 home defeat to Southampton last weekend – they have been a shambles in defence for several weeks and something needs to change quickly if they are to turn their season around.
The Irons have suffered defeat in six of their last seven Premier League matches and have conceded three or more goals in their last four. Even when taking all competitions into account they have only one win in six, with a 1-0 EFL Cup win over Accrington Stanley their only triumph amidst five defeats in the league and in Europe.
Bilic’s side currently sit 18th with a mere three points from the opening two months of the campaign, and occupy the final relegation place, thus they could desperately do with a win here to ease their problems. It is also the first time in history that they have managed to lose five of their opening six league games.
Aitor Karanka’s newly promoted Middlesbrough have fared slightly better, and currently occupy the lower echelons of midtable, with five points from the opening two months of the season to lie 16th. However, they aren’t in the best shape ahead of their trip south either. The ‘Boro also have just one win in six in all competitions, a 2-1 win at bottom club Sunderland back in August.
They have also lost their last three in the league, albeit having faced opposition such as Everton and Tottenham, and have shipped two or more goals in their last three in the league. A trip to an out of form West Ham however may be their opportunity to get back on track.
Slaven Bilic hinted at changes in his post-match press conference after the defeat to Southampton, and as he seeks to solve West Ham’s woes in attack and in defence, we can expect several changes to the side that were dismantled by Saints last week. Bilic also has several injury problems to contend with and remain woefully short of options at full-back, so Alvaro Arbeloa is expected to feature and Sam Byram could come in at right-back.
With the midfield duo of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyaté often finding themselves being overrun in recent weeks, it is likely that Bilic may change tact to a 4-3-3 formation in order to sure up his side defensively. In that case, Manuel Lanzini may be the man to make way for Edimilson Fernandes to come into the midfield to join Noble and Kouyaté, with Michail Antonio and Dimitri Payet out wide in the front three and Simone Zaza operating as the spearhead.
For Middlesbrough, Fabio’s return from injury will be a boost for Aitor Karanka ahead of their trip to East London, and the Spaniard may also be tempted to hand Adama Traoré a start given his impact from the bench in ‘Boro’s home defeat to Tottenham, in place of Cristhian Stuani. Adding width to the side to take advantage of West Ham’s weak defending out wide may well be the avenue for Karanka’s side, and he is expected to set-up his side as such.
Calum Chambers could come in to shore up their own defence ahead of Daniel Ayala, with Ben Gibson keeping his place, Antonio Barragan and George Friend both remaining out at full-back. Summer signing Marten de Roon should retain his place to partner Adam Clayton, with Adama Traoré coming in on the right of an attacking trio containing Gaston Ramirez and Stewart Downing. Alvaro Negredo should remain as the lone striker ahead of them.
West Ham United predicted starting XI Middlesbrough predicted starting XI
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West Ham are currently decimated at the back with Arthur Masuaku now joining the injured Ryan Cresswell on the sidelines. Havard Nordtveit requires minor surgery and is also set to miss out, whilst in attack the Hammers are without Diafra Sakho, Andy Carroll and André Ayew.
Despite the boost of Fabio’s return from injury, Middlesbrough still have two on the treatment table, with James Husband and Grant Leadbitter the unfortunate ones missing out through injury.
West Ham United look bereft of confidence in their current run of form and are not defending as a team. Every time they go forward they appear susceptible to the counterattack, but this is a game where Bilic must get it right. A win here will not only ease the pressure that is building on him and his players but it will also give the club a massive lift in the midst of all the negativity surrounding them at present.
With Middlesbrough themselves in the middle of a tough slog, Aitor Karanka and his men will see this as a perfect opportunity to get their campaign back-on-track and anything other than a win will feel like two points dropped given the way that the Hammers are playing. The ‘Boro are however winless in their last five Premier League meetings with the East London club, and although neither side are particularly defending well at the moment, both are yet to show any kind of ruthless streak in front of goal. Therefore with both sides desperate for something to stop the rot, our call is a 1-1 draw.
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