For anyone that hasn’t heard, the Premier League is officially back! In the first test for Pep’s defending champions, a West Ham team you never know what to expect from awaits. Managed by the Charming Man himself Manuel Pellegrini, the Hammers have the potential to beat any of the top six on their day, and then go and lose their next match against the table’s bottom side. So what team will City meet in Saturday’s early kickoff?
West Ham have been very busy in the transfer market this summer, and will have a few big changes since the last time these two teams met competitively. Talisman Marko Arnautovic has finally made his move away from the club, having been long linked with a move to China. Pedro Obiang, Samir Nasri, and Lucas Perez are the other major names to find their futures beyond the Olympic Stadium. The club has not been shy in splashing the cash however, and have made major additions in Sebastian Haller of Eintracht Frankfurt for a club-record fee and Pablo Fornals from Villarreal. The board is intent on giving Pellegrini the players he needs to make West Ham a contender for European qualification, but the question of whether the funds were spent in the right positions remains to be answered.
Probable Formation and Lineup
Since joining West Ham, Pellegrini has mainly used the 4-2-3-1 formation, which he also used for the majority of the time at City, besides the small experiment of Wilfried Bony partnering Sergio Agüero. Lukas Fabianski has been battling an injury this week but looks set to be fit to play Saturday in what will be a big boost for the Hammers. In defence, City legend Pablo Zabaleta will most likely deputise the right back position, with Aaron Creswell playing on the opposite side. Angelo Ogbonna and Balbuena are my picks to get the nod in the middle of defence, with this being the area West Ham lack quality the most, emphasised by fans’ want for reinforcements in that area this summer.
Declan Rice will quite possibly be the second name on the team-sheet (a certain club-record signing probably has to be the first), with the youngster enjoying a fantastic 2018-2019 season and will look to pick up right where he left off. Beside him, I believe Pellegrini will opt for his club captain Mark Noble over Jack Wilshere.
Up front is where we should see the new look West Ham. Felipe Anderson is coming into his second season in the league and will be looking to pick up more responsibility following Arnautovic’s departure. He should start on the left hand side. Manuel Lanzini and Fornals should occupy the other two attacking midfield roles, and would probably interchange between the middle and right side. Finally, Haller looks set to start up front.
Strengths and Tactics
Pellegrini has managed a variety of different clubs, and his tactics remain very similar each place he goes. As we talked about earlier, the 4-2-3-1 formation has become his go-to, and how he has his team play in it doesn’t alter much either. Pellegrini is known for playing attacking and attractive football, but adjustments need to be made in certain matches. Expect West Ham to dig in their heels and defend with numbers, as most teams in the league do when City come to town. But when possession is gained, we will likely see a lot of one to two touch play as West Ham attempt to counter with numbers. The wide midfielders will be given license to roam as they see fit, and could cause City problems in transition. Oleksandr Zinchenko and most likely Kyle Walker will have their hands full.
Lanzini is a constant threat to every opposition and needs to be watched closely. Should Rodri be given his Premier League debut, he must stay disciplined and avoid turning off and letting the Argentinian evade his attention, as he has the ability to create something out of nothing. Haller up top will represent a big test for Aymeric Laporte and John Stones. The striker was not given the recognition he deserved due to his brilliant partner in crime Luka Jovic, but Pep Guardiola will be well aware of the threat the Frenchmen possesses, especially in the air. Expect West Ham to look to get the ball wide and cross it in to their record signing early and often.
There are two main weakness points in Pellegrini’s West Ham side. First, a tactical issue. One of the staples of Pellegrini’s teams is overlapping fullbacks. We saw this work to great effect during his time at City, but also could cause great harm to the side, and this is no different for West Ham. The two wide defenders will be encouraged to get forward – not as much as in his other sides – and try to create numerical advantages out wide. They will have to be extremely careful with this on Saturday, as City are known to be unforgiving on the counter…
Secondly, this is more of a personnel issue. West Ham will most likely look to hold onto possession whenever possible to relieve stress on their defence. The issue could run into is the technical abilities of their defence and holding midfielders. City are excellent at pressing the ball and getting opposing teams to make mistakes, leading either to a turnover in the attacking half or a long clearance which allows them to build from the back once again. To resist City’s press, the midfielders must be very good with the ball, and with Rice and Noble in the middle of the park, they could struggle. One possibility Pellegrini could opt for is moving away from the 4-2-3-1 and bringing an extra man into central midfield. Adding Wilshere beside Rice and Noble at the expense of an attacking player could give West Ham more success at building counter attacks.
The Xtra View
While West Ham are known to be able to turn up in big matches – a prime example being their crucial draw with Liverpool last season to help City win the title – City always seem to have their number. The squad must be completely focused for this match, given the plethora of attacking talent at Pellegrini’s disposal. But assuming Pep Guardiola has his men bang up for Saturday, I expect City would walk away with a 4-1 win to kick start their title defence.
Let’s get this season started on the right foot boys!
You can follow us on twitter here: @City_Xtra
You can follow the author here: @realgavinford