(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)
The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini was supposed to usher in a new era at West Ham United, one where the east London side would finally realise their potential as a leviathan and begin climbing the ranks of the Premier League.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Coming out of the international break and into Sunday’s match at Goodison Park versus Everton, however, it has been more of the same old, same old as poor play and off-the-pitch dysfunction have ruled the day.
The Irons (0-0-4) are the only team in the top flight without a point, having shipped 10 goals in their defeats. With Pellegrini came an aggressive spending spree in the summer transfer window as 11 new players arrived with a cumulative cost of nearly £100 million. The results, though, have been uneven at best as Pellegrini has struggled to find his best four at the back and the midfield of newcomer Jack Wilshire and holdover Mark Noble have failed to influence matches offensively.
West Ham went into the break on a 1-0 loss to new boys Wolverhampton, and the hope is the time off has cleared everyone’s heads and the Irons can reboot themselves for this stretch of games to get off the foot of the table.
“Everyone was disappointed after the Wolves game,” fullback Ryan Fredericks admitted to the club’s official website. “We’ve been working hard over the international break and we’re confident of a much better performance and hopefully a better result on Sunday.
“There is no thought of letting things go. Some hard truths were spoken after the Wolves game and everyone wants to do the best for the club and the best for themselves. The plans the club had at the start of the season, we expected things to go better than this and for us to be higher up the table, so it’s up to us all to work hard and put things right on the pitch.”
That means finding a secondary scoring source beyond Mark Arnautovic, who has scored both of West Ham’s league goals and only one in the run of play through 360 minutes. Who lines up with Arnautovic in that starting XI has become a puzzling source of frustration to the Chilean as The Times reported Thursday a Twitter account with the handle ExWHUemployee has been posting the lineups publicly before Pellegrini has told the players.
Pellegrini’s usual M.O. is to tell the players four hours before kickoff, but the only people he talks to before meeting the players regarding the lineup are team owners David Sullivan and David Gold. It’s another headache for a team that spent most of the international break fighting a public battle with the landlords of London Stadium over things from putting a claret-coloured surround on the track around the pitch to the naming rights for the stadium since there is still no rights partner.
Everton (1-3-0) are not without their troubles both on and off the pitch, but the bigger worry for gaffer Marco Silva heading into this contest is the staggering amount of first-team players unavailable for this contest. At the top of the list is star winger Richarlison, who will complete his three-match ban for a red card following his headbutt of Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Defender Michael Keane is sidelined with a small fracture of his skull suffered in that 2-2 draw, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after breaking his right foot while on international duty with Ireland.
Centre back Phil Jagielka and midfielder Andre Gomes are also not expected to be available due to injuries and holding midfielder Idrissa Gueye is likely a match-time decision due to a knee injury. Winger Dominic Calvert-Lewin also picked up an ankle injury with England’s Under-21 side and could miss out on this match as well.
One of the players who has been pressed into duties with all of these injuries, defender Mason Holgate, has made the most of his increased playing time, something likely to continue with Everton’s spate of injuries and Carabao Cup commitments in addition to league play.
“You see a lot of new signings come in but when the club comes out and say they see a future for you here, it gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 21-year-old Holgate to Everton’s official website. “They believe I can come in and do the job – and hopefully that’s what I’ve been doing so far.
“Despite the players that are out, we are still going to field a good team and I feel we are going to still do well,” the centre back added. “In every position, we have two or three players who can play there comfortably. On our day, we can beat anybody.”
The off-the-pitch problems continue to swirl around Everton’s full-court press to prise Silva from Watford after they fired Ronald Koeman last term, with an independent inquiry to determine if Everton were “tapping up” Silva now underway. The two clubs have been embroiled in a bitter dispute for nearly a year when Everton made repeated offers to give him the job last November, with Watford’s ire rising with each offer they had to spurn.
There was a thought the teams settled the issue when Richarlison moved from Vicarage Road to Goodison Park for £40 million to be reunited with Silva – a figure many believed to be well above market value for the Brasil international – but Watford filed a formal complaint and escalated the affair.
Everton could face anything from a hefty fine to a potential points deduction depending on what the inquiry fines, which includes obtaining any contact from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri through the club’s front office with Silva. It is the first case in which talk of points being deducted has arisen since Chelsea made an illegal approach for Ashley Cole in 2005 and had a suspended three-point deduction in addition to a £300,000 fine.
The home team won both matches last term, with Everton smashing four without reply by West Ham as Wayne Rooney recorded a hat trick. The Irons have just three wins in 23 matches (3-4-16) in the blue section of Merseyside in the Premier League era and one league win in the last 11 visits (1-3-7).
Per Ladbrokes, Everton are solid favourites with 21/20 odds, while the odds of West Ham either winning or notching their first point of the season are both 5/2.
The Toffees get 2/1 odds for a win and more than 2.5 goals, while a draw under 2.5 goals returns 17/4. An Everton win under 2.5 goals checks in at 4/1, just ahead of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw (15/4).
Tosun is the front-runner for the first goal of the match at 4/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (9/2) and Arnautovic (11/2). Despite his illness, Chicharito is still on the board at 11/2, while Calvert-Lewin and Wolcott are just behind the Mexico international at 13/2.
Tosun is listed at 7/5 odds to score over the 90 minutes, while Niasse (8/5) and Arnautovic (9/5) lurk in the top three. Walcott is getting 21/10 odds, and Lookman offers an intriguing 5/2 odds to open his scoring account on the season after just 33 minutes of action versus Huddersfield Town in his league debut.
“This charming man” has a lot of problems in east London. The humour of the club’s former employee putting out accurate lineups before Pellegrini tells his players who is in the starting XI has the feel of “That’s so West Ham.” It is the kind of culture Pellegrini has been fighting since his arrival, and the fact this story has gained traction shows just how much of a fight there still is for him to wage.
A lot of this, though, could be solved with the salve that cures all ills — winning. West Ham appear to have the same disconnect Arsenal have, a leaky back line and a promising attack with a midfield that is hit or miss. The fact West Ham have a former Arsenal player as part of that existing problem only adds to the parallels. The Irons need Anderson to take a game by the throat, and they need Yarmolenko to start proving his worth on the pitch.
Everton are going to be a patchwork lineup for this week and likely next week as Silva may have to change over half his preferred outfield. Kenny will be tested severely at right back as he will likely get first crack at filling Coleman’s spot, and Lookman will finally get his chance to show Silva he is deserving of more time with Richarlison out along with Andre Gomes.
It was not a good sign there were stories floating around about Pellegrini being bought out after four matches and no points, and even with Everton short-handed, the empty run could continue at Goodison Park. Tosun is due to score a goal, and that may be enough for Everton to secure at least one point. The bigger issue is this may be the game where Pickford steals the other two for the Toffees.
Predicted Final Score: EVERTON 1, West Ham United 0.