We have a really good record at home against West Ham not losing since 1999 yet I have some trepidation about tomorrow’s game. When we lost at Upton Park earlier this year the Hammers put on an extremely committed performance and deserved to win yet before and after were absolutely clueless hence their basement position.
Yet in recent weeks the signing of Demba Ba and fitness of Thomas Hitzelsperger have transformed their side to the point where Robbie Keane must be concerned he will be a permanent bench man at the Hammers should they stay up. Therefore we should expect another tough test where before Christmas we might be looking at the chance of an easy three points.
Unfortunately the problem rests with us due to an inability of our front men to put away the chances in recent times and then when we have our generosity at the back to allow sides back into the game. Yet if we are to finish our season with the required flurry its important that we put this right starting tomorrow.
Last time out at Wolves we managed to score three with Pav and Defoe in the side. All our goals were well taken and Defoe’s efforts something out of nothing. But in that game there was no Van Der Vaart so it was easy to go 4-4-2. Tomorrow Rafa is likely to start so this in many ways pushes Peter Crouch forward to partner him and I’m concerned about the damage that this does to Defoe, particularly as he did not feature at all against AC Milan.
West Ham can be sloppy at the back. Tomkins is improving and will be an excellent defender but inevitably still lacks experience. Upson makes more mistakes than he should, Bridge lacks match practice and Green can make as many strange decisions as Gomes yet unless we capitalise on any opportunities awarded we are going to limp home.
In all our recent games Van Der Vaart has not managed more than an hour which for me points to a lack of match fitness. Yet we still start him irrespective of this fact. I appreciate you should start your best team but if this leads to a lack of confidence in others does it really help. The fact that Defoe scored two brilliant goals and hit a post in the last Premier League game would point to another start in the next game but it never happened. So what happens to his confidence if he does not start tomorrow?
How about leaving Rafa on the bench for the first 60 and giving Defoe a run out?
Looking elsewhere I fancy the midfield will feature Bale on the left for the first time in a while. Against Wolves he looked good during his cameo but understandably had some stiffness afterwards. With Lennon having been our best attacking midfielder over recent matches I am looking forward to see how stretched West Ham get by these two which should allow Modric to come inside and cause them problems.
That leaves a straight choice between Jenas and Sandro for the defensive slot and after his recent games I would be shocked if Sandro was not asked to continue. With Palacios sidelined after a knee operation it is a straight choice between these two for a few weeks and I expect both to offer strong performances as both look to be in good form.
At the back I would not expect any changes with Gallas and Dawson continuing and Charlie and Benny playing fullback. Interestingly Ledley is listed as injured but I might be wrong but I thought he was a sub against Milan. Behind them Gomes and it might be a busy day for them if Parker, Hitzlesperger and Noble have any say in the matter.
So the midfield battle must be won and it won’t be an easy one. In this game attack must be the best form of defence but we must make sure that we capitalise upon the midfield chances we create. If we do that then we can win the game comfortably but if we don’t then we make it hard for ourselves at a time when we need to start knocking out the victories.
My team for tomorrow:
Corluka Gallas Dawson Ekotto
Lennon Sandro Modric Bale
Prediction: I’m hopeful we have our shooting boots on and come through 3-1 after a derby full of passion.