Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL action

Eden Hazard

It’s FA Cup weekend coming up so there are just five EPL matches to look forward to.

Saturday’s games see Bournemouth host Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United at the Vitality Stadium while Huddersfield Town make the trip to London to face West Ham United.

Brendan Rodgers brings his Leicester team to face Burnley at Turf Moor at the same time. Burnley have lost their last three league games while Leicester won 3-1 against Fulham last time out.

On Sunday, Liverpool travel to meet Fulham as The Reds look to go back to the top of the Premier League, temporarily at least. Everton play host to Chelsea later that day. The Toffees have won just once in their last six games. Chelsea drew 1-1 with Wolves last Sunday.

EPL predicted lineups for this weekend

Chelsea

There is another full list of Premier League fixtures this coming weekend with all games being played over Saturday and Sunday.

Spurs v Arsenal

Spurs XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Sissoko, Winks, Rose, Eriksen, Kane, Son

Arsenal XI: Leno, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Aubameyang

Questionable: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs); Lars Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)

Out: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (Spur); Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)

Manuel Lanzini returns from injury

Manuel Lanzini

West Ham supporters were feeling a bit worried when they went 1-0 down early on against Fulham. However, goals from Javier Hernandez, Issa Diop and Michail Antonio handed the Hammers a 3-1 victory.

The three points –which keeps them in touch with seventh place- will be gratefully received. There is something which will give Hammers fans even more joy though: the return of Manuel Lanzini. The Argentinian international replaced Felipe Anderson in the 76th minute for his first involvement in any game this season.

He had been on the side lines for eight months after rupturing his ACL during Argentina’s preparations for the World Cup in Russia. The timing of the incident was as unfortunate as could be. He’d worked so hard to force his way into the thinking of manager Jorge Sampaoli with dazzling performances in a West Ham shirt.

There were initial fears that he’d miss the entirety of this campaign due to the severity of the injury, so to see him back already is a massive bonus for everyone involved with the club.

The man nicknamed ‘The Jewell’ did show slight signs of rust on his return, as he took too long on the ball when offered a chance in the box and was dispossessed. He also tripped Dennis Odoi in the 83rd minute, picking up a yellow card. When it is considered how long he’s been out of the game he can be let off for needing a little acclimatisation time.

Following the game, he posted a photo of the moment he entered the play. His caption ended with a statement saying: “I want to say thanks to all the fans, I love you”. The feeling is certainly reciprocated by the supporters for a man who is amongst the most technically gifted at the club.

He’s been winning West Ham supporters’ hearts with his skill and trickery since moving to East London from UAE based club Al Jazira on loan in 2015 and permanently the following year. It’s after Dimitri Payet’s departure that he propelled himself to fan favourite status though, as he took over the role of the central creative hub in the side at a time when one was needed more than ever.

It will be hoped that he will now be able to return to a similar role at the tip of Manuel Pellegrini’s three-man midfield. With talents like Anderson and Samir Nasri in the side, there is cause for excitement in regards to the style of football that West Ham will be playing throughout the rest of the season.

It is this that makes the timing of Lanzini’s return so brilliant for everyone at the club. While the initial feeling of having him back on the pitch is nice for supporters, there is a much more important element. He’s coming into the side shortly after West Ham’s disastrous January, but with the Hammers in rich form. The club can still push for seventh place, which could result in a Europa League spot for next season. The feel good factor and technical ability which Lanzini’s return brings the Hammers could be just what the club needs to ensure they get there.

 

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Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL fixtures

Premier League predicted lineups

It’s time to look ahead to this weekend’s Premier League action as we predict the starting lineups for each EPL game.

Cardiff City v Watford

Cardiff XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarsson, Arter, Murphy, Cordova-Reid, Niasse

Watford XI: Foster, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema, Deeney, Deulofeu

Questionable: Ashley Darel Jazz Richards (Cardiff)

Out: Sean Morrison (Cardiff); Holebas, Kiko Femenia (Watford)

Three January signings to keep a close eye on within the Premier League

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With the January transfer window coming to an end, it will surely not be one for the Premier League experts and pundits to constantly talk about, especially when you see that only most of the teams in the bottom half of the league brought two or more players compared to the sides in the top half.

The main loan deals in Denis Suarez to Arsenal, Youri Tielemans to Leicester City and the deadline-day move of Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi to Crystal Palace stole most of the headlines within the English media. However, there were a couple of moves that have gone completely off the radar, which will allow the players to adapt to life in English football before kicking off at their new club.

With no further ado, it is time to look at the three January additions to importantly look out for…

Gonzalo Higuain (Chelsea)

After scoring a brace in his first Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, Gonzalo Higuain will have won over majority of the Chelsea supporters as they regain their position in the top four once again. Although some will feel that it is only one good performance and against a poor Huddersfield side, his movement on and off the ball was top notch as well as his clever linkup play with Eden Hazard.

Remembering Maurizio Sarri’s men are still in the Europa League and the FA Cup, having a striker like the former Napoli and Real Madrid forward is the perfect option to have, given that Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud have been unconvincing over the last couple of months. In the end, if Higuain exceeds all expectations, he could become Sarri’s main number nine for the next few years.

Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United)

As Newcastle United are sitting uncomfortably above the relegation zone by two points, they will be more than happy with the arrivals of central-midfielder Miguel Almiron and left-back Antonio Barreca on a loan deal. Focusing more on the newest club-record signing, he was closely linked with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur before his move to St James Park was official.

During his two incredible seasons at Atlanta United in the MLS, Almiron showed the capability and intelligence to play in any of the areas within midfield, from the number ten role behind the centre-forward to either flanks. Not only that, the Paraguayan international has proven himself to be useful in terms of retrieving the ball for his side, through his work rate and ability to press when required.

Samir Nasri (West Ham United)

Samir Nasri is no stranger when it comes to English football, having already spent three seasons at Arsenal before going on to play for Manchester City for five years. Although he had tried to revive his career with a loan move to Sevilla and then a permanent transfer to Turkish side Antalyaspor, things went from bad to worse, as he received an 18-month ban from the UEFA for doping illegally.

However, he has received a second chance in his professional career and at West Ham United, where he will be looking to play regularly and hope to become one of Manuel Pellegrini’s important starters within the line-up. Despite the fact that he is currently on the sidelines with a minor knock and is expected to return next week, he will aim to see out the remainder of the season on a high note, and then see if the Hammers are willing to offer him a two or three-year contract deal.

January had a big impact on West Ham’s season

ARNT(1)

Things can look very different after a month. With six wins from seven games in December, there was plenty of optimism for West Ham United at the beginning of January. However, an unsettling Marko Arnautovic transfer saga, otherwise uneventful transfer window, FA Cup exit at the hands of AFC Wimbledon and a 3-0 thrashing from Wolverhampton Wanderers have changed the mood in East London.

Many supporters were hoping for a cup run and a chase for European football to add excitement to the end of this campaign. It is being said by many that the second half will be pretty boring for the Hammers though, stating the season is already in danger of fizzling out. It can be difficult for matches to maintain their level of importance unless there is a relegation battle or chase for the top places, it’s a problem which the Hammers have faced in the past and it can be argued will face again this time around.

January begun with Samir Nasri being brought in for free after his doping ban had ended. Despite initial concerns after the considerable length of time he’d spent out of the game there were promising early signs once he got onto the pitch. He’d done well on his debut against Birmingham City in the FA Cup before playing an instrumental role in the victory against his former employers Arsenal. He’s now injured though.

Then there was the Arnautovic drama. The Austrian was linked with a move to China, with his brother adding to the rumours by claiming that West Ham should let him leave. After waving the fans goodbye when taken off against Arsenal, then missing the following games against AFC Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon it was announced that he’d signed an improved contract to keep him at the club. The contract was announced via a video which was released just after the club’s FA Cup exit, with the forward saying he was “back”. It’s impossible to tell whether his shenanigans were a contributing factor to the club’s recent form but the general feeling is that he’s unsettled those around him. The Wolves game did little to prove otherwise.

With all the talks of exits hanging over the club, there had also been a mention of players who were potentially coming to the London Stadium. Names such as Maxi Gomez have been thrown into the mix and there was mention of potentially bringing someone in on loan from Chelsea. However, when the transfer window ended there were no further recruits aside from Nasri, as Gomez remained at Celta Vigo. There was clear disappointment from many West Ham supporters at the news (or lack of it) as they felt it was an opportunity missed.

The only point gained outside of the win against the Gunners was in a 2-2 draw against Brihgton & Hove Albion. However, as frustrating as January was, it can be argued that this it’s not season ending. The three disappointing results came in the space of 10 days and with the transfer window now closed everyone can get on with the football rather than speculating over moves for now. The FA Cup exit is certainly a big blow, especially considering who is left in the competition this year and it hasn’t helped that two losses against opposition around the Hammers came either side of that shock exit.

However, February brings matches against Crystal Palace, Fulham and Newcastle United. These are all games which West Ham will feel they should be winning and if they do so it could put the men in claret and blue back in with a chance of taking seventh in the league. February –like any other month for a Premier League club- won’t be simple though; the Hammers host Liverpool tomorrow evening and will also face Manchester City. Get wins on the board and some excitement could return to the London Stadium. After all, things can look very different after a month.

 

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Samir Nasri’s brilliant start to life at West Ham United

nasri

There were mixed reactions to the initial news that West Ham United were signing Samir Nasri. Having been banned for doping he began training with the Hammers towards the end of 2018 to earn a contract, with it being announced he had successfully done so at the very beginning of January. Many felt that he wouldn’t be up to the standard after his extended period out of the game. However, Manuel Pellegrini clearly saw enough in him during those training sessions to offer him a contract. His early performances have begun to get the supporters on side as well.

He was on left on the bench against Brighton & Hove Albion –the first game after he was signed- before making his debut in the FA Cup Third Round match against Birmingham City. He played 58 minutes in the 2-0 win, showing the technical ability that had led to him being held in such high esteem during his prime years. There were some touches of true class from the Frenchman during the game, with a pinpoint pass to Marko Arnautovic on the edge of the box after the ball had popped up being a prime example.

Nasri also worked hard throughout his time on the pitch, though it seemed he tired after half time before being brought off. However, even after the training he’s undertaken it would have been a big ask to expect the Frenchman to last the entirety of the game.His creative contributions certainly helped In the time he did play, as the Hammers booked their place in the next round.

His performance impressed the manager enough to earn him a spot in the starting line up for the next game. This meant his first game back in the Premier League would be against Arsenal. It was the perfect setting for his comeback: playing against the club who have loathed him so heavily ever since he left them to join Manchester City.

The Arsenal supporters may have been charged up in the stands, but Nasri remained composed on the pitch. A moment which epitomises this is when he had the ball near the edge of the box and was being put under pressure by the Arsenal defence. Rather than panic and try to get a snap shot off, he patiently waited for Felipe Anderson to arrive before laying it off to the Brazilian for a first time shot. The effort may not have gone in, but that alongside other forms of link up play showed that he will be a creative and threatening attacking presence in West Ham’s side.

His most important contribution came in the 48th minute, when Granit Xhaka’s weak defensive header fell to his feet in the box. He took one touch out of his feet, saw Declan Rice and played the ball to the 19-year-old, setting the youngster up for his first ever senior goal. What made the moment even sweeter is that this was the only goal of the game and handed the Hammers the win.

The Frenchman and his team mates will now be looking to build on these victories. West Ham’s next match will be against AFC Bournemouth, with a win potentially taking them up to seventh.

 

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Michail Antonio is having a brilliant start to 2019

Michail_Antonio

When Michail Antonio gets going with the ball at his feet he’s pretty hard to stop. His powerful running combined with quick thinking mean he can bulldoze his way through the opposition or jink his way past. The West Ham man had struggled to have an impact at the beginning of the season, however, he’s looking to be back towards his best based on recent performances, especially those coming since the turn of the New Year.

This week has been the epitome of what the Hammers’ number 30 is great at. Having played the full 90 minutes three games in a row, Manuel Pellegrini had opted to leave Antonio on the bench for Wednesday’s home match against Brighton & Hove Albion. He was eventually substituted on for Robert Snodgrass in the 63rd minute with his side 2-0 down, due to goals from Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy.

Mark Noble –who’d come on at the same time as Antonio- had set up Marko Arnautovic to make it 2-1 just five minutes after the pair had been introduced to play. Just two minutes later it was the winger who announced himself. With Jürgen Locadia and Bernardo doubling up on him, he kept them guessing until he was ready to make his move. He then pushed the ball past the Brazilian full back, barged him away and just kept the ball in play, cutting it back to Arnautovic. The Austrian took a touch and poked it into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

With Antonio wreaking havoc down the right hand side, West Ham were able to make other opportunities in the game, putting the Seagulls under sustained and intense pressure. Brighton stood strong though and held on for the draw, but nothing can be taken away from the impact Antonio and Noble had.

Three days later and he was starting at right back in the FA Cup against Birmingham City. He has displayed a disdain for playing at full back in the past, when continuously played there by Slaven Bilic. However, with Ryan Fredericks injured and Pablo Zabaleta ill, Antonio has had to fill in there at times in the last month, putting in stellar performances.

Yesterday’s 2-0 win was another of those great showings, as he assisted West Ham’s second goal of the game for the second match in a row. This time, the Hammers had gone up within two minutes and had been in danger of letting their lead slip. It was in the 91st minute that Antonio helped secure West Ham’s progression to the fourth round. He received the ball from Robert Snodgrass and took a touch out of his feet. He then sent a perfectly weighted cross towards Andy Carroll who rose above the defender to head in his first goal since returning from injury.

Aside from that moment, Antonio’s link up play with 20-year-old Grady Diangana was tantalising. The pair put together some brilliant combinations to great effect, taunting the Birmingham defence for the entirety of the game. Diangana was arguably the standout player for the Hammers, but his performance was certainly helped by the overlapping runs and slip balls that Antonio provided him with.

Antonio will be hoping to keep his impressive run of form in 2019 going when Arsenal visit the London Stadium on Saturday. The Gunners have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four league matches, so Antonio and his team mates will look to exploit any defensive frailties they may meet.

 

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Declan Rice signs West Ham contract extension

Declan Rice

The January transfer window hasn’t even begun, but West Ham United have already secured a piece of business which will surely be their most important of the winter. Less than 24 hours after yet another stellar performance, this time in a 2-1 win against Southampton, it was announced that Declan Rice had signed a new contract.

This new deal will see him stay in claret and blue until 2024, with the club holding the option to offer him an extra year on top of that. His contract negotiations have been long and drawn out, with the board offering less than was seen as acceptable numerous times. Rice had received criticism from some for not accepting the previous offers, with others using his decision to think over his national allegiances having represented Republic of Ireland three times as a stick to beat him with. The time taken over these decisions have led some to question him.

However, most would say that these two decisions are ones he was right to take time over. Most importantly he hasn’t allowed speculation to interfere with his game. Rice has shown incredible maturity and consistency both on and off the pitch, which is impressive for anyone with all those questions hanging over their head. For him to deal with all of that at the age of 19, while maintaining a high level of performance in the Premier League, is highly impressive.

He’s already made his 50th appearance for the Hammers- which came in the 2-0 loss against Watford. During that game and the victory at St. Mary’s, among other matches, the club’s supporters could be heard chanting ‘Sign him up’. Now that his contract is sorted, West Ham fans can enjoy watching the academy graduate in the heart of their midfield without having to worry about losing him. Rice is someone they’ve taken to their hearts due to the way that he conducts himself on the pitch; there is a clear pride to see someone from the academy who has an affinity with the club excelling to this level.

Rice is an integral part of the team now, having started each of West Ham’s last 17 matches in all competitions. His manager has been complimentary of his performances and the way he’s dealt with everything that’s come his way, including that he feels the 19-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.

Tomorrow’s match against Burnley sees Rice face the team that he made his debut against just 18 months ago. It is a testament to his ability and attitude to see how far he’s come in the time since that two-minute cameo. He and his team mates will be looking to secure back to back wins after losing their previous winning streak against Watford, as they look to push further up the table.

That will be the last match the Hammers play before the madness of the January transfer window begins. According to numerous sources it is highly likely that Samir Nasri will be signing for West Ham on a free transfer. Aside from that many feel that, with the form the men in claret and blue are have shown in December, there isn’t much need for too many reinforcements. Everyone’s just happy that Declan Rice’s contract is sorted.

 

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West Ham’s winning run comes to an end against Watford

Watford Troy Deeney

Writing about West Ham’s winning run and the last time they matched it was fun while it lasted. The latest win -which came against Fulham- took the club to four wins for the first time since 2014. However, that run came to an end yesterday in frustrating fashion, as the Hammers lost 2-0 at home against Watford.

The game was open from the very start, with both sides creating chances which should have been taken. It was Watford who were gifted the best chance of the first half though. Roberto Pereyra played a one-two with Gerard Deulofeu which saw him enter the West Ham box. Fabian Balbuena attempted to tackle the Argentine, but made a mess of it, giving away a penalty and sustaining an injury that forced him off just a few minutes later.

It was pantomime villain Troy Deeney who stepped up to take the penalty following the delay while Balbuena received treatment. The Watford captain emphatically drilled the ball into the top corner to make it 1-0 before going off to celebrate in front of the Hammers fans. Lukasz Fabianski is renowned for his heroics in penalty situations, but he was given no hope by Deeney’s strike.

Javier Hernandez almost got a goal back before the break, but Ben Foster was able to reach the Mexican’s volley which had been destined for the bottom corner. He also hit an air shot when Felipe Anderson played him the ball after some great trickery in the second half and had an effort stopped by a block from Abdoulaye Doucouré.

However, it will be Michail Antonio who’s most frustrated to have not got on the score sheet. Early in the second half he latched onto a Robert Snodgrass corner, glancing it across goal with his head. He’d got the slightest of touches on the ball, which was only enough to make it connect with the post before bouncing to the feet of a Watford defender.

His second encounter with the woodwork was even harder to take. Grady Diangana had worked himself some space impressively on the right wing before forcing the ball into the box. Snodgrass’ initial header was deflected off of Craig Cathcart and saved by Foster. Antonio got onto the ball with the goal gaping in front of him, but he was only able to send his header against the bar from a few yards out.

Summarising West Ham’s night, just two and a half minutes later Watford scored a second to secure the win. Pereyra and Deulofeu linked up well again before the latter slotted the ball into the bottom corner in the 87th minute. Having dominated the game for large periods the Hammers had found themselves on the losing side without a goal to their name, the finishing touch which had been so prevalent in their last four games having deserted them.

Following this defeat, West Ham sit 12th in the table going into Christmas, though they remain just three points behind yesterday’s opposition who jump to seventh. Next up for the Hammers is an away trip to Southampton on December 27th. The Saints have recorded back to back wins of their own following the arrival of Ralph Hasenhüttl.

 

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