Having averted a full-blown crisis just four matches into the season, West Ham United look to begin their climb off the foot of the Premier League table Saturday when they host promoted Wolverhampton at London Stadium.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
WRITER’S NOTE — West Ham’s lineup is obviously fluid pending the status of Arnautovic. If he is able to play, he replaces Chicharito leading the line. If not, another option for Pellegrini is to switch to a 4-4-2 in which Noble is dropped for Snodgrass and Jack Wilshire to partner in central midfield. Anderson replaces Antonio on the left and Yarmolenko starts on the right. Chicharito and Lucas Perez would then be up front.
The Irons (0-0-3) are the only team without a point as the flurry of late signings totaling £100 million as part of Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival in London has yet to coalesce. That has been most evident on defence, where West Ham has shipped nine goals.
That worrying trend looked set to continue in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday when Joe Pigott staked League One side AFC Wimbledon to a lead in the second minute, but the Irons caught a break when Rod McDonald was sent off for his second yellow card on 18 minutes.
West Ham then laid siege as the match became one-way traffic toward the hosts’ goal. Centre back Issa Diop, whose own goal proved decisive in West Ham’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal last Saturday, launched a 25-yard screamer in the 63rd minute to pull the Irons level.
The £22 million man from Toulouse nearly added a second two minutes later when his header on a corner by Felipe Anderson thumped the crossbar, but West Ham would not be denied as Angelo Ogbonna converted a Robert Snodgrass corner seven minutes from time.
Chicharito added a third late, and the east London side could finally exhale after breaking their duck.
“We needed a win after three defeats in the Premier League, especially to bring back confidence to the players, the staff and everyone,” right back Pablo Zabaleta told the club’s official website. “We know we are improving every day and now we need to get three points against Wolves.”
Diop and Snodgrass were the only holdovers from Saturday’s XI at Wimbledon, but Pellegrini may be forced into at least one change from that first 11 against Arsenal since Marko Arnautovic – who has both of West Ham’s league goals – suffered a knock versus the Gunners.
Chicharito would be the most likely replacement to lead the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation, though Arnautovic has trained with the team during the week and could at worst be available off the bench. New signing Andriy Yarmolenko could be in contention for his first league start after following up his 15-minute stint versus Arsenal with a solid effort Tuesday.
Wolverhampton (0-2-1) also advanced to the third round of the Carabao Cup with a 2-0 victory at Championship side Sheffield United on Tuesday. Leo Bonatini ended a 27-match goalless drought dating to December in the 53rd minute, and Helder Costa added a late penalty after winning a foul for Wolves.
Last term’s Championship winners have not conceded in their five Carabao Cup matches under Nuno Espirito Santo – Wolves lost in the fourth round last season on penalties to eventual trophy winners Manchester City after 120 scoreless minutes.
“For us it was a good game,” Nuno told the Express & Star. “Every time a player wears the shirt of Wolves he knows what he has to do, he’s inside of the shape and works very hard.
“It keeps our identity and our philosophy,” he added to Wolves TV. “No matter who you play you always try and put your idea on the pitch and make it stronger than your opponent.”
Nuno gave four players their Wolves debuts, most notably right back Leander Dendoncker, a £12 million signing from Anderlecht. Despite his late penalty, Costa is fighting for his starting spot on the right wing against record signing Adama Traore, who assisted on Bonatini’s goal and impressed as a reserve in Wolves’ 1-1 draw against reigning champions City last Saturday.
While the point against Pep Guardiola’s club is something to treasure for a promoted side – and it came with plenty of controversy since Wolves had two non-calls in their favour which would have been overturned had VAR been approved for use in the offseason – it also served notice Wolverhampton are not the typical promoted side simply trying to survive in the top flight.
Their Portuguese-heavy roster, in large part created by super agent and club adviser Jorge Mendes, has provided a strong talent base that has many pundits believing Wolves can challenge for a top-half finish come May.
The sides have not met since West Ham recorded a 1-0 victory at Upton Park in the third round of the 2016 FA Cup. It will be the first league match since the Irons won 2-0 at home on New Year’s Day in 2011. Wolverhampton’s lone top-flight win in four tries (1-1-2) over West Ham was a 3-1 road victory March 23, 2010.
Per Ladbrokes, West Ham are slight favourites at 29/20 odds while Wolverhampton checks in at 9/5. It’s a bit longer for the teams to split the points at 23/10.
Oddsmakers are convinced there are going to be goals scored in this game as each team and the over are the most likely outcomes. West Ham are getting 14/5 odds on a win with over 2.5 goals and Wolves are returning 10/3 on such an outcome. A 1-1 or 0-0 draw squeezes between the two options at 17/5, though a 1-1 score line returns 11/2 odds compared to a nil-nil finish at 10/1.
Chicharito and Arnautovic are joint-top options for the first goal of the match at 9/2, while West Ham striker Lucas Perez and Wolves centre-forward Raul Jimenez are joint-second at 11/2. Yarmolenko (13/2) is tipped just ahead of Anderson (15/2) to make it 1-0 for the Irons, and Bonatini has 7/1 odds after breaking his lengthy scoring drought in Wolves’ mid-week victory.
For any time goal-scoring, Arnautovic (6/4) edges out Chicharito (8/5) as the favourite. Jimenez leads Wolverhampton’s options at 9/5, colosely followed by Diogo Jota at 2/1. Traore and Ruben Neves also offer appeal for Wolves at 7/2, while West Ham winger Michail Antonio is getting 5/2 odds.
Complain all you want about how Wolverhampton got lucky in getting their point against Manchester City. Complain about the two non-calls that went Wolves way, complain about City’s three shots off the woodwork. The bottom line is Nuno’s team belongs in the top flight. They refused to back off against the reigning champions, and their 3-4-3 set-up is giving teams problems.
The next step for Wolverhampton is to get a goal through the middle of the pitch. All three of their goals originated on plays from outside the penalty area — a pair of well-placed crosses were met and Neves curled a free kick home versus Everton. After a strong Carabao Cup victory that doubled as their first win of the season, Wolves look ready for bigger things.
West Ham, on the other hand, are still a work in progress. A serious work in progress. Their match against Arsenal looked more like an eight-year-old’s game of tag than a football match as the sides raced up and down the pitch trying to exploit the other’s back line. The Irons are capable of playing beautiful football, they have yet to prove capable of stopping it when it’s turned on them.
This game could be decided by one save in either direction. Right now, there’s more belief Patricio will make that save for Wolves than Fabianski will for the Irons.
Predicted final score: West Ham United 2, Wolverhampton 3.
Other Match Day 4 previews:
Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)