The Inside Track: West Ham

By SFC Media Fri 23 Sep West Ham vs Saints

We get the lowdown on Southampton's next opponents from journalist Dave Evans, West Ham correspondent for the Recorder Group of newspapers.

How would you sum up the start to West Ham's season?

It has been a little like Southampton’s start was – shaky. The team weren’t helped by some of their players coming back late from Euro 2016 and then they were hit by early injuries to key players. Aaron Cresswell was injured on the pre-season tour, Manuel Lanzini playing for the Argentina Olympic team in a friendly and then record-signing Andre Ayew was injured within 30 minutes of his debut, followed by Andy Carroll in Romania. Like Saints, they had two tough away games to start, at Chelsea and Man City, and lost them both, and though they bounced back with a narrow win over Bournemouth at home, successive 4-2 defeats against Watford at home and West Brom away have put them under pressure. Having been pipped by Southampton to that Europa League group place, they also went out of that competition early in the play-off to Astra, the same team that beat them last year.

What are the main changes from last season at West Ham?

The team has made a considerable amount of signings over the summer, but the heart of the team remains the same. They paid £20.5 million for Andre Ayew from Swansea, but he is injured and not expected to return until November. Wingers Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore have arrived from Valencia and Besiktas respectively, but are still finding their feet, while Simone Zaza has signed on loan from Juventus. Experienced Norway international midfielder Havard Nordtveit signed on a free from Borussia Moenchengladbach, while young striker Jonathan Calleri arrived from South America with Ashley Fletcher coming from Manchester United after impressing on loan at Barnsley last season. Arthur Masuaku signed from Olympiacos after the injury to left back Aaron Cresswell, while Edimilson Fernandes arrived from Swiss side Sion and made a useful debut against Accrington this week. Also making his debut that day was two-time Champions League winner and World Cup winner Alvaro Arbeloa, who signed after leaving Real Madrid in the summer.

How are they adapting to the new stadium?

The players or the fans? That is the question at the moment. The players are saying they love it and it must be a huge boost playing in front of such huge crowds – there was nearly 40,000 for the Accrington game – but it does take a bit of getting used to. Although there are more fans, they are further away from the action and that must have an effect.

What’s the style of play like this season?

It is similar to last season going forward, but the defence have certainly been suffering from a lack of confidence recently, letting in eight goals in their last two Premier League matches. The return to full fitness of star men Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini has certainly helped them put on the style and both played rabonas against Watford before the visitors took advantage of some poor defensive mistakes to win 4-2.

Who have been the top performers so far?

Payet and Lanzini have looked classy and polished since they came back into the side, but there has only been one star performer in reality this season. Michail Antonio has been released of the shackles of playing right back and moved further forward and he hasn’t looked back. He has scored five Premier League goals in as many games and all of them have come with headers. He has also earned his first England call-up.

What sort of a game are you expecting?

West Ham have beaten Saints three times in their last four matches at home, but Southampton have been unlucky to lose on a couple of those occasions. The Hammers' shaky defence could well be exploited by the likes of Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond, and Southampton are in form with three wins on the trot. But West Ham really need a win and, with the likes of Payet and Lanzini coming into top form and Antonio scoring for fun, it may be enough for the home side to take those points. Expect goals though and plenty of attacking on the big pitch at the London Stadium. I have predicted a 2-2 draw.

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