With only nine Premier League fixtures to go and Hull City still firmly in the relegation mire, it has reached the inevitable time of the season when all fixtures are being categorised with the dreaded ‘must-win’ label.
With a former Hull City talisman returning to the KCOM just three months after leaving, with a point to prove at his new club no less, what could possibly go wrong for the Tigers?
It is utterly made for the ‘Typical City’ hashtags to reappear all over social media – Hull City’s player of the season between August and December, Robert Snodgrass, returning to the side that he worked so hard to steer away from the relegation zone during the first half of the season, only to contribute to our expected relegation with a goal for his new club West Ham in March.
It is a journalist’s dream, but just this once, I am praying fate doesn’t play a cruel joke on Hull City.
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Indeed, Snodgrass is certainly due a goal for his new side after failing to score in his first seven West Ham appearances, which has seen Dimitri Payet’s so-called replacement face harsh criticism from the Hammers faithful.
However, with fan’s favourite Michail Antonio ruled-out injured, it is highly likely the Scotland international will start against the Tigers on Saturday, looking to kick-start his West Ham career. Just what City need!
Pessimism and superstition apart, Saturday’s visit of the Hammers is a winnable game for Marco Silva’s men, especially given City’s impressive home form of late. However, Slaven Bilic’s unpredictable West Ham side will certainly be no push-overs.
The mid-table team, who were incredibly fortunate to beat the Tigers 1-0 back in December – in a game in which ‘the post’ was voted man of the match by West Ham Fans – are arguably under-performing this season, but are still filled with quality in most positions.
Aside from the obvious set-piece threat of Snodgrass, that should be all too well known by his former teammates, the likes of Lanzini, Feghouli and England international Andy Carroll contribute to an attack that, on its day, can give even the best of Premier League backlines a tough time.
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However, while the Hammers have looked strong going forward this season, their defence have let them down, and come the end of the season could cost the unfortunate Bilic his job. West Ham are likely to set-up with a back four of Cresswell, Collins, Fonte and Kouyaté on Saturday – surely the Irons’ Achilles heel which Silva must target from the start. Particularly the ageing centre-half partnership of Collins and Fonte, and the stand-in right-back Cheikhou Kouyaté.
With Oumar Niasse now available for reselection after missing out against his parent club Everton last time out, I would like to see Silva play with a 3-5-2 formation, with: Ranocchia, Davies and Maguire making up the back three, Robertson and Elabdellaoui in the wing-back roles, Grosicki, Clucas and N’Diaye in midfield, and Niasse and Hernandez leading the line.
This attacking formation allows for a strong and experienced back three, which morphs into a five when not in possession, to contain the likes of Carroll, Lanzini and former Tiger Snodgrass, while when in possession the two pacey wing-backs, combined with Grosicki and Clucas, can cause problems for the Hammers’ full-backs, particularly the inexperienced Kouyaté.
Finally, early crosses and through balls for the pace and power of Niasse and Hernandez to attack West Ham’s ageing backline is, in my eyes, our most likely method of scoring.
While all of this is much easier said than done, and Silva has shown a tendency to start games with a defensive set-up, the Tigers are running out of games to pick up points.
Saturday’s game really is a must-win, and if the Tigers are to keep their Premier League survival dream alive they must do two things – play for the win from the very first minute, with positive attacking football, and contain West Ham’s danger men, particularly Robert Snodgrass who would love to prove the West Ham fans wrong with a goal against his former club.