West Ham v Manchester City
Saturday January 7, 6:55am AEDT
When it rains, it pours. First Slaven Bilic has had to make do without key players James Collins, Alvaro Arbeloa and Diafra Sakho for the last few weeks through injury. Then he had Sofiane Feghouli sent off against Manchester United and is deprived of his services until the start of February due to a ban. And now he loses Andre Ayew and Cheikhou Kouyate to African Cup of Nations Duty. Skipper Mark Noble is also struggling with a minor knee injury. Anyone got Paolo di Canio’s number?
Andy Carroll is likely to return to the starting line-up for this one. The versatile Michail Antonio, who played as the main striker against Manchester United, will be needed to fill one of those gaps in midfield caused by all those absences.
Pep Guardiola has plenty of problems of his own. His midfield enforcer Fernandinho keeps getting sent off, his defence seems incapable of keeping a clean sheet against anyone and he thinks his goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is being roughed up by burly attackers at set-pieces.
At least he won’t be losing Yaya Toure (or anyone else) to African Cup of Nations duty. Yaya has retired from international football.
Sergio Aguero was somewhat bizarrely left out of the starting XI against Burnley but is likely to play here.
Manchester City are around the 1.70 mark and that’s understandable. They have a far stronger squad, are in decent form in terms of results and Pep may just fancy putting in a really strong challenge for FA Cup so he can at least win something in his first season at the club.
Add to that West Ham’s numerous absences already mentioned and the slightly below-par performances of their main man Dimitri Payet– apparently eyeing up a return to Marseille- and that may look an appealing price.
But City’s defence can’t be trusted and they’ve failed to beat West Ham away in their last two attempts (admittedly at their old ground) so we’ll leave it alone and move on.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
There are plenty of reasons to think this match may have goals. Firstly, City have kept just two clean sheets in 13 matches so are unlikely to keep one here against a side with some talent in attack.
Secondly, City are more than capable of scoring three themselves against a creaky West Ham defence who are really feeling the miss of James Collins in particular.
And thirdly, this is match that has a history of plenty of goals. 10 of the last 13 between these sides have had over 2.5 goals and there’s no reason to think this one will be any different given what we’ve said.
The layers rarely give much away when it comes to odds on Manchester City players. You may struggle to get even money on Sergio Aguero while the attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Nolito and Kevin de Bruyne should all be around the 3.50 mark when the market matures.
But if like me, you believe City are unlikely to keep a clean sheet, it might pay to go with Michail Antonio. He’s West Ham’s top scorer this season and always seems to have at least one clear cut chance a game…even if he doesn’t always take it. He was through on goal against Manchester United with the score at 0-0 and really should have done better.
But it’s his aerial presence that makes him a good bet here. If as expected, Carroll starts, that may mean Nicolas Otamendi will have to mark the former Newcastle man. And and that will leave Antonio up against Aleksandr Kolarov who with the best will in the world is unlikely to be any match for him when it comes to those aerial duels.
Antonio should be at least 5.00 when there’s more liquidity in it.
Michael Oliver is in charge, a ref who has averaged 3.5 yellows this season. Interestingly, he sent off Simon Francis of Bournemouth on Tuesday night and as mentioned already, both West Ham (Feghouli) and Manchester City (Fernandinho) had men sent off in their last game. All three were straight reds. If you can get 4.50 or better on another sending off, it might be worth taking it.
BACK – Over 2.5 goals at 1.67
BACK – Michail Antonio to score at 5.00