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Everton at West Ham: The Opposition View

We spoke to Hammers blogger Andrew Jones prior to Saturday’s clash at the London Stadium

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League
The Hammers were 3-1 winners at Goodison Park in September’s reverse fixture
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Everton return to action after the international break when they visit West Ham United at the London Stadium on Saturday.

The Blues go into this weekend’s game knowing a win would see them leapfrog their opponents in the table and move into the top half.

West Ham have enjoyed a better season in Manuel Pellegrini’s debut campaign at the helm than in recent years, sitting in ninth place, only two points behind Wolverhampton Wanderers in seventh.

They have beaten the Blues 3-1 in the last two meetings between the sides, while Everton have failed to record a win at their new ground in their two attempts so far.

Ahead of Saturday’s match, RBM spoke to Andrew Jones, from SB Nation’s West Ham blog, Brace the Hammer:

RBM: Firstly, how would you rate the job Manuel Pellegrini has done in his first season as West Ham manager?

Andrew: As we know, Pellegrini is a top manager. And he has shown that this season, at least most of the time, by adjusting his preference for being all-attacking with an understanding that West Ham needed to focus on defence to overcome a nightmare start.

Although he is a very nice, intelligent person, Pellegrini didn’t amass a great resumé without being stern when he needs to. But the team sometimes plays without the intensity and energy that resembles his personality, especially on the road.

That type of consistent alacrity is what a team like Wolves have, and why they are in the coveted seventh place. That’s the one area, along with a consistent defence focus, that a great manager like Manuel has lacked in his career.

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Pellegrini has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular first season at West Ham
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

RBM: Before their 4-3 victory over Huddersfield Town last time out, West Ham followed up their five previous league wins with defeats. How can Pellegrini eradicate this inconsistency?

Andrew: As I mentioned in the first answer, Pellegrini has to be consistent himself with being tough. Marko Arnautović’s baffling desire to play in the Chinese Super League, only to backtrack, certainly hurt the positive momentum we built during the early part of winter. And Pellegrini was strong in his decision to make him earn a starting place back in the team.

But the Chilean manager must find a way to put more fear into his players for when we have lackadaisical starts against the likes of Cardiff City and Huddersfield.

RBM: After making his initial breakthrough last season, Declan Rice, 20, has been a more consistent feature in West Ham’s side. What does he bring to the Hammers’ midfield?

Andrew: Rice finally gives the team a holding midfielder that will do what a holding midfielder should primarily do: handle the defensive work to protect the centre-backs. It is why he is now a fully-fledged England international as of this week.

Though he has the ability to go forward and produce offensive production, the 20-year-old realises what his first and most important job is: stay in that key position ahead of the center-halves and read when to go forward and when to remain in the back for protection.

England v Czech Republic - UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier
Rice made his England debut in last week’s 5-0 win over Czech Republic
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

RBM: How far away do you feel West Ham are from seriously challenging for European qualification?

Andrew: West Ham are right there now for a Europa League spot. And honestly, with the likes of electric talents like Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Issa Diop purchased in the summer, being around even the top six is what this club knows are the expectations.

Obviously the inconsistencies that have long plagued the club - no matter the players or manager - continue, and that is why Pellegrini is here. In order to truly challenge the big six, West Ham have to display the qualities we have against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea at home, and on the road at Man City, regularly.

Our squad is too deep, even with the occasional injuries and Arnautović’s weird behaviour, to then feel we can’t challenge for these positions when we already are. That is the goal.

RBM: How do you expect West Ham to set up against Everton?

Andrew: With no major injuries suffered on the international break thankfully, Pellegrini, I think, will set up as a 4-1-4-1 that will look like a 4-2-3-1.

With how our forward play has been of late, it would be interesting to see who will be our forward. Javier Hernández has to travel from across the Atlantic, so despite his two-goal performance against Huddersfield, his fitness from overcoming jet lag will be the factor of whether Pellegrini starts him or Arnautović. For sure, Andy Carroll will not be leading the line.

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Javier Hernández scored twice in West Ham’s win against Huddersfield on March 16
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton look to exploit on Saturday?

Andrew: Both fullback spots (if Pablo Zabaleta plays over Ryan Fredericks at right-back) are areas of exploiting that the Hammers are vulnerable to (Aaron Cresswell is still better defensively than Arthur Masuaku, but both just haven’t improved from their previous highs), along with deep midfield runs that make Mark Noble and the attacking midfielder have to defend.

Also, if Angelo Ogbonna gets the start at centre-half over Fabián Balbuena, he is certainly a player that whoever lines up as forward for you, Dominic Calvert-Lewin or someone else, could give a lot of problems.

RBM: Which of West Ham’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Andrew: A bevy: Arnautović, Hernández, Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio, and even Carroll too, are among a bevy of proven talents who can win a match on any moment, as you know.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Andrew: West Ham know the energy to start games has to be better after Cardiff and Huddersfield.

Despite the international break hangover, I believe the Hammers will get the win here 2-1, knowing that you Toffees are a direct rival to us in the race for seventh place.

Our thanks to Andrew for his time.