West Ham’s Premier League campaign gets underway on Sunday with a trip to St James’ Park to take on Newcastle United.
The Hammers struggled against the Magpies last season losing both matches versus Steve Bruce’s team. Only three other clubs managed to do the double over David Moyes’ side, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United, with all three finishing in the top-four and qualifying for the Champions League.
Newcastle and Brighton were the only teams to finish in the bottom half of the table that West Ham failed to beat and Moyes is intent on correcting that this season, starting on Sunday.
The Hammers go into the new campaign off the back of a fine pre-season with the likes of Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen looking in sparkling form.
With West Ham’s Euro 2020 contingent back at the club and ready for the clash with Newcastle, the Hammers go into Sunday’s match with an almost fully fit squad, with questions marks only hanging over Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku and a slight doubt on Manuel Lanzini’s fitness.
Ahead of the game, football.london spoke to Chronicle Live’s Newcastle United writer Sean McCormick to get the lowdown on Sunday’s hosts.
How have Newcastle fared in pre-season?
“Newcastle have endured a mixed pre-season. In six games they have won three, drawn one and lost two – including a 1-0 defeat to National League North side York City.
“They were much improved against Norwich in their final friendly last weekend, though, beating fellow Premier League opposition comfortably in a 3-0 win.
“Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron all returned to action against the Canaries and United looked much better for it.”
What is the mood around the club heading into the opening game of the season?
“The mood has been subdued at Newcastle after owner Mike Ashley’s arbitration case against the Premier League over the club’s failed Saudi-backed takeover bid was postponed until early 2022. It ended any hopes of a takeover being pushed through before the start of the season and Ashley has been forced to back Newcastle in the transfer market again.
“As I speak to you, the Magpies are yet to have officially signed anybody this summer – much to the ire of supporters – but Joe Willock’s imminent arrival on a permanent basis will give the whole club a much needed lift heading into the new season.”
Who have been the standout performers?
“Away from the aforementioned big hitters at Newcastle, Ryan Fraser has been a big positive for Newcastle this summer. He joined on a free transfer last summer having not played for six months due to coronavirus and the subsequent issues it caused ahead of his departure from Bournemouth. As such, he had an injury disrupted first season on Tyneside and failed to ever find any sort of momentum.
“But he has looked back to his best over the summer, with quick bursts from midfield, his ability to break the lines and rekindling his relationship with Wilson.
“He may not quite have done enough to start against West Ham but don’t bet against him coming on and making an impact from the bench.
“Jacob Murphy is worth a mention here as well. After a difficult first three years at Newcastle, he has flourished under Bruce and has made the right-wing-back slot his own. He has been impressive in pre-season, carrying on his solid form from the end of last season.”
Are there any selection issues left to iron out ahead of the match?
“Freddie Woodman is likely to make his Premier League debut in goal with Martin Dubravka injured and Karl Darlow in a race against time to shake off the after-effects of COVID.
“Aside from Paul Dummett, Bruce *should* have a full complement of outfield players to choose from.
“If Newcastle stick with their 5-3-2 formation, as expected, the big decisions will come at the back and midfield. Bruce will have to select three centre-halves from Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark.
“In midfield, Jonjo Shelvey (if deemed fit enough) will likely play in the anchor role with Miguel Almiron and one other playing in more advanced roles.
“If Willock signs this week, it will be interesting to see whether he slots in on the right hand side of the midfield three where he was so effective last term. If not, Isaac Hayden, Sean Longstaff or Ryan Fraser will be sweating on the manager’s decision.”
What will Steve Bruce be expecting from West Ham?
“He will be expecting a tough test, despite Newcastle doing the double over the Hammers last season.
“David Moyes’ side are brimming with quality and he will show them plenty of respect for qualifying for European football next season.
“Newcastle will likely sit back and look to hit West Ham on the counter with their pace up front in Wilson and Saint-Maximin, from midfield in Almiron and through Jacob Murphy at right-wing-back.”
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Are there any West Ham players Newcastle will be particularly wary of?
“The midfield battle will be crucial on Sunday so clearly Newcastle will be wary of the Declan Rice-Tomas Soucek pivot.
“The Hammers have plenty of attacking options like Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma that can hurt teams while Michail Antonio will always be a threat.”
What is your score prediction?
“It is always difficult to predict the opening game but I can see both teams scoring in a game that will open up in the second half. I will plump for 2-2.”