Leeds United takes on West Ham on Monday Night, and there are high stakes at play here with West Ham currently at the time of writing in 4th spot, as they look to make a push towards securing Champions League qualification. However, nobody would have expected this kind of form from West Ham towards the deep end of the season.
The re-birth of Jesse Lingard along with the brute force of Tomas Soucek & Michail Antonio has kept West Ham’s hopes of finishing in the top 4 very much alive. Leeds United, on the other hand, has had a topsy-turvy season, however, one would not rule out Bielsa’s men to finish in the Top 7, and secure a place in the Europa League next season, with only 8 points separating them from 7th placed Everton. It is a long shot but Leeds have played pretty admirably this season for a team that was only promoted 6 months ago to the Premier League, and with Bielsa’s experience in the game, Leeds United could just upset the odds.
West Ham United were all set to go unbeaten in February until they met the wrath of Manchester City on the last weekend of the month, as the Hammers lost 2-1 to City. Critics and Pundits would argue that a 2-1 loss against this City side is a great achievement, but that talks more about the levels Manchester City are currently operating at, but regardless, it does not take away anything from West ham’s revelation of a season and a lot of credit for this goes to David Moyes.
They marginally staved off relegation last season, so nobody expected the Hammers to be in this kind of position come next season. Apart from this, while everybody was convinced that Lingard is a sub-par player, Moyes took the risk of bringing the Englishman to West Ham, and now Lingard has 4 goal involvements in 5 appearances.
Tomas Soucek who impressed at West Ham last season on loan was bought permanently in the summer, and the Czech now has 8 goals making him West Ham’s top goal scorer currently. Michail Antonio has only played 17 games this season due to injury, however, the Englishman has contributed to 10 goals in this period. Moreover, West ham’s defence also deserves a lot of credit with the likes of Coufal, Cresswell, Dawson & Diop acting as a massive defensive unit for Moyes this season.
Cresswell mainly has accumulated 6 assists this season, becoming West Ham’s most creative player this term. David Moyes will tell his boys to attack whenever they get the opportunity as they would be very aware of Leeds United’s defensive vulnerabilities.
If any team has blown hot & cold this season, it has to be Leeds United. One thing you can always rely on has been their work-rate this season, as Bielsa’s men are trained to run all day while also keeping the ball in the process. Yet, a problem they have not addressed is their defensive structure, as Leeds ranks 2nd in conceding goals from shots inside the box.
This will be a problem for the Whites, as West Ham are famous for their aerial presence in the penalty box with players like Dawson, Soucek, Diop, and Antonio becoming big problems for the opposition during set-pieces. However, to make up for this, more or less, Leeds have been excellent while going forward. Patrick Bamford has led the Leeds line gloriously as the Englishman has contributed to 41% of Leeds’s goals this season.
Their high flying wingbacks in Raphinha and Helder Costa have also contributed 10 and 6 goals respectively, while Stuart Dallas has also contributed handsomely while he has played in a wingback role, with the Northern Irishman scoring 5 goals and providing 3 assists in the process. Raphinha specifically has been very impressive this season, as the 24-year-old Brazilian has imbibed Bielsa’s tactics in the most complete sense, so much so, that his performances have generated interest from Liverpool & Klopp, who have been looking for a more attacking cover for next season.
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Bielsa will address the West Ham game tactfully as he would know that with his team’s pace, he can catch the West Ham defence out almost relentlessly. The likes of Raphinha and Helder Costa will be asked to stretch the game as much as possible, while we could see Bamford coming deep to create more in this game as players like Klich could run behind Bamford to create a problem in between West Ham’s midfield and defence.
Illan Meslier, Luke Ayling; Liam Cooper; Diego Llorente; Stuart Dallas, Tyler Roberts; Helder Costa; Raphinha; Pascal Strujik; Mateusz Klich, Patrick Bamford.
WEST HAM UNITED
Lukasz Fabianski, Aaron Creswell; Craig Dawson; Issa Diop; Vladmir Coufal, Declan Rice; Tomas Soucek- Jesse Lingard; Jarrod Bowen; Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio.