Saturday, August 18, 2012

West Ham United vs. Aston Villa preview

Sam Allardyce and his ego return to the Premier League this season with the promotion of West Ham United, a football club with an ego if its own, owned by extremely egotistical owners. Seems like a perfect fit. The reality is quite different, with West Ham fans despising the current style of play, and there is a sense that some fans can't wait for things to go to wrong, in order to blame Allardyce.

While the relationship with the fans is currently at a low ebb, David's Gold and Sullivan have been the best owners that Allardyce has worked with since Phil Gartside at Bolton. Allardyce has been allowed to make some good signings so far, and Sullivan has hinted that more players will arrive at Upton Park before the transfer window is closed.

Skipper Kevin Nolan is the archetypical Allardyce player who will make a nuisance of himself all over the pitch, but will also chip in with his fair share of goals. Matthew Taylor, Joey O'Brien and Ricardo Vaz Te are all players who have worked with Allardyce before and are well accustomed to his methods. West Ham still have most of the players they got relegated with, and it will be interesting to observe if Mark Noble, Jack Collison, James Tomkins, Carlton Cole, Frederic Piquionne and Gary O'Neil will perform better in the Premier League under Allardyce's leadership.

Modibo Maiga arrives from Sochaux with a reputation that isn't necessarily matched by his numbers. James Collins is a dependable arrival in defence, and while Jussi Jaaskelainen isn't the match winner he once was, he does bring vital Premier League experience at the back. Allardyce's two best signings however are in midfield with the capture of France international Alou Diarra and the seriously under-rated Mohamed Diame from Wigan. Diarra is certainly a defensive midfielder worthy of playing at a top ten club, while Diame's ability in maintaing possession gives West Ham a different dimension going forward.

Aston Villa played some of the most boring uninspired football last season under Alex McLeish. Thankfully Randy Lerner did a favour on all football fans by axing the Glaswegian immediately after the season ended. In his place comes Paul Lambert.

Lambert's hand has not been strengthened by a spending spree on new recruits. While capturing Ron Vlaar from Feyenoord represents an extremely good piece of business, Lambert will have to prove his credentials by getting the better out of players who failed spectacularly under McLeish.

Darren Bent is fit and he will guarantee goals for Aston Villa. However, he is a pure striker and will need excellent service from others to prosper. If Lambert can motivate Charles N'Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor, half of Villa's attacking woes will be solved. This is also the season where Barry Bannan and Marc Albrighton have to make the transition from talent to consistent performers. If Lambert could somehow coax some performances from Stephen Ireland, it would be a huge bonus.

The aforementioned Vlaar is a quality addition to a defence that is solid, though there are some concerns in regards to the waning prowess of Shay Given and Richard Dunne. Ultimately Lambert's success will depend on his ability to get the best out of his players, but more importantly by imparting the tactical fluidity on to the team that made him so successful at Norwich.

Prediction: In the battle of the Claret and Blues of the Premier League, West Ham should come up trumps at Upton Park. With the crowd excited to be back in the division, the atmosphere will drive the home players on to deliver a strong performance. Aston Villa will end up caving under a barrage of set-pieces and long balls in true Sam Allardyce style.

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