West Ham kickstart their 2020/21 Premier League campaign on Saturday when they host Newcastle United at London Stadium.

Following an engaging, controversial and exhausting summer that saw the rise and fall of a lucrative takeover, Newcastle United might find it extremely difficult to move on. But on Saturday, they will have the chance to do exactly that, as they travel to the London Stadium to face West Ham, in their opening fixture of the 2020/21 Premier League campaign.

Last season, Steve Bruce did an excellent job of achieving a mid-table finish, following the rather unfortunate departure of Rafa Benitez. Now, the ex-Hull City head coach will have the chance to prove himself by replicating that feat and guiding Newcastle United in the right direction.

West Ham, in that regard, could be the ideal opponents. Much like Newcastle themselves, the Hammers have flirted with mediocrity throughout the past five seasons. They have failed to establish themselves as a top-half Premier League club despite funding millions in the transfer market.

David Moyes’ men have also had a mixed pre-season campaign, but they do have the quality to outclass Newcastle United and most other Premier League clubs in the bottom half of the table. So it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this fixture. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides before they lock horns this weekend.

Tactics & Team News

West Ham

Moyes confirmed in his press conference that key midfielder Tomas Soucek is in contention despite doubts over his fitness. It could serve as a massive boost for the hosts.

Soucek’s partnership alongside Declan Rice in the double pivot should offer West Ham some much-needed legs in the middle of the park that could be essential when facing a team like Newcastle United. It should also allow more freedom to Mark Noble, who will likely be operating in the advanced midfield role, ahead of Manuel Lanzini, whose fitness remains an issue.

Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals are likely to get the nod ahead of the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko, Robert Snodgrass and Felipe Anderson in the wider attacking positions. But they could feature as substitutes in the second half, though the Premier League clubs voting against the five-sub rule is set to cripple Moyes’ powers.

The West Ham attack could be spearheaded by Michail Antonio, who was in scintillating form during the back end of last season. Hence, he is likely to be preferred ahead of Sebastien Haller.

And in defence, Fabian Balbuena has been a regular in the pre-season and might get the nod ahead of Issa Diop in central defence, alongside Angelo Ogbonna. Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell are set to occupy the full-back roles with Lukasz Fabianski starting in between the sticks.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Noble, Fornals; Antonio

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United have boosted their ranks with the addition of last season’s relegated stars like Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis. Unfortunately, Fraser lacks match fitness and should be out, joining Martin Dubravka, Paul Dummett, Matt Ritchie, Fabian Schar, Ciaran Clark and Dwight Gayle in the Magpies’ long list of potential absentees.

Can Steve Bruce mastermind an upset against Manchester City? (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Steve Bruce has to tackle through some injury-related absentees. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

On the flip side, Wilson is more than expected to spearhead the Newcastle United attack, with Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin offering support from the wider attacking positions.

In midfield, Isaac Hayden has recently pledged his future at Newcastle United. Coach Steve Bruce might have to opt for three-man midfield, with Jonjo Shelvey and Sean Longstaff likely to partner Hayden.

Finally, in defence, Karl Darlow is expected to replace the injured Martin Dubravka in goal while Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lascelles could form the central defensive pairing.

New signing Lewis is tipped to start at left-back due to the likely absence of Ritchie and Dummett while Manquillo could get the nod ahead of Emil Krafth on the opposite flank.

Predicted Lineup (4-5-1): Darlow; Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lewis; Almiron, Longstaff, Hayden, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin; Wilson

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Key Stats

  • West Ham have scored two or more goals in each of their last five Premier League games against Newcastle United; only versus Blackburn Rovers have they had a longer such scoring run against a team in the competition.
  • Newcastle United have won nine Premier League away games against West Ham United – only versus Tottenham Hotspur have they picked up more wins on the road in the competition.
  • Newcastle United have lost 11 Premier League games on MD1, only opponents West Ham have lost more such matches in the competition’s history.
  • West Ham have lost their opening league match of the season in the last four seasons, shipping at least four goals in each of the last three. The last top-flight team to lose their opening match in five consecutive seasons was Wimbledon between 1986-87 and 1990-91.
  • Newcastle United have lost their first league game of the season in six of their last seven campaigns, drawing the other. Their last opening day win was back in 2012-13 when they beat Spurs at St. James’ Park.

Player to Watch

Allan Saint-Maximin

Allan Saint-Maximin will pose a major threat to West Ham defence (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Allan Saint-Maximin will pose a major threat to West Ham defence (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest challenge for West Ham heading into this clash will be to keep Allan Saint-Maximin quiet throughout the evening.

Coming on the back of a productive 2019/20 campaign, the Frenchman is Newcastle’s biggest source of creativity. His ability to drift past defenders effortlessly, combined with his excellent understanding with Miguel Almiron will make life inconceivably difficult for the West Ham defenders.

Aside from his quick feet, Saint-Maximin is also a threat on the counter, thanks to his pace and dynamism. Therefore, the Hammers need to keep a close eye on him, with Soucek, in particular, likely to mark him tightly whenever he drifts into the central areas of the pitch.

Prediction

West Ham 2-2 Newcastle United

It is a difficult game to predict as both the sides are blessed with talent and work-ethic and are capable of dominating each other on the day. It points to an evenly contested cat and mouse chase, with both the sides likely to squabble over possession and although there might be goals on offer, they may have to settle for a point.

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