Continuing their run of fixtures against opposition that might well be playing Championship football next season, West Ham welcome Crystal Palace to the London Stadium. Having brushed aside Cardiff and Newcastle in the preceding two games, the Hammers could make it three wins in three ahead of another favourable fixture, at home to Fulham, next week.
Palace have shown a level of grit in recent weeks, pulling out a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford before beating fellow strugglers Burnley 2-0 last weekend. However, a 3-1 defeat at Brighton, suffered despite the hosts losing their star striker to injury and their best defender to a red card within the first 25 minutes, has added to the feeling that Palace just can’t build momentum right now. They’ll need to be much better to win here.
West Ham vs Crystal Palace Prediction: West Ham 1-0 Crystal Palace
The victory gained at home to Cardiff in midweek was an impressive showing, but may have been a pyrrhic victory for West Ham as it saw Marko Arnautovic come off with an injury that is set to keep him out of action into the New Year. A double blast from Lucas Perez showed that the Hammers have other potential scorers in their ranks, but Arnautovic brings more than goals, and Manuel Pellegrini will have to account for the absence of his smart passing and vision. As a result, this game may be closer than expected.
Our recommended tip: Hernandez Scores First
Look through the bookmakers’ odds for first scorer in this game, and you’ll see Arnautovic’s name at the top of the list despite the fact that a knackered hamstring will keep him out of commission over the busy festive period. In truth, his absence will probably mean an opportunity for poacher par excellence Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. In a game which we can expect to be fairly tight, the Mexican forward is an excellent shout to open the scoring here, especially at BetBright’s generous 5/1 (6.00) odds. He may well be invisible for the other 89 minutes of the game, but he only needs one chance.
180 minutes and six goals were not enough to separate these sides last season, as the points were shared on both their meetings. Palace had the home advantage for the first game, but fell behind to first-half goals from Hernandez and Andre Ayew. A Milivojevic penalty early in the second period narrowed the gap, but it would take until the seventh minute of time added on for Palace to complete the comeback, Wilfried Zaha firing home to cap a performance that deserved at least the point it bore.
When the sides reconvened at London Stadium, a rare Christian Benteke goal gave Palace the lead midway through the first half. Mere minutes before half time, Hernandez was tripped in the box, and up stepped Mark Noble to dispatch the equaliser, giving both sides a share of the points.
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Players to watch: Andy Carroll & Mamadou Sakho
Although he may not get off the bench (where he can be expected to start this game), it’s worth keeping an eye out for Carroll because, if he plays, he can be a nightmare to defend against. During a career that has been plagued by injury, the former Newcastle and Liverpool man has only ever been able to show occasional flashes of the formidable strength and quality he evidently has. One flash can be enough to win a game, though, especially against goal-shy Palace.
As it’s no secret to anyone that the Eagles struggle in front of goal, they’ll hope that at least their relative defensive solidity can help them pick up a point or more here. Fundamental to that stoutness is the 28-year-old centre back signed from Liverpool after a successful loan spell. Sakho needs to have a good game here, because if Palace’s defensive stability starts to crumble, they’re going to have an incredibly difficult time holding off relegation.