If West Ham are still serious about battling for Europe then they need to get some league wins and generate some momentum. The trouncing they gave Blackburn in the FA cup is a good start—it has to translate into league points now. The expectation is definitely on them to beat Sunderland, despite the Black Cats shock victory over Manchester United. Sam Allardyce will be desperate to show the Boelyn Ground what they’re missing, and that means we’re hopefully in for a real contest. Sunderland are without a couple of players, most notably Jan Kirchoff who has gone from clownish defender to great defensive midfielder in the space of weeks.
An astute defensive signing, the French centre-back has given Sunderland a little more solidity. The victory against Manchester United probably wouldn’t have been possible without him. Could it be that the hapless Black Cats are capable of escaping relegation? With Koné in the side it looks just about possible. The other sides in danger of the drop have not looked much better than Sunderland do.
No disciplinary issues yet for a player with a chequered history of causing trouble in the dressing room. Obviously he’s been overshadowed by a teammate being on trial, but Yann M’Vila looks to have calmed down a little—and it’s paying dividends. If Sunderland go down, M’Vila should have little trouble finding another Premier League team if he wants to stay in England. A combative and stable defensive midfielder is hard to find. Compared to red card magnet Victor Wanyama, M’Vila suddenly looks like less of a gamble.
Slaven Bilic wants to write poetry about Payet, and it’s easy to see why. In a team that is performing well above expectations, Payet is a star. Rumoured to have signed a contract extension (with a healthy wage boost) the West Ham board will want to keep Payet around for as long as they can. Hopefully he will help the Hammers fill the Olympic Stadium next season, and undoubtedly was enticed to join with the promise of a larger stadium in the first place.
Often said to be the best uncappped English player in the league currently, Noble has captained West Ham with strong leadership and excellent individual play. Is it that he plays for a less glamorous club, or that he is too old to be considered a ‘bright young talent’? Every week that passes makes the decision to omit Noble from the England side look more and more bizarre.