Premier League Preview: Gameweek 2

Reece Oxford

Reece Oxford

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 2 of the weekend’s Premier League games. West Ham and Leicester look to build on opening day wins, while Newcastle make the 712 mile round trip to Swansea, as Steve McClaren looks for his first win as Magpies boss.

West Ham v Leicester

Last week, the new managers of these respective clubs enjoyed a better start to their time in charge than they could have dreamt of. Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City briefly topped the Premier League table, having hit 4 past Sunderland, while Slaven Bilic’s West Ham won 2-0 away to local rivals Arsenal, a side tipped by many to challenge for the title.

In that match, West Ham defended with a strong sense of unity and resolve, as their trio of holding midfielders gave the defence excellent protection. In particular, the performance of Reece Oxford, who was making his debut for West Ham, at the Emirates, at the age of just 16, simply defied belief. He showed no fear, held onto the ball well, made 3 excellent challenges during the match and bullied players with years of experience at the top level of the game. While talk of Oxford being a potential future England star is premature, and to an extent unfair on a player of such a tender age, it is somewhat refreshing to see young English talent be given a chance in the Premier League.

But it was not just the defensive aspect of West Ham’s display that will please Bilic. Dimitri Payet, who signed from Marseille this summer, showed pace and skill in attack. With Payet carrying the team forward, the support of at least two disciplined midfielders behind him, and Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho making runs in front of him, West Ham have the makings of an exciting team.

It is not always easy for a manager to find a system that incorporates both an attacking midfielder and 2 strikers, but when they can, it is a nightmare for opposition centre-backs to defend against, because they do not know which players to pick up. For that reason, we can expect West Ham to score a lot of goals on the counter-attack this season.

Leicester on the other hand, can be hugely encouraged by their 4-2 win over Sunderland. Known to be a relatively cautious manager, Claudio Ranieri surprised the neutrals by setting his team up with a very attacking mind-set, and was rewarded for his bravery. With a 4-4-2 system, Leicester caused many problems for their opponents in wide areas, as wingers Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton, along with left-back Jeffrey Schlupp, created havoc.

The dilemma for Ranieri now is whether to stick with the 4-4-2, or make defensive-minded tweaks to the team’s setup. The most obvious, and perhaps popular, decision he could make is to stick with the system that worked so well last week, yet this could be a mistake, given the potential for Payet to receive the ball in the gaps between defence and midfield. For that reason, this blog will predict a home win for West Ham.

Swansea v Newcastle

Steve McClaren had a reasonable start to life at St James’s Park last week, as his side drew 2-2 with Southampton. For the majority of that match, Newcastle United played some fast, exciting, free-flowing football, which is what the club’s supporters have always wanted to see.

Debutant Georginio Wijnaldum had an excellent game, as did Moussa Sissoko, and, dare we say it, Gabriel Obertan. The French winger, who has been criticized heavily in recent years, looked at his most dangerous when deployed on the right flank, where he crossed the ball for Wijnaldum’s goal. Dutch midfielder Wijnaldum, who had joined from PSV Eindhoven this summer, shone in the middle of the park, and always looked likely to carry the ball forward and create. Under John Carver last season, Newcastle were a side that showed no heart, passion or attacking intent, and on the evidence of last week’s game, that has now changed.

However, the closing stages of the match will have offered McClaren a reminder of the work he has to do to turn his new club’s fortunes around. For around 10 minutes, Newcastle’s back-line fell apart. They were unable to defend their lead with just over 10 minutes to go, and could have easily gifted their opponents 2 goals. Left-back Massadio Haidara was beaten time and again on Southampton’s right flank, and centre-back Fabriccio Coloccini looked worryingly vulnerable against quick attacks. If Newcastle are going to do any more transfer business this summer, improving their defence will be a major priority.

Like Newcastle, Swansea City drew 2-2 on the opening day, but in more impressive circumstances, picking up a point at champions Chelsea. Andre Ayew, who joined the club on a free transfer this summer, marked his debut with a goal. Plus, he also did a lot of hard work down the right hand side of the pitch, tracking back against Hazard, which suggests he will be a very adaptable, dynamic player for Swansea.

On the other side of the pitch, Jefferson Montero had an excellent game for the Swans at Stamford Bridge. Injuries limited the number of games that Montero was able to play last season, and he was often forced to make his mark from the bench, but when fully fit, there is no doubting the threat he offers with his lightening pace.

Both Newcastle and Swansea like to attack quickly, meaning that we are likely to see a stretched, end-to-end game at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea to win, in a highly entertaining affair.