It seems like no time at all, but the FA Cup third round has rolled around again. Last time we reached the 4th round, where we faced Huddersfield twice, but arguably only should’ve been once, after a perfectly fair Juktiewicz header, which we have become used to seeing this season, was ruled out by the linesman. In the replay, we held strong for 90 minutes, with a splendid Che Adams goal being ruled out by an unlucky own goal from Marc Roberts. In extra time, we conceded three goals in quick succession, and this not only ruined our cup hopes, but also ruled us out of hosting Manchester United at St Andrews in the 5th Round.
This time, we face West Ham at the London Stadium, and on the back of an unbeaten but fairly tiring festive period, I am honestly not sure how we’d line up. Garry Monk faces a dilemma between resting key players after a run of 4 tough, gruelling games in 11 days or playing a strong side and trying to embark on a cup run, that would certainly please the 5500 away fans travelling for the early 12:30 kick off in London. It appears to be true that that police have restricted the amount of Blues fans allowed to attend the game, but I believe the crowd will still be very lively, as with most of Blues’ away days. So will be the West Ham fans, with around 50000 home fans expected, a great turnout for an FA Cup third round tie.
I expect West Ham to line up with a strong side, with domestic success seeming to be their only success available, with the Europa League spaces feeling like a faraway dream for Manuel Pellegrini’s men. Their main threats are Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson. Both of which any Premier League fan will be familiar with after their various good performances for the Hammers this season. In goal, they have one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the Premier League in the former Arsenal and Swansea No.1, Łukasz Fabiański. He joined the West Ham for £7 Million in the summer, and has been worth every penny of his price tag so far.
This season the Hammers have enjoyed a much better season than the last. They sit in 10th in the Premier League, a much better improvement in their 18th place position which they held at the same stage of the season last year. Under Pellegrini, they play a more attacking style of football, spearheaded by players like Anderson and Arnautovic, but can become defensive if needed. They line-up in a dynamic 4-4-2, that adapts to the game. When defending, the side seems to narrow, which not only makes the side harder to break down while defending, it allows to counter quickly, and in numbers, as players aren’t as spread out. When attacking, the men out wide – Anderson and Snodgrass, like to cut inside and shoot, which both have done with lots of success this year, or ex-Villa player Snodgrass, crosses it into the head of a striker, while Anderson drifts inwards and waits for a flick on or waits on the edge of the box, if the ball comes back out.
In the New Year games, West Ham played Brighton. They conceded from two corners, and I believe we will exploit this, as we have seen a large number of goals from set-pieces under Monk, but I have no doubt Manuel Pellegrini knows this and would of have worked on it in training. The game ended 2-2, with both goals coming from Arnautovic, one of which was from a cut-back/cross from the right, something I’d expect to see on Saturday.
Whatever the outcome, Saturday’s game will allow us to reminisce about the Carling Cup Semi-Final legs, where we came back from a 3-1 aggregate score, to end up winning 4-3 on aggregate, after a 3-1 win at St Andrews. And we all know what happened after.
Cheers for reading, if you’re part of the 5500 that are travelling, enjoy your day and let’s get a cup-run going. Keep right on!