West Ham host Wolves this Saturday in a Premier League clash that will tell us much about their respective seasons ahead. While the Hammers will hope to finish in the top half, many are tipping Wolves to get there as well after a fantastic Championship campaign last time out and some impressive recruitment over the summer.
Crucially too, both sides are still searching for their first Premier League win of the campaign. West Ham are yet to pick up any points this term, whereas the Midlands outfit had to settle for draws against Everton and Manchester City.
So, how will this one unfold? Football FanCast take a look at the key factors that will decide the 3pm kickoff…
While Pellegrini seems to still be searching for the right combination in midfield, Wolves have unearthed a fantastic partnership in Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho that marries immense technical quality, vast experience and vibrant youth.
At first glance, the Portuguese pair’s greatest offerings will be when Wolves have the ball, but they showed against Manchester City that they can execute a counter-attacking game-plan as well – working in tandem to hunt the ball down and turn over possession before distributing wisely.
The Irons’ midfield options, on the other hand, aren’t quite so inspiring. Jack Wilshere has injected some quality into the engine room but his impact thus far hasn’t been exactly groundbreaking.
Declan Rice, meanwhile, still feels like a centre-back out of position whereas Carlos Sanchez, Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang are tenacious but somewhat limited. Based on performances so far this season, West Ham will need to up their performance levels to stop Wolves’ midfield taking control of the match.
Wolves showed against Manchester City last weekend just how well-organised they can be off the ball, and how effective they are when breaking forward. The key players in that were the wide forwards – rather than letting themselves get dragged down the pitch by tracking back, they stuck to offensive positions allowing quick link-ups with Raul Jimenez whenever possession was turned over.
For West Ham particularly, that should be a real worry. During their opening three Premier League games, it hasn’t taken much to beat a high-pressing, unfamiliar West Ham defence so the potential is there for Wolves to sit deep and wait for opportunities away from home.
As things stand, it all seems to be playing into the Midlands outfit’s hands, but if West Ham improve defensively and make use of the possession Wolves give them, they could make it a long afternoon for the visitors.
Having perfected their playing style during a title-winning season in the second tier, Wolves are already more than comfortable with their philosophy and game-plan – even if they have added a whole host of talent to the squad during the summer. West Ham, on the other hand, are very much fresh from conception; they have a new manager, a new formation, a new mentality, a new record-signing and pretty much an entirely new defence.
Thus far, the transition period has been pretty painful, at least in terms of results, and it’s now a question of whether Pellegrini sticks to his footballing ideals in the hope something finally clicks or adds a dash of pragmatism to his current setup.
That could include reinstating Aaron Cresswell to the backline at the expense of the more offensive Arthur Masuaku, or using a three-man engine room rather than just two deep-lying midfielders. It’s an interesting test of Pellegrini that will give us a hint into his mindset for a tough run of fixtures on the horizon.
Javier Hernandez could make the starting XI should there be any last-minute doubts over Marko Arnautovic’s fitness but assuming he begins the match on the bench, he’s a fantastic option to have for Pellegrini.
Although the Mexican international hasn’t always shown his best form since moving to the London Stadium, he’s a goalscorer pure and simple and having him in the box is enough to keep any defence distracted and preoccupied.
That being said, Wolves have a real supersub of their own in Adama Traore, who will only be more effective against tired legs and should really change the game for them once he’s introduced from the bench.
The 22-year-old, who Transfermarkt value at £16.2million – is notorious for his ability to drive at the opposition with the ball, but he added output to that last season at Boro – albeit in the Championship – and is starting to look like a top-quality attacking threat.