West Ham are still struggling in the dredges of the Premier League, having amassed only a paltry 12 points from their 16 games to date. And their results will have to significantly improve if there is to be a sigh of relief in east London.
The teams that are in the relegation zone come Christmas are usually the ones that end up being flushed down into the Championship when May hobbles along. So this becomes an important period for the club, since being down in the basement through to January will likely have a negative effect on the players.
But jumping out of the relegation zone is perhaps just a hop and a skip away, as a victory over new celebrities Manchester City will do a world of good in terms of pushing forward towards securing safety.
But a win alone won’t be enough to pull themselves out of the drop zone, since 17th-placed Fulham would likely have a better goal difference even if they lose to Sunderland.
However, manager Avram Grant will want his men to perform the way they did when Wigan Athletic and more recently Manchester United were humbled at Upton Park. And a similar performance might just be enough to see off City.
Tevez absence could prove troublesome
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has a problem. He does not have Carlos Tevez for this game, since the skipper is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
The Argentine has scored 10 goals in 15 Premier League appearances for the Eastlands club this season, and 33 in 50 league showings since that infamous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster appeared – when the former United man ‘defected’ to their cross-city rivals.
The reliance of the club on their star striker comes to light when it is noted that they have won only once in the league since January, with the 26-year-old having not been on the score sheet. This was a 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion last month, but the timing of the win changes nothing in terms of the big picture - that City rely heavily on their captain. That he has played a part in scoring or assisting in 66.66 per cent of the club’s league goals is enough to show his importance.
Now Mancini is hoping that his charges can make do without their captain, as they travel to London to take on a somewhat resurgent West Ham.
A victory will be just as significant for the visitors as it will be for the hosts, since it will take the club level on points with league leaders Arsenal - even if it’s only until Monday.
They won’t be able to take pole position due to their goal difference, but coming so close may be just the kind of inspiration required for the players to start punching above their weight.
Valon Behrami (hip) is doubtful of making it back in time for this encounter, which should likely see Jonathan Spector retain his place in the starting line-up.
Jack Collison (knee), Manuel da Costa (ankle) and Thomas Hitzlsperger (thigh) are all expected to be back only next year, while Mark Noble is still recovering from a leg injury sustained during the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool.
Possible starting XI: Green; Ben-Haim, Tomkins, Upson, Gabbidon; Dyer, Spector, Parker, Boa Morte; Obinna, Cole.
Carlos Tevez and Aleksandar Kolarov are both suspended for this encounter. But the Argentine is out due to an accumulation of cards whereas his Serbian team-mate was sent off after a second booking against Bolton Wanderers.
In the same game, Kolo Toure (calf) fell prey to injury, but the Ivorian has since confirmed that he could make it back in time to play a part. Emmanuel Adebayor (calf) is doubtful of making an appearance, however.
Possible starting XI: Hart; Zabeleta, K Toure, Kompany, Boateng; Y Toure, De Jong, Barry; Silva, Jo, Balotelli.
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