Five Things To Watch For in West Ham vs. Leeds

West Ham bubbles at the London Stadium. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
West Ham bubbles at the London Stadium. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

West Ham get their first look at Bielsa’s revamped and rising Leeds United, a promotion side that could cause some issues all season long.

As surprising as West Ham have been this season, it is always a little shocking to see a promotion side take of as Leeds did this season. 2020/21 offers the Premier League newcomers a chance to re-establish themselves in the division in which they belong, but the Hammers have no interest in their fairy-tale on Friday.

What Can Haller Offer?

A few more weeks of Michail Antonio injury layoff means West Ham are reliant on Sebastein Haller possibly until Christmas. While this shouldn’t be an issue on paper, Haller needs to start scoring goals at a regular and expected pace.

Granted, Haller has been playing better since Antonio was first injured, scoring the only goal in the Hammers 1-0 win over Sheffield United. He was dropped unjustly to try and shoe-horn Antonio in against Villa and was needed at half time. He looked good in that game and in the first half against Manchester United but forgot how to shoot when in alone.

Haller is a good player, but the ever-important cycle of performance to confidence repeating is solely in his hands to generate. Moyes has played him regularly (due to injury) and his supporting cast is strong as well. It’s up to Haller to show what he can offer.

David Moyes Must Make ‘The’ Change

A glaring adjustment that is staring the West Ham manager in the face is the swap of Pablo Fornals for Said Benrahma. Fornals’ missed two very good chances early against Manchester United, a header that missed the goal entirely, and a toe-poke shot that beat Dean Henderson, only to striker the post.

Being in the right area to create these chances is a net-positive, but not hitting the actual net on both is something that causes supporters and probably the coaching staff immense stress and hair-pulling. Fornals had a terrific start to the season but may need a benching to remind him of the process of earning playing time.

Said Benrahma, Come On Down

If Benrahma starts, what can we expect from the Algerian playmaker? Well, assists appear to be his main product having produced two in his first 78 minutes of Premier League football. His MO is to push the pace of play up the left-wing and invite wide and midfield players into the opponent’s box to create offensive output by overwhelming defenders.

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He did this beautifully to set up Tomas Soucek for the late winner against Fulham, not forcing a pass to Haller or a shot from himself, and he did it again against Aston Villa, slowing down the attack to allow Jarrod Bowen to dart across the face of goal and deflect the cross into the back of the net.

Benrhama has been an investment that has returned on limited playing time already. Leeds offers a different challenge and their playstyle could invite a run-and-gun match that a dynamic attacker like Benrahma could thrive in. Time will tell, but he’s earned a start at this point.

Exercise Some Promotion Demons

Traditionally speaking, West Ham don’t fare too well against newly-promoted teams. For whatever reason, on whatever streak the Hammers may be on, promotion teams seem to always be a predictable banana skin to slip on regardless of form and performance previous. Can Moyes inspire a victory to negate this narrative?

Last season, the Hammers did well to correct course against the promotion teams, putting up a 2-3-1 record against these teams with the only loss coming at the hands of Sheffield United on an unjustly overturned handball in the build-up by Declan Rice. This season, the Hammers are off to a good start going 1-0 up on Fulham in the record against promotion teams.

What Is This Team Made Of?

Aaron Cresswell recently said that in six years at the club this is the most togetherness he’s seen from the team. These words mean more than it may seem as this season’s unlikely start against tough competition has inspired great results and performances that see the Hammers not in a relegation race at Christmas time for the first time in a long while.

What Cresswell’s words also indicate is that the spirit and belief around and within the team that they can bounce back from a hand-to-swallow loss like the one suffered against Manchester United. The players need to prove it to the fans and themselves, though, showing that they’ve mentally turned a corner and can pick up where they left off.

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Leeds is far from an easy match for West Ham which is a good thing. The team’s defence failed in the second half against United and a high-pressure, attacking team like Leeds will provide ample opportunity for Angelo Ogbonna’s backline to step up and correct course with a more characteristic stout performance.