Manchester City look to continue their title charge at Upton Park against West Ham United this weekend, with the hosts aiming to close the gap on the Champions League places (5.30pm Saturday, Sky Sports 1).
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are currently just one point behind leaders Arsenal and second-placed Leicester City, and have a chance to take top spot if they emerge victorious on Saturday and other results go their way.
Last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium was a good all-round performance from the two-time Premier League champions, but there is still a feeling that City have not yet reached their maximum capacity. Their away form is particular cause for concern: a 2-1 triumph over Watford at Vicarage Road at the start of the month is the only time in seven Premier League matches away from the Etihad that City have picked up all three points.
Pellegrini will be delighted that Sergio Aguero now seems to be fully fit and firing once more. The Argentine striker was excellent against Palace, scoring twice and proving a constant thorn in the side of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney, the opposing centre-halves. With David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure all available and free from injury, Man City possess a level of attacking firepower that no other team in the division can match.
West Ham pulled off a surprise victory in the return fixture back in September, beating City 2-1 at the Etihad. They have continued to impress against many of the traditionally bigger outfits since then: as well as defeating Arsenal and Liverpool away from home in August, West Ham have also got the better of the Reds and Chelsea at Upton Park and taken a point from their clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford. Strong and aggressive at the back and speedy and powerful on the counter-attack, West Ham tend to do well against sides who like to control possession and take the initiative.
An unbeaten run of eight matches – which concluded with three straight wins over Southampton, Liverpool and Bournemouth – was brought to an end with a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United last time out, so West Ham will be desperate to get back to winning ways on Saturday. Their injury crisis has eased with a number of key players returning to the fold, including the superb Dimitri Payet (pictured), who has been one of the players of the season so far.
Despite their numbers being boosted in recent weeks, West Ham will still be without strikers Andy Carroll (hamstring) and Diafra Sakho (thigh), midfielder Manuel Lanzini (groin) and defender Joey O’Brien (calf) against Man City, although James Tomkins is expected to be fit despite carrying a knock. Mauro Zarate left the club on Thursday to join Fiorentina, but new signing Sam Byram – who rejected the overtures of Everton to move to east London from Leeds United for a rumoured fee of £3.7m – could be involved, even if reports have linked him with a loan move away until the end of the campaign.
Manchester City, meanwhile, are hoping that Fernandinho, Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala will be passed fit after a knock, shin injury and hamstring problem respectively. Captain Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri are definitely out of this encounter, though, with left-back Aleksandar Kolarov also expected to miss out with a muscle issue. Fabian Delph, who impressed against Palace, will be hoping to retain his place in the starting XI.
Despite appearing to underperform so far this season, Man City should be too strong for West Ham this weekend and they are best at odds of 8/11 to win this with Bet365, Coral, Betfred and William Hill among other bookies. Bilic’s men (currently biggest odds of 17/4 – that’s just over 4/1 – with BetVictor for victory) have an excellent record against the Premier League’s top sides, however, so Pellegrini and his players must be switched on at Upton Park.