West Ham may occupy a Champions League spot but David Moyes is facing an injury crisis at just the wrong time… king of the counter attack Jesse Lingard will need to give Wilfred Ndidi the run around as Hammers host Leicester in crunch top four clash
- West Ham United host Leicester City as the race for the top four intensifies
- The Hammers occupy fourth having enjoyed a sensational league campaign
- However, David Moyes’ side have been hit by major injury setbacks recently
- The resurgent Jesse Lingard will need to carry the attacking burden for Moyes
- For the Foxes, Sunday’s game is a chance to solidify their position in third place
Given that Leicester came so close to clinching a top four place last campaign, it ought to be no surprise that Brendan Rodgers’ side are once again knocking on the door for Champions League football next season.
Four of the Foxes’ eight remaining Premier League games will see them pit their wits against their main rivals, with a final flurry of fixtures against Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham a mouthwatering prospect.
But in West Ham, Leicester enter the first of their four major hurdles against a side that have made an even greater tilt at gatecrashing the top four.
David Moyes’ (R) high-flying West Ham host Brendan Rodgers’ (L) Leicester in a top four clash
The Foxes are looking to solidify their position in third as the finish lines draws ever closer
That’s right, West Ham are genuine contenders for a top four finish this campaign. The same Hammers side that spent the majority of last campaign peering over their shoulders at the drop zone begun this season on the front foot and haven’t looked back.
David Moyes’ side currently occupy the highly-sought after fourth spot, with Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool snapping at their heels to ensure normality is restored before the season is out on May 23.
The Hammers are going to have to do it the hard way, with significant injuries to several key stars coming at the worst possible time, while Leicester are not yet completely safe in third with just a five point gap to fifth-placed Chelsea.
Moyes’ side secured a sensational 3-0 win the last time these two sides met, but can the Foxes avenge that defeat in Sunday’s crunch clash? Sportsmail previews the top four showdown.
The injury-hit Hammers will rely on the red-hot form of Jesse Lingard for Sunday’s game
The Key Battles
Jesse Lingard vs. Wilfred Ndidi
Not many Premier League players can say they have enjoyed a better 2021 than West Ham’s Jesse Lingard.
The Manchester United outcast’s resurgence since swapping the North West for East London has been quite remarkable. Moyes has galvanised the 28-year-old and the midfielder’s red-hot form has coincided perfectly with the Hammers’ top four push.
Lingard, having been shifted on the wing at Old Trafford, has demonstrated that he is at his most potent through the middle. Against Wolves on Monday night the Englishman was in devastating mood, carrying the ball upfield to score the visitors’ first of the evening.
Lingard has enjoyed an incredible resurgence since swapping Manchester for East London
The 28-year-old has scored the most goals from fast breaks this season, with three strikes
In fact, Lingard has more goals from fast breaks this season than any other player in the top flight with three, according to Opta. The Hammers have scored five such goals in total, with winger Jarrod Bowen scoring the other two.
But Lingard is unlikely to have the freedom of the centre of the park that was afforded to him by Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker at Molineux.
For all of Leicester’s swashbuckling attacking, it is the foundation that Wilfried Ndidi sets that allows the likes of Jamie Vardy and James Maddison to flourish.
Leicester’s midfield enforcer Wilfred Ndidi (L) will need to keep Lingard quiet on Sunday
The Nigerian has been hampered by injuries the past couple of seasons but no doubt makes Rodgers’ side a far sterner outfit when he is available. The 24-year-old has made 43 successful tackles this season, with only Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Yves Bissouma boasting a greater tally.
Whoever dominates this particular battle will go a long way in determining which side ends Sunday’s contest with all three points.
Tomas Soucek vs. Youri Tielemans
While Lingard has proved an inspired signing, Tomas Soucek will surely be regarded as one of Moyes’ best ever acquisitions, with the Czech international dominant in West Ham’s midfield.
The 26-year-old leads the Premier League for duels won this season, with his 276 eclipsing Adama Traore’s 270, while his 176 aerials won is streets ahead of his nearest rivals.
Tomas Soucek has been a dominant presence in West Ham’s midfield throughout the season
The Czech, 26, has won more duels than any other Premier League player this campaign
Soucek’s game isn’t just limited to breaking up play, either. The midfielder has been a potent goal threat throughout the season, with his late runs into the box, coupled with his strength in the air, providing the Hammers with an avenue to goal from deep.
The Czech has nine goals from 30 Premier League games this season, and with the physicality of Michail Antonio missing from the front line, he will be expected to provide a threat to Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.
However, Soucek will have to be wary of Youri Tielemans. With Declan Rice out injured, too, the 26-year-old’s rampaging runs will not be protected by the England man, leaving Tielemans with the space to wreak havoc.
However, Youri Tielemans could capitalise on space in behind Soucek to pull the strings
The Belgian has gone under the radar slightly since joining the Foxes in 2019, with the exploits of Vardy, Harvey Barnes and Maddison taking the shine off the Belgian’s work.
Since Rodgers has switched to a front two owing to Maddison’s injury, Tielemans has flourished. He has put 547 passes into the final third, more than any player from West Ham or Leicester, and put in a sumptuous performance against Man United in the FA Cup quarter final last month.
Craig Dawson vs. Kelechi Iheanacho
Where Maddison has had to miss out through injury, Kelechi Iheanacho has taken his opportunity with aplomb.
The Nigerian has had to play second fiddle to Vardy for the duration of his stay in the east Midlands, with Rodgers opting to play just one forward.
Kelechi Iheanacho is a striker reborn and is enjoying his best spell in a Leicester City shirt
The Nigerian scored five league goals in March and received the Player of the Month award
However, the 23-year-old has come to life in recent weeks, scoring five top flight goals in March to take home the Premier League’s Player of the Month prize.
Opta says that Iheanacho has the second best shot conversion rate of any striker in the league this season, with 35.29 per cent. Only Liverpool’s Diogo Jota (36.36 per cent) boasts a better record.
Craig Dawson will certainly have his hands full on Sunday. Where a defensive pairing usually prepares to face just Vardy, the experienced centre half will have to contend with the Englishman and red-hot Iheanacho without partner Angelo Ogbonna.
West Ham defender Craig Dawson will need to be at the top of his game to keep out Iheanacho
Dawson was made to wait for his chance in the side when arriving from Watford on loan in October, but has thrived since being selected by Moyes.
West Ham have won nine, drawn three and lost three of the 15 Premier League games that Dawson has played this season, and will make his move permanent this summer.
The 30-year-old has a tackle success rate of 75 per cent and will need to be on top of his game to snuff out the threat that Iheanacho will pose.
Moyes will be ruing his bad fortune of late, with the Irons rocked by injuries at just the wrong time.
Captain Rice picked up a knee problem over the international break with England and is sidelined for four weeks as a result. Mark Noble has filled in alongside Soucek but the lack of Rice’s physical presence and guile is a big loss for the top four hopefuls.
Michail Antonio is the latest major injury setback to rock the Hammers at the worst time
So too is the absence of Michail Antonio. The striker has been sensational whenever he has featured for the Hammers this campaign, but the Jamaica international has struggled to keep fit, having suffered recurring hamstring issues.
Antonio, 30, underwent a scan to assess the issue this week, with West Ham braced for another lengthy spell on the sidelines. Those two setbacks, added to the injuries of Angelo Ogbonna and Andriy Yarmolenko, have left Moyes thin on the ground.
Rodgers can empathise with Moyes, having suffered rotten injury luck throughout the campaign. James Justin’s knee injury was a major blow, while Harvey Barnes and James Maddison have been out for lengthy spells with muscle injuries. The latter played the final 18 minutes against Man City so could be in contention to start.
Turkey international Caglar Soyuncu won’t feature, however, as he is self-isolating having tested positive for coronavirus.
Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu will miss Sunday’s game having contracted coronavirus
Moyes may have an injury crisis on his hands, but the Scot can take solace in his record over Rodgers heading into Sunday’s game.
The former Everton, United and Sunderland boss has faced the Foxes manager on nine occasions in his career. He has won four, lost three and drawn two of those contests.
Moyes was not in attendance the last time he got one over his Northern Irish counterpart, with a positive Covid-19 test forcing the Hammers boss to watch from home as his side thumped the Foxes at the King Power stadium.
Moyes (right) has the edge over Rodgers (left) winning four of their nine games contested
Neither of these sides enter the clash at the London Stadium in the best of form.
If the Premier League table were to be decided by the last five games played, West Ham’s two wins, two losses and a draw would put them ninth.
The Hammers have scored nine goals and conceded eight over those games, having put three past a leaky Wolves side at Molineux earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Leicester have the same record over five games as their hosts. Rodgers’ side lost 2-0 to Manchester City last time out but put five past Sheffield United and secured a professional 2-1 win over Brighton on the road.
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