West Ham are looking for their first win in four matches when high-flying Newcastle visit Upton Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Hammers, Newcastle and Southampton have been the surprise packages this season and the top six clash is sure to provide a thrilling encounter.
Alan Pardew’s side are on a five-match winning run in the Premier League that has hauled them from 18th to the top five in just a couple of months. West Ham, who are desperate to get back to winning ways following a recent blip, will need to recapture their cutting edge.
Sam Allardyce is expected to have Stewart Downing, Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble fit for action, however, Alex Song, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia could all miss out because of injury, while Winston Reid is suspended.
The return of Downing is a huge boost for the Hammers, he has been one of the most influential performers for the east London outfit this campaign and will be key to unlocking the Newcastle defence.
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Newcastle have had their fair share of injuries of late too, but captain Fabricio Coloccini could be involved after returning to training along with Steven Taylor, Emmanuel Riviere and Cheick Tiote.
Strike pairing can evolve
Andy Carroll and Mauro Zarate, who linked up well in the second-half against Everton last week, should lead the line for the home side despite Carlton Cole’s impressive scoring record against Newcastle – he has scored in three of his last four against them.
Carroll got through his first 90 minutes of the season at Goodison Park and didn’t look his sharpest, but even so he still managed to win the most aerial duels in a Premier League match this season (15). He could wreak havoc against his old club's patched-up defence.
While the busy Argentinian, Zarate, scored his second goal in just five league appearances and is seemingly keen to make an impression in the side after limited opportunities. As a pair they could prove to be a real handful, Carroll’s physicality and aerial threat combined with Zarate’s slight of foot and creativity will pose numerous problems.
Newcastle are unbeaten in their last three visits to West Ham, though, and considering the run they’re on they’ll be confident of extending that record.
One man in particular has been superb for the Geordie’s and is somewhat of an unsung hero – Jack Colback. The midfielder, once described by Roy Hodgson as the ‘ginger Pirlo’, has not only made the most accurate passes (144) during their five-match winning streak, but he has also created the most chances (9).
His defensive contribution has been mightily impressive, also, making the second most interceptions in the side (14) and winning important tackles (4).
If West Ham are going to be the team to end Newcastle’s run and leapfrog them in the table the likes of Kevin Nolan, Noble and Kouyate will need to ensure they dominate the midfield and keep Colback quiet.
West Ham: Predicted XI
Adrian, Jenkinson, Tomkins, Collins, Cresswell; Noble, Kouyate, Nolan, Downing; Zarate, Carroll
West Ham 2-1 Newcastle