Sunderland v West Ham, Saturday 15:00
– Sunderland are another team who will be hoping for better results than their year started with, having suffered a 3-0 loss at the hands of Liverpool in their last game and being forced to a replay in the FA Cup by Bolton.
– Martin O’Neill has suggested that Conor Wickham may become the natural strike partner for top scorer Steven Fletcher this season, as the Black Cats seek to find goals in other areas of the pitch. Finding a foil for Fletcher, who is the top ranked striker outside of the top six teams in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, will be key to improving Sunderland’s season. Fletcher has scored 8 of Sunderland’s 21 goals this season, taking exactly 4 chances to score each of his goals.
– Wickham has played just 218 Premier League minutes this season, and is yet to score his first Premier League goal having had 7 shots at goal with 5 on target.
– At the other end of the pitch John O’Shea has been the 5th busiest defender in the league this season, having averaged a tackle won, clearance, interception or block every 7 minutes 25 seconds this season.
– Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been another stand out performer for Sunderland this season, making 112 saves, the third highest in the league.
– Things are looking positive at Upton Park for 2013, with prodigal son Joe Cole returning to the club through which he first learned his trade. Cole made an instant impact in the FA Cup draw against Manchester United, while West Ham also had Premier League joy this month with a 2-1 win over Norwich thanks to a Mark Noble penalty and Joey O’Brien goal.
– Noble has been a key player for West Ham this season. His goal against Norwich was his fourth of the season, having come from an efficient 7 shots on target. Noble has also delivered 42 crosses, but has only been credited one assist, and must be craving a return of the aerial threat of Andy Carroll to convert his deliveries.
– O’Brien has also enjoyed a good season with two goals and two assists to his name this season and winning exactly half of the 44 tackles he has attempted while completing 71 passes in his opponent’s half.
– West Ham have also signed Marouane Chamakh on loan from Arsenal for the rest of the season to bolster their striking options. Chamakh is yet to feature for Arsenal in the league this season, but last term contributed just one goal in 220 minutes of Premier League football, coming from 9 efforts at goal.