West Ham United correspondent Sam Inkersole expects Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini to shift midfielder Declan Rice back into the centre of the defence against Chelsea on Saturday.
The 20-year-old has been operating in defensive midfield for the past season or so, but has a long history at centre back. Meanwhile, Inkersole predicts David Martin and Carlos Sanchez will both get their first starts of the season at Stamford Bridge.
“We’ve picked David Martin in goal because, in our opinion, Pellegrini simply cannot stick with Roberto anymore after another error-strewn display against Spurs last time out. It’s a risk but it can’t be any worse,” he wrote on the Football London website.
“Issa Diop will be suspended for the game on Saturday having picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last weekend and we have gone for Declan Rice to fill in at centre back rather than the out-of-form Fabian Balbuena, who was dropped for the Spurs defeat and is what Pellegrini did during the game when he subbed Diop off.
“That means Carlos Sanchez would come in to the defensive midfield role for his first Premier League start of the season alongside Mark Noble.”
This is an interesting call from Inkersole, but he’s right that moving Rice back into defence was what Pellegrini did against Tottenham Hotspur last time out. Diop picked up another booking and Pellegrini, realising the Frenchman would be ruled out of the Chelsea game, took the decision to get Rice and Ogbonna some game time together. That’s a sign of how far Balbuena has fallen down the pecking order at the London Stadium. He’s not really had a good game all season, and so Inkersole believes Pellegrini will feel it’s safer to shift Rice into the back four than start the underperforming Paraguayan. However, the problem with that is it leaves you with a central midfield tandem of Noble and Sanchez. When you’re going up against some combination of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante, that’s a real problem. The Colombian has looked like a liability whenever he’s played for the Hammers, so we’ll see if he gets a start on Saturday. As for Martin over Roberto, we don’t need to say anything about that, do we?