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West Ham will be looking to kick-start their season with an away win against managerless Aston Villa on Saturday. The Hammers have a great opportunity to take advantage of Villa’s off field problems with a victory in Avram Grant’s first game in charge. Martin O’Neill left the Midlands side this week and the Irons will be hoping his resignation will have a knock on effect on their opposition’s performance this weekend. O’Neill performed admirably in his time there and his departure so close to start of the season will disrupt their preparations to the delight of West Ham. His shock departure and his successor’s unknown identity will create an atmosphere of uncertainty at Villa Park. The Hammers heading into the match will know full well that things are not rosy in the Midlands.
West Ham have a decent opening day record, winning four games and losing one in the last five seasons. Their last away defeat on the first weekend of a season came back in 2002, when they were thrashed 4-0 by Newcastle United. However, their form at Villa Park is not as impressive, having only won twice in 14 Premier League encounters. The last of those wins was in 2006 when Alan Pardew’s side came from 1-0 down to win 2-1, thanks to a Marlon Harewood penalty. A draw would be a useful result for manager Grant and one that the odds are in favour of. Four of the last six encounters between the two sides at Villa Park have ended up in a draw, including last season’s goalless affair.
A winning start for a new manager is always important, as it gives the team and the fans confidence in their new boss and they can go on to perform well. Grant will be all to aware of that as he heads into his first game as United’s manager. Expectation is always high in East London and the fans will not stand for another season of flirting with relegation. Not all of Grant’s new signings will appear on Saturday, but it looks increasingly more likely that Thomas Hitzlsperger will play some part. The German captained his nation in their friendly against Denmark this week and was part of the starting line-up in West Ham’s last friendly match. Mexican winger Pablo Barrera, who scored the winning penalty in the SBOBET Cup, could also feature. Robert Green and Matthew Upson will be looking to bounce back after being snubbed by Fabio Capello to play in the Hungary friendly match. Both disappointed during the World Cup and they may well receive some rough treatment from the home fans, as they vent their anger towards England’s woeful performance.
Elsewhere, the Hammers have been busy in the transfer market, with possible players arriving and departing. Midfielder Radoslav Kovac could be on his way out of Upton Park after he held talks with Stoke City. The former Czech Republic international was ever present last season but it appears he is not part of Grant’s first-team plans. Ajax forward Miralem Sulejmani is one of several players expected to move to East London within the next week. The Serbian will join on a season-long loan, subject to a work permit, with a view to a permanent move. Sulejmani has Champions League experience and was the Dutch club’s record signing of £13m when he arrived from Heerenveen in 2008. The Clarets have been linked with moves for Everton’s Yakubu and Manchester City’s Felipe Caicedo. The Hammers may have better luck landing Ecuadorian Caicedo as City have not included him in their Europa League qualifier squad. Grant clearly feels his strike force needs strengthening, with Frederic Piquionne already being added during the summer. Carlton Cole is still being touted with a move away from East London, with Liverpool the latest club to take an interest. However, owners David Gold and David Sullivan will not sell him cheaply, considering his value to the team. Gold also reiterated that David Beckham still has an invitation to play for the Hammers. Fabio Capello may not consider the LA Galaxy winger as part of his England plans, but he is still wanted by the Hammers’ owners, either by playing for them or by being a club ambassador.