Norwich City-West Ham United Preview
If someone had told West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic that his club would be in third place after six matches with 12 points and road wins over both Manchester City and Liverpool, he probably would be a bit skeptical at the least.
But that's exactly where the Hammers (4-0-2) are heading into Saturday's clash with Norwich City at Upton Park, and they're seeking a fourth consecutive Premier League victory following a stunning 2-1 result over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium thanks to goals from Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho.
The Hammers are in search of their first four-match winning streak in league play since February 2014 and have managed this success by being remarkably opportunistic in the final third.
The club has netted 13 goals in six matches, joint top-scorers with Leicester City, but Hammers have attempted just 62 shots - better than only bottom two clubs Sunderland and Newcastle.
The Hammers are also in the bottom six in both passes per match (354) and passing accuracy (75.7%), but no team has scored more goals (9) in the danger area than the east Londoners.
"Well we'd like to win both (home and away fixtures), six points is obviously nicer than three," Bilic said. "We won our last home game which was crucial to get that first home win. We are going to do everything to win and get four straight league wins that is our aim."
"We're not looking too far ahead, we're thinking about September and October. We don't want to look too far ahead or think about where we might finish in the table, it is too early for that."
Hammers, though, must also regroup after being ousted from the League Cup following their 2-1 loss in extra time to Leicester City on Tuesday. Mauro Zarate's first-half goal brought West Ham level after an early marker by Joe Dodoo, and Hammers were four minutes from penalties when Andy King scored to put Leicester City through.
Norwich also produced a result last time out in league play, battling Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield as Russell Martin's second-half strike canceled out a Danny Ings goal to force the sides into sharing the spoils. They followed that effort with a 3-0 victory over West Brom on Wednesday to reach the fourth round of the League Cup opposite Everton, getting second-half goals from Matthew Jarvis and Kyle Lafferty before an own goal by the Baggies flattered the scoreline further.
"It was a fantastic team performance against Premier League opposition so we're really pleased to get through to the next round," former Hammers midfielder Gary O'Neil told Norwich City TV. "We probably should have made it a bit easier by going in front earlier on but we stuck in there and got a convincing win in the end."
Newly promoted sides often struggle in their first season back in the top flight, but the Canaries (2-2-2) have given a good account of themselves early on with wins over fellow promoted club Bournemouth and Sunderland.
Norwich, though, have yet to find a consistent balance in attacking and defending. While they have been held off the scoresheet just once in league play, scoring 10 goals and averaging 7.5 shots from outside the penalty area, they have yet to turn in a clean sheet in their six matches and have conceded seven times in the second half.
The Canaries also need to improve their away form if they want to remain in the top flight - they've gone 1-4-9 in their last 14 away from Carrow Road.
Given the opportunistic nature of West Ham's play early on, Neil's men will need to be at their best for 90 minutes if they want to at least take a point.
"Norwich are a good side. They are hard to breakdown, they work as a unit," Bilic acknowledged. "They have a bit of everything."
Both sides recorded two-goal home victories over each other in the 2013-14 season, the last time these sides were in the Premier League. West Ham won 2-0 in February 2014 while Norwich came from behind to win 3-1 at Carrow Road in November 2013.