Finding that balance
It has been a so-so return to the English top-flight for Middlesbrough, with one of best defences in the league, but have only managed to score 17 goals in the current campaign and that has shown in their league position.
Aitor Karanka’s men currently sit four points above the relegation zone in 16th, and had an excellent opportunity to gain some much needed points with last weekend’s visit to fellow strugglers Watford.
It was an emotional occasion at Vicarage Road, with the Hornets mourning the sad passing of former manager Graham Taylor. However the sides lack much quality as they played out a 0-0 draw, but having already played well against the Hammers this season there will be some hope of a decent result.
Another false dawn?
The current campaign has been nothing short of a nightmare for West Ham, but it looks like they could be on their way to recovery once again.
Payet dominated all the talk ahead of last week’s crucial clash with Crystal Palace, but they put any doubt to bed with an excellent performance against former manager Sam Allardyce. Goals from Sofiane Feghouli, Andy Carroll and Manuel Lanzini gave them a comfortable win, and will hope for a similar result from their trip to Teesside.
The big team news for Karanka, will be the possible second debut of fan favourite and newest signing Patrick Bamford. The youngster impressed during loan spell on Teesside, and completed his permanent move earlier in the week but is only likely to be a substitute for this clash.
Daniel Ayala will be missing for the second of his three-match suspension, while Antonio Barragan and Gaston Ramirez are out injured.
For the visitors the potentially big blow could be the absence of Carroll, who is looking to shake off a neck injury. Winston Reid, Sam Byram and Feghouli all sat out training this week with knocks, but Bilic expects all four to be fit for the trip to the North East.
Payet will continue to be an absentee, as the Frenchman continues to be linked with an exit despite returning to training with the under-23’s this week.
Middlesbrough will host West Ham at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, January 21 with kick-off at 3pm GMT.