Five Talking Points - Middlesbrough

Five Talking Points

The hot topics for discussion ahead of Middlesbrough's Premier League visit to London Stadium on Saturday afternoon...

Positive approach needed

Everyone who has spoken publicly since last weekend’s 3-0 home Premier League defeat by Southampton – Board, manager, current and former players – has stated the need for West Ham United to remain positive.

The Hammers may be on a run of four straight defeats, but they cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves if they are to climb the table sooner rather than later.

Prior to the season, West Ham would have targeted three points from this home fixture with newly-promoted Boro, and recent results should not change the mindset of those in Claret and Blue. This remains a very winnable fixture.

Something’s got to give

While West Ham’s recent form has been nothing to write home about, with four straight Premier League defeats in the books, Middlesbrough have also struggled for positive results since opening 2016/17 with five points from three matches.

Boro lost all three Premier League games in September, with 2-1 defeats at the Riverside Stadium by Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur bookending a 3-1 loss at Everton, so confidence will not be high in the visitors’ dressing room on Saturday.

With neither club collecting a single point in the month, both will hope to start October with a morale-boosting victory.

Dimitri Payet remains key to West Ham United's chances

Key man

While West Ham may have struggled collectively this season, Dimitri Payet remains key to their hopes of turning things around sooner rather than later.

The France playmaker has continued to create chances, making 3.8 key passes per game in his four Premier League appearances so far – third in the top flight behind Chelsea’s Willian and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino.

Those passes have helped him chalk up three assists in just 293 minutes of action – two for Michail Antonio against Watford and a third for the same player at West Bromwich Albion – to put him joint-second in the Premier League standings behind Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.

Payet is also unleashing 3.8 shots per game on average, good enough for fourth in the league behind Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.

Stewart Downing is set to face his former club

Battle of the Spanish stoppers

Saturday’s fixture could come down to which Spanish goalkeeper performs best – West Ham United’s Adrian or Middlesbrough’s Victor Valdes.

Adrian, who will hope to be included in Spain’s squad for their upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers with Italy and Albania, has made a joint-Premier League high 24 saves in six appearances this season, and looked to be back to his best against Southampton last Sunday.

The experienced Valdes, who signed for Boro this summer following spells with Barcelona and Manchester United, has been far less busy, making eight saves in four appearances, but has still conceded an average of two goals-per-game.

The battle of the Spanish stoppers could go a long way to deciding who comes out on top at London Stadium.

Downing’s return

Finally, Stewart Downing is set to face West Ham for the first time since leaving east London to return home in summer 2015.

Some eyebrows were raised when the England international swapped the Premier League for the Championship, but Downing’s self-stated hope of being involved in a promotion battle came true last season.

Now 32, the Middlesbrough-born winger remains an important player for the club where he started his career 15 years ago, and Hammers fans will be wary of his elusive running and ability to deliver quality and shoot accurately with either foot.