West Ham might be forced to select Pablo Zabaleta at right-back against Crystal Palace.
Manuel Pellegrini has a selection dilemma for the upcoming trip to Selhurst Park on Boxing Day. Aiming for revenge after the 2-1 loss at home, Pellegrini is likely to be without two right-backs going into the clash with Palace.
West Ham’s right-back dilemma
Ryan Fredericks has been West Ham’s first-choice right-back this season. While his performances levels have not been consistently high, he has the pace and legs to get back and help out defensively.
This is exactly what West Ham need against Palace. But he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-0 win over Southampton. As a result, he will be suspended for the trip to Crystal Palace.
With Fredericks out, this opened a door for Ben Johnson. The 19-year-old is highly-rated by Pellegrini and the fans but has been injured for most of the season. He was named in the U23 starting line-up against Newcastle United recently with Pellegrini probably eager to see how he got on.
But the teenager suffered an injury setback after just 15 minutes. It seems like a setback on his early-season knock. Johnson is an injury doubt for Boxing Day and Pellegrini is unlikely to take such a risk.
Zabaleta vs. Zaha
All of this points to one nightmare scenario: Zabaleta vs. Wilfried Zaha. West Ham fans have already watched Zabaleta struggle against the speed and trickery of Allan Saint-Maximin this season.
And Zaha is a player of similar ability. The Ivory Coast winger is now hitting some goalscoring form and he is able to beat defenders with his deceptive skill. He is exactly the type of player Zabaleta would struggle against.
But there are not many alternative options for Pellegrini. It looks like West Ham fans will have to watch Zabaleta up against Zaha on Boxing Day.