This fixture is deceptively important. Whilst we sit quite contentedly in 10th place, the harsh reality is that there is just a 5 point cushion to our opponents. West Ham, more importantly harbour a position third from bottom. It’s imperative that we keep this daylight between us and perhaps, just perhaps increase it.
No doubt The Hammers have ringed this fixture as must win with permanent marker. Indeed, an away trip to Villa Park in recent history has yielded more for visiting sides. Another sad but unfortunately accurate fact, marginally improved by the vital win against West Brom last week.
West Ham continue to be a puzzle under Allardyce. Uncompromising as his style of play can be upon the eye, the manager is renowned for being a keen user of modern data analysis of his teams and their opposite numbers. However, that has not yet translated into anything like consistency at West Ham.
There are grumblings of discontent around their style of play and an ongoing flirtation with relegation. It’s not hard to see why. West Ham’s squad at face value appears a mix of known quantities, cheap imports and peripheral figures brought in or promoted to the first team out of necessity. But then, that sounds awfully familiar?
Big Sam has also sustained criticism for a massive outlay on Andy Carroll. The big Geordie’s appearances have been limited due to injury since his arrival from Liverpool and now finds himself embroiled in a farcical saga having been sent off, seemingly for “intent”, against Swansea last weekend. The press is currently full of rumours that he may yet start against Villa, but at the time of writing, that appears hopeful at best.
Whilst West Ham may be buoyed by an important victory over the Swans last weekend, they will likely be limited in attacking options. This bodes well given Villa’s frailties at the back and the yet to be confirmed fitness of captain Ron Vlaar. As it stands, Carlton Cole will most probably be leading the line, with loan signing Marco Borriello (AS Roma) possibly to feature at some point despite reportedly lacking match fitness.
From a Villa perspective we simply need to play to our strengths, cut out the positional errors at the back and press the attack when in possession. It sounds simple on paper and when spectating, but going forward we carry a genuine threat of pace and power. If only we could work out how to harness it both consistently and without shooting ourselves in the foot at the back.
It will likely be an intriguing game, as although the visitors struggle to score, they are also frugal when it comes to conceding. However, with Benteke rejuvenated and seemingly returning to the form he delivered during last seasons closing months, it’s not unreasonable to suggest his quality may tip the balance in Villa’s favour.
Indeed, a home win would be a very nice way to offset some tricky back to back away fixtures looming at Cardiff and Newcastle.
Prediction: Villa (2) v (0) West Ham.