Aston Villa vs West Ham
By Dean Gregory
Three very hard-fought points were earned last time out against a strong Southampton side. Next up, Villa welcome high-flying West Ham to Villa Park
West Ham currently sit in fifth place having put together a solid run of performances. After a wobble against Liverpool in their last game, they will look to return to winning ways against Villa. This really is a yardstick for both teams to see if they can truly be legit European challengers this season.
Aston Villa – L L W L W
West Ham – W W W W L
Dean Smith on reverse fixture
“We can learn a lot (from that game). We played very well in the game, we gave away two very soft goals, at the start of the first half from a corner, and we’ve seen all season what a threat they are from set-pieces.
“We certainly have to be at our best against them set-piece-wise. But we played ever so well and deserved something out of that game, probably all three points.
“There was a very, very, very marginal decision at the end where Ollie Watkins scores a goal and was deemed offside even though he was getting fouled in the penalty box.
“It was a tough one to take at the time but we certainly bounced back well after that and had a good run. We’ll be looking forward to the game, they’ve had a fantastic season and I’ve got a lot of respect for David Moyes and what he’s doing.”
David Moyes on Aston Villa
“We found it tough when we played them at home and were probably fortunate to win it in the end. They’ve done incredibly well when you think we played them at the end of last season and they needed the point to stay up. They’ve made great strides and have an improving team.”
“I think it all comes down to recruitment. Last year Dean Smith said they brought in one or two players who took time to settle, but this year they’ve signed very good players. They also have improving players – Grealish, McGinn, Mings, Konsa.
“They have a good side and have recruited well and that’s why they’re in the position they’re in.”
West Ham use a number of formations, their most used lineup being a 4-2-3-1 with Michail Antonio up front, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals behind him, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice shielding the defence, and a back four of Vladimir Coufal, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell.
With 43.9% possession and 77.4% pass completion this season, West Ham are not a team that is comfortable holding onto the ball and controlling the game. 14% of all passes they attempt are played long, 47% of all action in their games has been within the middle third of the pitch and 30% of the shots they attempt are outside the box.
These are the stats of a team that struggles to impose themselves; they play plenty of long balls forward to paper over their troubles maintaining possession, there is little action in the opposition third (26%) and they can have trouble playing their way into the opponent’s box. Despite this they are fairly resolute in defence and are able to grind out results against anyone in the league.
It is this tenacity in winning ugly and fighting back from losing positions that sees them occupying fifth place at the moment; David Moyes has done a good job instilling a positive mentality in his side which allows them to be competitive even when on paper, they are totally out-gunned.
They have scored 31 goals from 31.40 xG, showing they are efficient with the chances that they get. This is despite that they are yet to win a penalty this season, which is further evidence of their difficulties getting bodies in the opposition box.
Defensively, they have conceded 27 goals from 26.22 xGA. This is a negligible under-performance, and shows they are doing a good job of limiting their opponent’s chances and dealing with them when they get them.
They are currently 9th and 10th in the league for goals scored and conceded respectively, a sign of a well-balanced side that is perhaps punching above their weight. Despite a wobble against the champions, there is little evidence that the bubble is going to burst anytime soon; they have a solid mentality that belies the stats showing they are a somewhat average team that would normally expect to be comfortably mid-table at best.
One to Watch
Tomas Soucek is the team’s leading goalscorer with seven goals, a stat made all the more impressive considering he is a defensive midfielder. He wins 5.8 aerial duels per game, makes 2.5 clearances and chips in with 1.3 key passes per 90 as well.
An all-rounder in the middle, Soucek has been the lynchpin in this West Ham side, a driving force and a rock in equal measure.
Aston Villa 1-0 West Ham – 09-05-2015
Tom Cleverly’s goal was the decider in this tight affair (with good work in the build-up by Jack Grealish), the last time Villa beat West Ham at home.
West Ham 2-1 Aston Villa – 30-11-2020
Painfully early goals in each half, first in the 2nd minute from Ogbonna and then in the 46th minute from Bowen, came either side of Grealish’s equaliser. Both goals were close-range headers, first from a corner and then from a cross – that they were almost carbon copies of each other only makes them extra frustrating.
How it could play out
At times this season, Villa have played some irresistible football. They have played with the swagger of a team that belongs in the top half of the top flight, an attitude which has seen them lose some games in frustrating fashion as well as blowing teams away. In a word, it has been exciting.
Against Southampton, Villa demonstrated what is perhaps an even more important trait for a successful team to have – the ability to win ugly in a game they have no business getting any result from. Regularly winning with ease is a sign of good form even for the elite teams, but to grind out wins is a sign of a winning mentality, an unwillingness to lie down and accept defeat, even when being outplayed. It is vital for a team on the rise, and proves Villa are not purely a confidence team.
This next game may be another situation where that same dogged tenacity may be required again; Villa are primarily a team that breaks fast and exploits spaces in behind teams, although they are capable of pushing high and asserting control when necessary. The way they are typically set up however does not exploit West Ham’s typical weaknesses, and the way West Ham play is unlikely to trigger Villa’s counter very often.
West Ham have struggled most against teams that press them high and deny them time on the ball, but there is always the risk of leaving gaps behind when doing this, which they will set up to exploit with their long passes forward.
Despite the generally average numbers put up by West Ham, they have consistently presented a conundrum for teams that have come up against them.
Aston Villa 2-1 West Ham
Villa looked good value for a win the last time these two sides met; if not for two unfortunate losses of concentration which were punished, they could have got one. Cut out those mistakes and Villa should have enough to win this time. West Ham have proven themselves difficult opponents however.