West Ham vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa will go into this game in 9th place on 15 points after the Brighton game, described by Dean Smith as the most disappointing performance of the season so far.
A relatively strong start sees West Ham breathing down Villa’s neck in 10th on 14 points. A win for either side will see them keep in touch with the top six heading into the festive period. The kind of game that will be the difference to Villa being a mid-table outfit and a challenger.
West Ham – D D L W W
Aston Villa – W L L W L
David Moyes on Aston Villa and West Ham’s improvement
“The last game of the season Villa came to the London Stadium needing something to stay up. I think it shows the improvement of both sides.
“We’re pleased with the way the players have gone about it. We’ve picked up where we left off and picked up some big points in what has been a really difficult opening period.
“I think they were at the top of the league for a spell, Aston Villa, and it just shows you how quickly football can change. They’ve had some really good recruitment this summer and I think that’s given them a really good chance of finishing strongly.”
Dean Smith on Ross Barkley and other injuries
“Ross obviously got a hamstring injury against Brighton so he’s going to be out for 2-3 weeks. Nothing more than that, it’s not as bad as what we first feared. He should be back in 2-3 weeks, he’s done a week already, obviously.
“We signed Ross because he’s a quality player and if you have quality players come out of your team it’s going to affect you a little bit. Plus we’ve got nobody similar to Ross in terms of how he plays. So it will be a loss.
“But we won our first two games without Ross as well, so we certainly haven’t lost sight of that.
“Kortney Hause is back in training, this game probably comes too soon for him. Same for Fred Guilbert. We’re hoping Keinan Davis is on the training pitch on Sunday.”
West Ham’s go to formation is a solid 5-4-1 with Michail Antonio leading the line, Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek, Declan Rice and Pablo Fornals behind him and a defensive five of Vladimir Coufal, Fabián Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Massuaku.
As one would expect from a David Moyes team, West Ham take a pragmatic approach to the game averaging only 43% of possession and completing 78.8% of their passes. On the rare occasions they have the ball, they usually don’t mess around in trying to progress it forward, with 14% of all passes attempted going long.
They utilise the width of the pitch through their fullbacks with the aid of their wide midfielders, looking to cross the ball into Antonio. 5% of all attempted passes are crosses, so this is a fairly common tactic for them to try. They also don’t particularly favour either side, with 38% and 37% of all attacks coming down the left or the right, respectively.
West Ham have scored 15 goals from 13.74 xG and have conceded just 10 goals from 10.61 xGA. Their attack is fairly efficient even if it doesn’t light up the league, while their defence is predictably consistent and tricky to breach. Of the 10 goals they have conceded, nine have come from open play with the other being a penalty. They concede few free kicks in dangerous areas too, a testament to a well drilled defense.
Villa will likely be tasked with bringing the game to a team that will want them to do exactly that. They will have to keep their wits about them if they are to win here.
One to Watch
Tomas Soucek is a capable all rounder and perhaps the single most important player in West Ham’s squad. Primarily a defensive midfielder, he does his task diligently with 2 tackles, 2.2 clearances and 1.2 tackles per game, as well as winning 5.9 aerial duels per game. He also helps out going forward, having chipped in with a goal and taking 2.2 shots per game, as well as 2.2 long balls played.
West Ham 1-2 Aston Villa – 16-04-2011
An early Robbie Keane goal was eventually overturned by a Darren Bent strike and a late winner from Gabby Agbonlahor. This was the last time Villa won a game away at West Ham.
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How it could play out
The big talking point for Villa heading into this match is obviously the absence of Chelsea loanee Ross Barkley, a player who has cemented himself as a key individual in this Villa team. His link-up play with the forward line, Grealish in particular, has been instrumental in their strongest performances so far this season.
Bertrand Traore put in a solid performance in Barkley’s stead and will have done himself a few favours in terms of getting himself into the team for the time being. The obvious other option would be to bring in Conor Hourihane, who started the season in that position and similarly made a good account of himself when doing so.
Who is the better player to use against West Ham? Neither player is particularly strong defensively, but against a team that will likely sit back that might not be a huge problem anyway. Traore is a better carrier of the ball, and while both have a good set piece delivery, Hourihane has been consistently Villa’s best dead ball specialist for a few years now. Then of course, there is Hourihane’s ghostly qualities; he will disappear for long periods of time, before stepping back across the aether just in time to grab a goal or assist. It’s a really neat trick.
Perhaps Smith will consider these options and decide to try something completely different. Many fans have called for Grealish to be restored to a midfield berth, one which he describes as his favourite position. There is no doubt that his best work in a Villa kit has been from the left wing recently, but if this were to happen, it could bring Traore onto the wing and push Trezeguet over to the left.
The facts are these; West Ham are perfectly comfortable without the ball, they are defensively resolute and they don’t give an inch in terms of set pieces. On this evidence, Hourihane could see his best qualities blunted so a direct runner in Traore to complement Grealish seems to be the way to go.
West Ham 1-2 Aston Villa
Villa are yet to concede on the road this season, but with the loss of Barkley this might be the day it happens. Provided they turn up though, Villa will have plenty enough to win. How hungry will they be to bounce back from the Brighton result?