By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs West Ham
Up next for Aston Villa are West Ham, who are a win away from going level on points with 2nd place Man City.
Villa, on the other hand, will hope to climb out of the relegation zone – getting anything from this match will do that. Villa can claim bad luck to be where they are at the moment, but regardless, their form must improve soon.
It’s certainly one of the trickiest Premier League bets to call this week with Villa at 13/8 to win and West Ham very slight favourites at 8/5.
While it’s early days at the moment in terms of the league table, a win could give the Villa players a huge psychological boost, knowing they’ll be then two points off the top four places. It’s certainly a better feeling than being in the relegation places.
Villa – L L W L
West Ham – L D W W
Dean Smith on West Ham:
“They’re a good team, a well-established team with a head coach who has won the Premier League. They’re certainly a threat going forward, I watched their game with Watford, it was end to end, it could have been 5-5! If you look at the expected goals they’ll be at the top for entertainment but concede a lot as well. I guess what they’d have been working on during the international period.
“But, signing Haller up front, he looks like a really good centre-forward, he’s scored a couple of good goals already and he looks a real handful. In the wide areas as well, they’ve got an awful lot of pace and trickery and creativity in midfield. It’s a tough game for us but they all are. The last game at Villa Park it was absolutely rocking and we need to get it going again.”
On Haller-Wesley comparison:
“They’re both top players who deserve to be playing in the Premier League. Haller’s come from the Bundesliga while Wes has come from a lesser league if you like playing for Brugge. Both have got Champions League experience. We’ve told Wes to concentrate on his own game and to keep doing what he’s doing and to go and put in another performance like he did against Everton.
“They’ve got a lot of similarities. When I watched Wes he created a lot of goals as well as score them which was a big part of what attracted me to him.”
Manuel Pellegrini on Aston Villa:
“Last season we played a lot of games and lost against the teams around us. Now we will see as Aston Villa has a good team and a difficult stadium but we will go there and try to win. That is our only target now.
“Aston Villa is a team which has had different results and has bought a lot of good players after returning to the Premier League. They have a lot of attacking players and a manager who wants to play in an attacking style but they must adapt.”
Aston Villa 1 West Ham 0
Tom Cleverley’s goal after good work from Jack Grealish, lifted Villa four points above the drop zone in a vital win that helped Villa stay up under Tim Sherwood. A home win that coincidentally followed a win in their home game against Everton.
One to Watch
Sébastien Haller signed from Eintracht Frankfurt for the enormous fee of £45 million. It may have seemed like a crazy outlay, but so far, in his three Premier League appearances he has scored three goals.
In short, he is dangerous.
West Ham have favoured a 4-1-4-1 system so far this season, using Declan Rice to shield the defence. While their matches don’t see a significant difference in possession stats between the two teams (Man City notwithstanding), they have had the least of the ball in every match so far. While this says little about their proficiency on the counter, it does show that they don’t need to dominate the ball in order to win matches convincingly.
They are consistent in front of goal, with their ‘expected goals’ (xG) being only marginally higher in each match than their actual goal output – not counting Man City, their last three matches have seen them score a combined total of six goals, recording a combined xG of 6.68. From this, we can determine they tend to get exactly what they deserve out of their matches.
West Ham mostly attack down the flanks, showing no particular preference. Against Watford, 80% of attacking play was via the wings; against Norwich, 75%. The width is mostly provided by the fullbacks, with wingers Anderson and Yarmolenko often cutting in.
The fullbacks cross into the box to good effect, particularly left back Masuaku – a 92% pass completion in their last match suggests he knows when to release the ball.
As demonstrated by Man City, however, they can be played through with relative success. Against Norwich, they recorded a 60% success rate from 48 attempted tackles, was dribbled past 19 times and only managed 7 blocks compared to Norwich’s 16.
That they have only conceded two goals in their last three games is largely down to keeper Lucasz Fabianski, who sits in 8th place in the league’s most saves chart with 12.
How it could play out
To highlight the potential danger posed by Haller, Whoscored released a statistical XI of the best summer signings of the season so far; not only was Haller included, he was also the highest rated player selected with an average rating of 7.96.
Of course, another player to be included was our very own Tyrone Mings, with a rating of 7.22. Will they cancel each other out?
Talking about statistics, last matchday’s best XI across all top five leagues included West Ham’s left back Arthur Masuaku, with a rating of 8.8. With Trezeguet suspended, it will almost certainly be Jota going up against him – Guilbert would be the ideal right-back to start this match, as his chemistry with Jota will be vital in winning that flank.
Right-back Ryan Fredericks has managed 0.8 blocks per game, and has been dribbled past 1.5 times per game so far this season. An in form El Ghazi should get some joy against him; this could be Villa’s best chance of getting anything from the flanks, with Masuaku on the other side being far superior. He has been dribbled passed 0.3 times per game, and averaged 1 block each match. Masuaku’s 4.3 tackles per match proves he is difficult to beat.
West Ham have at times utilised a 4-2-3-1 lineup so far this season, with a double-pivot of Declan Rice and Mark Noble shielding the defence. The two complement each other well, with Rice breaking up play and Noble springing attacks from deep. If this tactic is utilised, it will be up to Grealish and McGinn to disrupt their attempts to control the pace of the game.
While Pellegrini has switched up his formation in every match so far, he tends to start with the 4-1-4-1 with Rice in the holding midfield position. For all the hype, he is not above making mistakes and bad choices. McGinn could prove to be far too much for him to handle – if this is the case, Grealish should be able to take advantage of any slip-ups and take the game by the scruff of the neck.
They are a balanced team with no particular preference for any side, no clear specialty in terms of controlling a game or playing on the counter, and nothing to suggest their overall attack and defence excel, barring the outstanding Haller and Masuaku.
The Hammers are the definition of a mid-table Premier League team, and arguably the benchmark for how Villa should be performing this season.
Aston Villa’s game plan centers a lot around dominating the ball and playing on the front foot, something they are yet to really manage so far this season for any extended length of time. If there was ever a chance to get it right, West Ham may be the ideal opposition to do so.
Villa 2 West Ham 1
Mings and Engels will need to give everything they have to stop Haller – his goal-per-game rate so far is likely to continue here. Villa should have enough to cause problems of their own though, provided they can win the midfield and stamp their authority on the match.