Coming off the back of three straight wins and three clean sheets, the Villans make the journey to East London and the London Stadium to face the Hammers in what looks to be an important game for both teams to keep their seasons high aspirations flowing. Whilst Villa have been in flying form, we'd be fools to underestimate the Irons considering our poor record against them.
With West Ham comes a team that likes to dominate the centre of the pitch, distributing mainly down the left flank with Lanzini or Fornals, or at times the right with the on-form Bowen. With generating a large percentage of their play through short passing moves in open play the Hammers can be a great team to watch on their day, with the hope being that Sunday the 13th is not their day at all. They bring a solid set-up, with powerful centre-backs and tricky technical players with one of England brightest talents at the heart of their team in Declan Rice, it'll prove to be a challenging task for Gerrard's men to overcome, yet overcome it they must. With now being the best time, since West Ham are coming fresh from a disappointing away loss to Sevilla in the Europa League (hopefully home to the Villa in due course).
Looking back at our most recent games against West Ham makes for quite uncomfortable reading with the last time we took a point against the Hammers being the survival ensuring 1-1 draw in 2020, and to search for us taking more than a point against them being 7 years ago in a 1-0 home win. It makes the most sense to take into greater account our most recent result being the 1-4 home loss on Halloween (our performance was truly terrifying) and whilst our team does look quite different from then we all know that West Ham and their playstyle seemingly become our undoing each time we face them with Declan Rice running the show at Villa Park. The main catalyst for their win was the constant pressure the midfield placed on ours forcing errors and consistently winning the ball back on any line of defence and forcing that play either down the left flank early on, or forcing it through the empty spaces when we lost Konsa to the slightly contentious red card (in my opinion). WhoScored shows that West Ham's play whilst diverse did have a strong favoring of their left-hand side and Villa focused down the left also, where we had Bailey - Buendia rotating left to right. It was one of Dean Smith's damning games where the fans began their shift of minds from the optimism of Smith, to a slow realization perhaps that we had peaked. Whilst that's in the past I don't believe many Villa fans have overflowing confidence facing West Ham but this is the time to do it which I will draw upon later. But focusing back on the issue at hand, Villa have to ensure they nullify the threat West Ham give off and to our main advantage, a key player for West Ham on Halloween night with the name of Jarrod Bowen has been confirmed by Moyes to be absent for the game which is nothing short of great news for us Villa faithful.
The Power of Momentum
It's no secret, from players to staff to fans we are all extremely hyped for what we're seeing. Three games, three wins and three clean sheets?! That's the villa we want and the one we need, with it being even more important to know that comes with a somewhat rotated team (mainly in the defence over games 2/3) showing the squad carrying the momentum as a group, the passion and drive taking us to the wins we've been craving. Chambers keeping his place, Coutinho running the show, and Ings cementing his name on the Claret and Blue are all showings that the squad as a whole have a backing that West Ham will be absolutely petrified to play against. With West Ham coming off away losses in Sevilla and Liverpool they'll be carrying the burden of having to turn the corner fast to get their speed back for their somewhat hopeful but still realistic push for top 4 (maybe 5 now). Both teams come in with a different form, different ways of having to approach the game and we all know the Iron faithful won't be overjoyed if they go 1-0 at home early on since scoring has been an issue of late with one goal in three. Villa need to go straight for the jugular, against a team hurting with tired and well-travelled legs we've got to be going straight for nothing short of a commanding presence and an early lead and if that happens I just do not see Villa letting that slip.
Three Of Each
The three key picks for this week in my eyes are Cash, Coutinho, and Ings. Starting with Matty Cash many of us had our eyes raised at the prospect of a £40 million sale to Athletico Madrid in January and whilst I personally was not one, I know a few fans were adamant a sale should be made but since then Matty has been just brilliant. A man of fine form, tough tackles, and a beautiful stride forward that Cancelo would be proud of against Leeds it's key that he has another game like that this week. Whilst West Ham do struggle for goals of late with Bowen out a lot of the play will focus on the left flank from West Ham through Fornals and inevitably Benrahma when he makes an appearance. Cash has got to be on form to get straight into the Hammers offense and be that outlet that creates so many chances for Villa in the attack. Now following my love-filled passion piece its no surprise Coutinho makes this list however he's here because I believe in this game he's key to unlocking West Ham in the ways we could not in the reverse fixture. Phil doesn't shy away from midfield pressure and he's sure to get that from Rice and Soucek along with dragging out the wing-backs as he does so frequently. The defensive due of Dawson and Zouma (BOOOO) will need the silky nature of Coutinho to be bypassed and I have all the faith he will. Not to mention getting those players on early bookings enables the future involvement of Emi or Leon Bailey to be as direct as they wish when they come on. Finally, Ings. I've loved Danny from when I had to spend most of my University weekends watching Southampton fixtures with my Saints following housemate with the constant talk of 'Without injuries, he'd be starting for England'. There's more to his game than this, but essentially Ings bring goals, and whilst we haven't seen the huge influx I think many expected as aforementioned he's definitely grown a lot more confident and expansive in his play and it's clear a partnership between himself and Ollie has grown into what we all deemed impossible earlier on in the season. Having the dual strikers against this West Ham team will be vital, as our old systems proved useless against them earlier in the season, and with the creativity of Ramsey/Sanson and Phil behind them we can finally put one of our bogey teams to rest...hopefully?
West Ham -
With West Ham comes an array of talent that gets well utilised by Moyes and his staff behind him but the three notable characters for this game to me will be Rice, Lanzini and Antonio. These three bring specific yet potent talent and are easily my players to watch for the game playing in the Hammer strip. Starting with Rice he came off the back of an illness over the last PL weekend and managed to play the full 90 against Sevilla meaning he's more than fit to play ourselves (unfortunately). Rice is a special talent and I'm certain he's going to go reach even higher levels but hopefully not on Sunday, as he was MOTM easily against us in October and his outlet from defense to offense is remarkable and as shown in that game his pass accuracy, mixed with great dribble success and movement around the box leads to a great threat to our boys and we'll rely heavily on the likes of Dougie and mr Meatball to keep him isolated. Much the same goes for Manuel Lanzini, West Ham's own triky and creative midfielder who loves a dig on goal and a mazy run towards the 6 yard box and this is where we'll see McGinn at hopefully his best and getting stuck into Lanzini early on to knock him off the level of confidence he needs to create what he does. Lanzini can move from centre to left with ease allowing him to cut in on his right so we'll have Cash working around him heavily. Finally, Antonio. This man is an enigma, a great finisher on his day but he just doesn't meet it near enough for the Hammers. Now I've said that he's going to score Sunday isn't he? Apologies in advance, but the West Ham faithful will be looking to him to finally encapsulate the form he can do and to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Mings will likely be the one picking him up, which will be vital as we need that strength and pace to match as well as the confidence to stand him up. It'll be tough, whilst Antonio may not score every game he sure does influence a lot, and closing him down will be key.
Now, I'm not one to make predictions.....yet here I am. I'm saying it now, Villa take home all three points with a 2-0 away win at the London Stadium. There's no denying West Ham's quality but Villa just have that edge about them now, playing a bit of arrogance at times thats spectacular to see because the wide ability of Villa's team is undeniable and with West Ham losing the key influence of Ogbonna and Bowen we can see that it really is favoring the away side. If we're going to talk about team lineup, I'd be reluctant to change much if anything but as you can see, I've gone for changing out Ramsey for Sanson. Morgan has done his job extremely well when called upon and Jacob could really do with a rest as he just hasn't been at the level he was before these last two games and to me he's probably knackered considering he's been a focal point of our squad when he probably didn't expect to be. That being said, I won't be upset with him starting at all as his ability is wonderful, but on Thursday too many of his darting runs became lackluster leading to lost possession in the midfield when he'd usually make that work. Also just to touch base, to me Chambers has to keep his place as he brings the post-game confidence of two clean sheets and a goal without putting a real foot wrong of recent. Of course, it's harsh on Konsa but competition and depth is key, and you can't drop players in form when on a winning spree. Let's also acknowledge the elephant in the room, the referee. It's Jarrod Gillet, about as inexperienced as we can get and following our last experience with the lad against Leeds at Villa park I think we all agree it left a lot to be desired and if this game gets a bit tasty he can and most likely will lose all handle on it and that's worrying just a tad. Either way, we can't rely on the officials Villa simply have to turn up as they have been doing and bring that momentum through against an out-of-form West Ham.
Well, that about sets that up ready for what we hope to be 4/4 wins in a row. I have all the faith in the boys as I'm sure you reading this do too. It's up to Villa to really take this game to West Ham, put them on the back foot early and really dominate the game from the first whistle. Enjoy the game everyone, make sure to follow @AVFCFaithful_ and myself @Dan_Clarkey over on Twitter and keep looking on the site to follow our other amazing content writers following the Villa boys. UTV