So can we remain unbeaten until the season’s end as our manager asks? We’ve a big test – Saturday in the capital, with West Ham, like ourselves, fighting for their Premier League lives. If home points only counted West Ham would be 18th, as would we if away points only were considered. So they are as poor at home as we have been away – hardly the recipe for a classic – although there could be goals. Of the last 6 encounters, 4 matches have seen more than 2 goals. So who will score most come Saturday…
The Mighty Villa: Stick or Twist?
Personally I’d twist and change it up a little despite the Newcastle result. I’d like to see us go 4-3-3 for this game and try match West Ham in the middle of the park. This is where I believe the game will be won, and I think if we play 4-4-2 we risk being out-manned and out-fought, therefore I think it’s crucial to get another body in to combat this. I’d drop Gabby (he’s looking increasingly lost), and bring Reo-Coker in to join Makoun and Petrov, and up top it’d be Bent flanked by Ashley Young and Stewart Downing (who’s impressed me a lot this season). This would also offer us great pace on the counter when releasing the ball to either flank.
That said however, I think Houllier will stick 4-4-2 with Friedel – Walker, Dunne, Collins, L.Young – A.Young, Petrov, Makoun, Downing – Gabby, Bent. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, with a possible backlash if we did change and lose also prevalent in the thought process.
The one advantage I see with Gabby in the team and a 4-4-2 (especially when away from home) is that as West Ham are likely to press high up the pitch we can exploit Gabby’s pace and play in behind their defence. Makoun and Petrov will have to be busy, mindful of the space behind them and offer protection to the back four as West Ham have players who can shoot from range, in addition to playing between the lines. They must also look to release Downing and Young for quick raids at every opportunity.
Top Scorers: Downing & Ashley Young – 6, Albrighton & Bent – 5
Dangerman: Darren Bent- not had a shot off target since joining us – he’s the penalty box poacher that we’ve badly lacked. A proven goal-scorer and now beginning to blossom at international level also which can only be a positive.
The Opposition: West Ham
For the first half of the season West Ham looked a team doomed – disjointed at the back, a limited goal threat, a disillusioned fan base, reports of unhappy players and a managerial debacle involving Martin O’Neill – the story makes eerily familiar reading. Since then a very successful transfer window in which Ba, Bridge, Keane and Gary O’Neil came in saw a growing belief they could turn the season around and they reinforced the point with some stirring displays and victories, however it could yet prove a false dawn. And with an Olympic stadium to fill pretty soon, West Ham really need Premier League football.
I’d expect to see West Ham line-up in an attacking 4-3-3, believing they can (and probably have to) win this game. The crowd will also be demanding nothing less than a victory so silencing the home fans early could be useful. They can quickly turn on their team and are a vocal bunch. The midfield 3 of Noble, Parker and Hitzlsperger picks itself and up front I expect Cole will spearhead the attack along with Demba Ba, and probably Victor Obinna who offers pace and trickery.
It’s in defence where West Ham have really struggled – Green’s confidence is still suspect post world-cup although he has performed on the whole well this season – a bit of a ‘highlights’ goalkeeper. Upson, Tomkins, Da Costa and Bridge make up the defence and having watched them fall apart against Utd, there are grounds for optimism that we too can exploit any weakness here.
Top Scorers: Piquionne – 6, Cole & Parker – 5
Dangerman: Demba Ba – a real handful this lad. Strong, powerful shot, aerial ability, pace and no little guile are all among his skillset. Scored 4 times since joining from Hoffenheim in the January window.
My heart says a cautiously optimistic 1-1 draw although don’t be in the least bit surprised if either side claims a 2-1 victory.
Stat Attack – West Ham
- The Hammers are searching for their first win in 4 games having lost 2 in row following a hard-earned point at Tottenham.
- Beaten by Manchester United last time at home they had won the 2 previous home fixtures (Stoke, Liverpool) scoring 6 and conceding just 1.
- West Ham have kept 4 clean sheets at home this season (5 in total) and have failed to score in 11 of 32 league games.
- If West Ham don’t score before the hour mark – chances are they might not at all, with 71% of their goals coming before this point. Conversely they are very dangerous late on. Of the other 29% all are scored 70 minutes plus. Stat’s – dont you love ’em.
- Yet to score in the first 10 minutes of any game.
Stat Attack – Villa
- Villa will be looking to extend their 2 game unbeaten run but have taken just 2 points from the previous 4 away fixtures – Man Utd –L, Blackpool -D, Bolton –L and Everton –D.
- Brad Friedel continues his record run of consecutive league games. Stewart Downing is our only other ever-present this year having played just 10 mins fewer than Friedel.
- Villa recorded their biggest league win of the season in the reverse fixture on the opening day 3-0.
- Villa have kept 6 clean sheets in the league this season – all at home.
- Last six at the Hammers: W1 D3 L2 F7 A11