With just two games left to play for all teams in the lower half of the table except for Sunderland, Aston Villa can take a giant step towards ensuring safety with a win against West Ham when the Londoners make the trip to Villa Park on Saturday.
Villa were the lowest scorers across all divisions in England at one point and were on their way to score around 18 goals in the entire season. Tim Sherwood has turned things around incredibly and has got Villa to play with pace, flair, imagination and craft while making the opposition’s net bulge as well.
They are now 14th in the league, tied on points with Newcastle United who have been in free fall since February and run a serious risk of going down if they don’t manage to stop the rut.
West Ham are 9th in the league with 47 points of which 31 were garnered before Christmas. They have only won twice in the last 14 matches which has seen them drop from the 4th place they occupied in what now seems like a different lifetime.
Sam Allardyce’s future is uncertain and the team have nothing to play for. They did beat Burnley 1-0 last weekend but without Sakho and Carroll, the goal threat isn’t there.
The two teams played out a drab goalless draw in Novermber though it promises to be anything but drab when they face each other on Saturday.
Tim Sherwood would be tempted to start with an unchanged side that defeated Everton as Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark continue to be sidelined. Gabby Agbonlahor remains a doubt with a hamstring injury.
Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Diafra Sakho, Guy Demel and Andy Carroll are all injured which means that even West Ham could feature an unchanged side. That means a place alongside James Collins in defence for 18-year-old Reece Burke who has looked solid in his two outings so far, helping West Ham keep consecutive clean sheets.
Last Five Meetings
08 Nov 2014: West Ham Utd. 0 – 0 Aston Villa Premier League
08 Feb 2014: Aston Villa 0 – 2 West Ham Utd. Premier League
02 Nov 2013: West Ham Utd. 0 – 0 Aston Villa Premier League
10 Feb 2013: Aston Villa 2 – 1 West Ham Utd. Premier League
18 Aug 2012: West Ham Utd. 1 – 0 Aston Villa Premier League
- Having scored 12 goals in 25 matches before his arrival, Villa have scored 17 in just 10 matches under Tim Sherwood.
- West Ham have failed to score in 5 of their last 7 away matches in the Premier League.
- West Ham have failed to win any of their last 10 away matches in the Premier League.
- West Ham will become only the second team to be in the top four at Christmas and not finish in the top four in the past six seasons.
Aston Villa: Christian Benteke
11 goals in his last nine appearances brings the big Belgian into this game in the form of his life. Benteke would be licking his lips in anticipation when he lines up against 18-year-old Burke in central defence. He has scored 5 goals in his last two home games; a hat-trick against QPR and a brace in last weekend’s win over Everton; and is bound to add to his 12 league goals this season against West Ham. A whooping 6.5 aerial duels won per game signifies his dominance in the air.
His goals have literally brought Aston Villa back from the dead and his deadly accuracy is the reason behind his exploits. Since the arrival of Sherwood, Benteke has recorded more than a shot on target out of every two, and his 40% conversion rate during this period has been nothing short of astonishing. The 24-year-old seems destined to make the step up next season, and West Ham’s trip gives him an opportunity to add a few extra millions to his already burgeoning value.
West Ham: Mark Noble
Games against Aston Villa in recent times are open, end to end affairs with lots of goals and a lack of midfield control. West Ham will need to exert their control over the ball and for that particular reason, it is of paramount importance that their captain has a good outing. Noble has the composure required to keep the ball in tight areas while contuining to recycle possession and dictating the tempo of the match.
The experienced campaigner has been consistent with his displays and bagged only his second league goal of the season against Burnley when he netted the winner. 2.4 tackles per game and 1.9 interceptions to boot prove that he’s a capable holding midfielder though he likes to step out with the ball at his feet and spray the ball wide. Still only 27 despite seemingly being around for ages, Noble will need to lead the way for his side to finish their season on a high.
Difficult to predict anything else apart from an Aston Villa win keeping in mind the numerous injuries West Ham are nursing in attack as well as defence. Also the fact that Villa will be virtually safe if they get the three points while the Hammers have nothing to play for.