West Ham United will look to make it three Premier League wins in a row when they visit Villa Park on Sunday to face an out-of-form Aston Villa.

Aston Villa are enduring a pretty underwhelming campaign thus far compared to the high expectations at the start of the season following an exciting transfer window that saw them bringing in the likes of Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey, and Danny Ings.

Dean Smith’s side have lost three of their previous four Premier League games, against Tottenham, Wolves, and Arsenal, surrendering eight goals in the process. Villa struggled to compete against the Gunners in their last league encounter, trailing by three goals on the hour mark until Jacob Ramsey grabbed a late consolation.

The defeat at Emirates has left the Villans 13th in the league standings with 10 points after three wins, one draw, and five losses. They will be hoping to get back on track against West Ham. The hosts have an incredibly tough run of fixtures in December, facing Manchester City, Leicester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Hence they need to pick up as many points as they can to keep them in good stead.

West Ham, meanwhile, have been fantastic this season, competing on all three fronts in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, and Europa League. The Hammers advanced to the cup quarterfinals after defeating Manchester City on penalties on a memorable Wednesday night.

In the Premier League, the Irons recorded successive 1-0 victories over Everton and Tottenham Hotspur. They have won five and drawn two from the nine games played so far for a total of 17 points, putting them in fourth place in the table. Ahead of their upcoming clash against Aston Villa, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both sides.

Team News & Tactics

Aston Villa

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has confirmed the availability of star goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez after returning from Argentina owing to a personal issue involving his father’s health. He trained with the group on Friday, having already done some training at the national team’s facilities while in Argentina. He is expected to start in goal against West Ham.

Villa are keeping a close eye on Leon Bailey’s fitness as he waits for his first Premier League start, while Keinan Davis is back in training after successfully recovering from a long-term injury. Morgan Sanson and Jaden Philogene-Bidace are doubts due to illness. Smith could revert back to a 4-3-3 formation widely used last season after recent disappointing results.

Summer loan arrival Axel Tuanzebe has appeared rusty when afforded an opportunity to impress. Hence, Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings should retain their places at the heart of the Aston Villa backline despite looking shaky in recent weeks. The central defensive duo will be hoping to keep West Ham striker Michail Antonio at bay.

Matt Targett will play as the left-back, with Matty Cash slotting in at right-back. Both will be given the green light to surge forward during counter-attacks and put some good balls into the box for their strikers. Jacob Ramsey’s strong showing off the bench against Arsenal may earn him a starting spot in Villa midfield alongside Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.

Emiliano Buendia will be pushing to start, but the inconsistent start to his Villa career means he has to contend with a place on the bench. Ollie Watkins will operate out wide on the left flank, while Leon Bailey will try to impress with his flashy skills on the right side.

Danny Ings will lead the line through the middle for the West Midlands club. Smith will hope that his frontline can pose problems for West Ham’s centre-halves on the counter-attack with pace to burn.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Martinez; Cash, Mings, Konsa, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Bailey, Ings, Watkins

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West Ham United

The Hammers’ boss David Moyes’ has no fresh injury concerns after their frantic victory in midweek. Declan Rice and Michail Antonio will return to the West Ham lineup after being rested for the Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester City. Vladimir Coufal has recovered from a groin injury, while Alex Kral has returned from his period in self-isolation.

David Moyes will use his customary 4-2-3-1 system and could make several personnel changes. Lukasz Fabiański is a certainty between the sticks for the Hammers despite the midweek heroics from Alphonse Areola. Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna will operate as the centre-halves as they look to keep things solid at the back.

Ben Johnson will feature as a conservative right-back once more ahead of Vlamidir Coufal, while Aaron Cresswell will want to put in a strong performance at left-back. Moyes will urge his full-backs to push forward and join the attack to provide an outlet.

Tomas Soucek and Rice should form the midfield double-pivot as they try to impose their dominance in the middle of the park. Rice will be pulling the strings and doing the defensive work, while Soucek will support Rice and try to notch a goal with his late runs into the box.

The talented trio of Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen will function as a three-man attack just behind the main striker. Bowen will act as a direct wide-man focusing majorly on releasing a shot on goal. Fornals is a hard-working presser and will operate in slightly deeper areas. Michail Antonio is an automatic starter at the top, leading the charge for West Ham.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Johnson, Ogbonna, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Bowen, Benrahma, Fornals; Antonio 

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Key Stats

  • West Ham are undefeated in this fixture since May 2015 (W3 D3), with the Irons also winning both the league clashes last season.
  • West Ham won this corresponding fixture 3-1 last term and will be looking to pick up successive away league victories against Villa for the first time since a three-game winning streak between 1965 and 1967.
  • The Villans have lost each of their last three games in the Premier League; the last time they had a longer winless stretch in the league was back in February/March 2020 (4).
  •  The Hammers are in a good run of form on the road and are unbeaten in the past seven away league games.
  • Michail Antonio has a good track record against Aston Villa. West Ham have not lost a single of the five Premier League games against Villa in which Antonio has featured. He has been directly involved in 4 goals in 5 appearances vs Villa (1G 3A).

Player to Watch

Michail Antonio

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The 30-year-old has had an incredible transformation at London Stadium over the last couple of years. He has evolved from a utility player to West Ham’s star striker. Antonio is currently third in the Premier League goalscoring charts this season with six goals, only behind Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy.

He has directly contributed to 11 goals from 10 appearances for the Irons this campaign (7G 4A). Prolific finishing and putting the ball into the back of the net is second nature to him, but he also plays a massively important job in Moyes’ system. He provides them with a focal point to operate and sustain attacks. He can run in behind, or with his muscular build, he can hold the ball up and torment defences.

Antonio is a complete package, a skilful dribbler with an extraordinary leap, a powerful target-man with the agility and pace of a winger, the lungs and endurance of a full-back, and the devious off-the-ball movement of a marksman. His all-around play allows the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma to flourish alongside him.

Prediction

Aston Villa 2-2 West Ham United

West Ham are flying high at the moment and brimming with confidence after eliminating both Manchester clubs to progress to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup. Their exploits in Europe have also been mighty impressive, having won all three of their Europa League group stage matches this season, sitting atop in Group H with nine points.

It would not be a surprise to see the Hammers record a statement victory to signify that they will now better be taken as a real contender for a top-four spot. But this one could prove to be a competitive, tightly-contested affair with Dean Smith expecting a positive reaction from his players after three losses on the bounce. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a 2-2 share of the spoils from an entertaining contest on Sunday.

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