Premier League strugglers Watford host a West Ham United side aiming to stay alive in the race for Champions League places.
Watford last played a Premier League game back on December 11th, as their Covid-hit side were unable to compete since. Such a situation either gives an advantage for a struggling team such as the Hornets to regroup and focus on their targets or could affect their results due to losing their sharpness without on-field action.
Either way, Claudio Ranieri will hope results go their way after seemingly struggling to stitch together positive wins. They have not earned a single point since their surprise win over Manchester United on home turf, going on a losing streak in their subsequent four matches.
It would be more important for Ranieri to keep a firm eye on the relegation places as Watford sit alarmingly close to the danger zone with only two points separating them from 18th-placed Burnley, who have a game in hand over the Hornets. If the Clarets are to win their next two clashes and Watford lose theirs, they will find themselves in a precarious position.
As for their visitors, West Ham United, they have a huge task at hand to improve their tarnishing credibility in the race for Champions League places. There was a phase when no team wanted to play the Hammers due to their top form. However, they are at a stage when every team would fancy a result against David Moyes’ side, who have not won in their last five games across all competitions.
Southampton beat them on Boxing Day, a result that will have come as a shock for Moyes & co. In light of the recent results, West Ham, who once looked like favourites to finish in the top four, are losing ground in the race. With their loss against Saints, they have slipped below Tottenham in the table and will need to start racking up victories.
Team News & Tactics
Claudio Ranieri will have to contend with a host of injuries, with as many as six players being confirmed absentees against West Ham United. Nicolas N’Koulou, Peter Etebo, Ismaila Sarr, Kwado Baah, Christian Kabasele and Ben Foster are all missing from the contest.
While some players are coming back from Covid infections, some new cases have reportedly emerged in the latest round of testing. Watford are yet to confirm the names of those infected, which makes it trickier to predict their team against the Hammers.
Ranieri may yet choose to replace central defender William Troost-Ekong, who has been dismal in recent games and conceded a late penalty against Brentford earlier this month. Francisco Sierralta may be on hand to come in his place at central defence, partnering up with Craig Cathcart while Kiko Femenia and Danny Rose slot in as the full-backs.
Daniel Bachmann will line up between the sticks in the absence of Foster, while the goalscoring onus at the other end of the pitch will fall on the shoulders of Josh King, Emmanuel Dennis and Joao Pedro.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Bachmann; Femenia, Sierralta, Cathcart, Rose; Kucka; Dennis, Cleverley, Sissoko, Pedro; King
West Ham United
David Moyes will have been disappointed with the result against Southampton, although the game saw some of his injured stars return to fitness. However, he will have his defensive stalwarts Kurt Zouma and Aaron Cresswell absent, while Angelo Ogbonna remains sidelined with a serious knee problem.
Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio and Ben Johnson could come into the lineup after being named among the substitutes against Southampton. However, Moyes will have a gaping hole in midfield as Declan Rice is suspended due to the accumulation of yellow cards.
Moyes will have to choose between veteran Mark Noble and on-loan midfielder Alex Kral to fill the vacant slot left by Rice’s absence. It is a tough decision, but the manager might prefer to start the veteran over the Crezh international.
Craig Dawson and Issa Diop remain the only fit senior central defenders and Moyes will have no choice but to start them. Johnson could be preferred in an unfamiliar left-back role to cover for the injured Cresswell, as Coufal will keep his place on the right side. Arthur Masuaku could get a breather after starting consecutive games.
Michail Antonio could replace Nikola Vlasic in the side and slot in as the No. 9, which will allow Jarrod Bowen to move back into the right side of the attack. Meanwhile, Said Benrahma should make way for Lanzini in the team, with Pablo Fornals moving back out onto the left-hand side.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson; Soucek, Noble; Bowen, Lanzini, Fornals; Antonio
- Watford have lost six of their last seven Premier League matches.
- Watford have conceded at least two goals in their last four Premier League games.
- West Ham are on a five-game winless run across all competitions, losing four.
- West Ham have scored at least three goals in their last three matches against Watford in all competitions.
- Watford have lost four of their last five outings against West Ham in the Premier League.
Player to Watch
After going two months without a goal, Antonio helped West Ham briefly equalise against Southampton, bringing an end to his drought. Moyes will be hoping that goal will boost his confidence in the box, and the forward will start scoring regularly to help the club’s cause.
While his overall gameplay, with which he brings others into action, is crucial to the team, Antonio needs to have goals to his name given that he is their only proper option for the No. 9 slot. The Jamaican international finding his goalscoring boots would be the necessary medicine for West Ham to arrest their slump. Against Watford, he has the perfect opportunity to ensure his tally increases.
Watford 1-3 West Ham United
This does seem like the perfect game for West Ham to bounce back from their recent results. It’s quite difficult to believe they haven’t won since beating Chelsea at the London Stadium five games ago. On paper, it may look straightforward, but Watford are a tricky side at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets have displayed their unpredictable nature more than once, evident in their rather surprising victories over Everton and Manchester United early in Ranieri’s reign. However, in recent weeks teams have beaten them with ease, and the Hammers are likely to be the next in line to do so.