Aston Villa will be intent on making it four Premier League games unbeaten and close the 10 point gap to the safety line when they head to the capital to face West Ham United.
The home side have, for the most part, been back to their best since the turn of the year and they came close to pulling off a terrific league double over title hopefuls Manchester City. Once again, Dimitri Payet was at the centre of all the good things they produced and walked away with most of the plaudits, but the most pleasing aspect for manager Slaven Bilic will surely have been the fact that his team look so fluid and full of flair as an attacking unit.
Enner Valencia has suffered a lot with injuries over the course of this season, so it is a great sight for the Hammers to see him among the goals again, and as a forward with so many strings to his bow he is a sizeable asset to the club when on top form. On the other side of the attacking trio we have Michail Antonio, who after a slow start has begun to thrive in the top-flight and will help make life very difficult for the bottom club amid all the atmosphere at Upton Park.
Five points from the last nine available represents progress for Aston Villa, but in their situation they need regular wins rather than draws in order to stand any realistic chance of even threatening to preserve their Premier League status. Like West Ham they shared the points in their last league outing, but in far less entertaining fashion as they failed to take advantage of rivals West Bromwich Albion’s collective off day and played out a drab goalless stalemate.
They will need to show a good deal more inspiration going forward in order to stand a chance of winning this one, and the man most likely to produce that is Jordan Ayew, one of the few players in the Villa squad to emerge with any credit from this season so far. Off the pitch, it seems that the club’s hierarchy is privately resigned to the prospect of Championship football next season, especially given the lack of activity in the January transfer window.
Sam Byram is likely to come in a right-back for West Ham as Carl Jenkinson is injured. James Tomkins is doubtful, while new loan addition Emmanuel Emenike may have to wait for his debut.
Aston Villa have several injury problems, with strikers Libor Kozak and Rudy Gestede both likely to miss out along with Ashley Westwood and Alan Hutton.
Last Meeting: West Ham dominated for much of the game back in November 2014 but were wasteful in front of goal as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw. Most of their chances were headers as Diafra Sakho was off target and the returning Andy Carroll saw two late efforts saved by Brad Guzan, but Villa held on to end a dismal run of six straight defeats.
Played for both – Nigel Reo-Coker: The Sierra Leone born central midfielder was an important player for West Ham as they made it to the Premier League and 2005 and then achieved a top half finish, before coming agonisingly close to winning the FA Cup. He left for Villa in 2007 and helped them to three successive sixth-placed finishes while representing them in Europe, scoring once in 102 league outings.
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