Swansea City-West Ham United Preview
West Ham United's fairy tale season can end with European football in 2016-17 if the Hammers can finish strong and get some help in their final three matches of the Premier League campaign.
Slaven Bilic's Hammers enter Saturday's fixture against Swansea City at Upton Park in sixth place with 59 points, one back of fifth-place Manchester United as they battle for a berth in next season's Europa League. The teams will close down Upton Park on Tuesday in a crunch encounter that could very well determine who gets the berth in that tournament awarded to the Premier League.
West Ham (15-14-6) come into the clash with the Swans riding a nice purple patch, unbeaten in 10 league matches (5-5-0) since a 1-0 loss to Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium on Feb. 6.
Last weekend's 3-0 romp over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, typically a difficult venue for away side, has become the norm this season for Bilic's men. Cheikhou Kouyate opened the scoring on 34 minutes and captain Mark Noble added a pair of goals to secure all three points.
"It is a great performance to come here and win, anyhow, but to do it in style like we did on Saturday makes us pleased and proud," Bilic said. "We did the job. We weren't in the game the way we wanted to be in the first 20 minutes and you have to give them credit - they are a physical side who can become dangerous with men in the box.
"The goals helped, but it was not only the goals - the way we played with and without the ball; was quite magnificent in some moments, so all credit to the boys and with three games to go we are very confident and very hungry to finish on a high."
Noble has bagged a brace in consecutive contests, getting his goals against the Baggies during the run of play after converting twice from the spot the previous match versus Watford.
"I'm obviously just enjoying my football at the minute. I got two penalties last week and two more today, which is always nice from open play as I don't get many from open play! I'm just enjoying it. "There's three games left and we don't want the season to finish, to be honest."
Swansea City (11-10-15) come into the fixture with a positive mindset having secured Premier League football for next season and coming off an impressive 3-1 thumping of a talented but youth-laden Liverpool squad at the Liberty Stadium last weekend.
Andre Ayew got the Swans off on the right foot with a 20th-minute opener and Jack Cork followed with a second goal just past the half hour. The Reds pulled one back through little-used Christian Benteke, but Ayew hit for the third goal to give the Welsh side the victory.
Despite the impressive result, Swansea City boss Francesco Guidolin insisted his club still has plenty of work to do in the final two fixtures of the season.
"Both West Ham and Manchester City are competing for the top four Champions League places meaning our last two games will be very competitive," the Italian manager said. "Both matches will be difficult but we have a good group of players. "The win against Liverpool was a good moment for myself and the team. I am proud of the players and staff following an excellent performance against Liverpool. I was relieved that we delivered our aim to secure Premier League safety - it was an important personal target for me. The players were happy but our season is not finished - we still have two very important games to play."
Guidolin will be without left back Neil Taylor and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson for the trip to the Hammers, while Jefferson Montero could miss out after picking up a knock against Liverpool.
Captain Ashley Williams, who has played in every single minute of the current league campaign, may also be rested.
"Ashley has played well all season and needs a break and might not feature for us this weekend. He is our skipper, our leader and he has been a very important player for us this season," the manager added.
The sides played out a scoreless draw in December at the Liberty Stadium in which the teams combined to place only four of their 32 shots on frame. West Ham are unbeaten in the last six matches (3-3-0) between the teams since Swansea recorded a 3-0 victory in their first top-flight contest Aug. 25, 2012.