West Ham United-Swansea City Preview
West Ham United have scored three goals on a six-match winless streak. Swansea City? Also three goals on a six-match winless streak, yet nine spots and 10 points separate them in the table.
The difference is one club continue to find ways to earn a point more often than not in the throes of serious injury concerns, and that's why the Hammers head to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday clinging to the top half of the table while the Swans languish just over the drop line in search of a permanent manager.
That said, the way West Ham (6-6-4) and Swansea (3-5-8) are producing in attack, a drab draw might be in their future. West Ham, eighth in the table on 24 points, enter following scoreless draws at Manchester United on Dec. 5 and home against Stoke City on Dec. 12. They haven't scored since Mauro Zarate's 17th-minute strike in a 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich Albion on Nov. 29, and their last multigoal effort was their 2-1 home win over Chelsea on Oct. 24 to keep the Hammers in the thick of it near the top.
Manager Slaven Bilic tried to shake things up by starting winger Michail Antonio for the first time against Stoke, and the summer signing from Nottingham Forest yielded some promising sequences.
"They have been 0-0 draws, but they haven't been 0-0 games. Against Man United we had quite a few opportunities, and in this game I had quite a few opportunities," Antonio told the club's official website.
"We hit the post with Mauro Zarate as well, so we definitely have the attacking threat, it's just putting it in the back of the net."
He figures to get another chance with injuries continuing to force Bilic's tinkering. Dimitri Payet leads the club with five goals in 12 league matches but last played Nov. 7 due to an ankle injury and won't return this weekend.
Manuel Lanzini (thigh) has missed the last two matches and could miss as much as six weeks. Victor Moses and Winston Reid both remain out with hamstring injuries, and Diafra Sakho (thigh) won't be back until sometime in the new year after undergoing surgery Dec. 5.
"I am very happy that the players who have come in since the injuries have stepped up, they have really stepped up. Their all round play has brought something different to our game," Bilic said.
"We are missing some really key players, especially offensively. ... We are still going to miss big players but the effect will be minimized if we work hard collectively, not as individuals. With teamwork and hard work, that is exactly what we did."
West Ham have taken four points off Swansea each of the last two seasons as part of a five-match unbeaten run (3-2-0) over the previous three seasons since the Swans' promotion, though they're yet to win in Wales. The last two meetings there have been draws after a 3-0 Swansea win in 2012-13.
The Liberty, however, has provided no such refuge for its residents this season. Swansea are a spot clear of relegation at the moment only on goal differential, and the easy answer to their place is one point from their last six matches. But they've also failed to win in six at home (0-3-3) since two August victories.
The Wales side have been shut out in four matches during the overall winless streak, but they at least overcame their own two-match scoreless stretch in a 2-1 loss to Manchester City on Dec. 12. That Bafe Gomis strike came in the 90th minute and nearly stole an away point in Alan Curtis' first match replacing Garry Monk, but they conceded two minutes later.
"We're bitterly disappointed," the caretaker manager told the team's official website. "When Gomis scored, I thought it would've been a fantastic point for us. But maybe that's the difference between the teams at the bottom and the teams at the top - that bit of luck."