West Ham United-Aston Villa Preview
A look back at the first 10 matchdays, and West Ham United might grow nostalgic for how this season once was. Peeking ahead to their next fixture, and Slaven Bilic's club have before them an example of how much worse it could be.
Even Aston Villa, though, are scoring more than the hobbled Hammers at the moment.
West Ham visit Villa Park on Saturday hoping for more than a scoreless draw against the club at the foot of the table, though it'll have to come minus the same players that have plagued the recent struggles.
After a third straight 0-0 draw Sunday at Swansea City, the Hammers (6-7-4) have 25 points and remain eighth in the table, but that's mostly because of the Merseyside struggles just below them with neither Liverpool nor Everton gaining ground. The east London club have five points on a seven-match winless streak since finding their way into the top four through Matchday 10 with six wins.
They haven't scored in 343 minutes since Mauro Zarate's 17th-minute strike in a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Nov. 29.
"We're missing so many offensive players at the moment ... so we are not so fresh in attack," goalkeeper Adrian told the club's official website after his third successive clean sheet. "So the most important thing is that we're defending very well, not just me, all the team. The next game, at Villa, they are in a tough position now, so we need to go there and win the three points"
Dimitri Payet leads the club with five goals in 12 league matches but last played Nov. 7 due to an ankle injury and likely won't return until Jan. 2 against Liverpool. Manuel Lanzini (thigh) has missed the last three matches and could be available Monday against Southampton. 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.
Now Andy Carroll has joined the list. The veteran striker spent much of the early part of the campaign completing his return from February knee surgery and a summer ankle injury, and he's more than likely out for the weekend with an adductor problem suffered in training.
Michail Antonio has found his way into the first XI in the last two matches, as did Nikica Jelavic for the first time this season against Swansea. Antonio, who had four goals in five matches across all competitions with Championship side Nottingham Forest in August before moving to Upton Park, is still seeking his first Premier League goal.
"The last three games were 0-0 and now we've got to stick one in the back of the net," Antonio said. "We've shown that we can keep clean sheets, so if we do score, we'll probably get the three points. We've got to push on and make sure that we do that.
"I've always believed in my ability and in the last couple of games I think I've done alright. I've not really done much going forward just yet, but give me time and I'll show you what I can do."
There's little reason to believe a breakthrough of some sort won't happen against the Villans, whose club-record 16-match winless run in the league since a 1-0 opening-day victory at Bournemouth has a Premier League mainstay facing an immense climb to fend off relegation.
Villa, whose seven points are 10 off safety, are one of the eight clubs to finish in the top two in the Premier League era (1992-93) and one of seven never to be relegated, but the likelihood is inching from probable toward certainty with each passing week. Only three teams - Sheffield Wednesday in 1999-2000, Derby County in 2007-08 and Sunderland in 2005-06 - have taken fewer points through 17 matches. Eight teams have had fewer than 10 points through 17 matches, and all have been relegated.
Villa have conceded 31 goals, which is fewer than only Sunderland (33), Newcastle (32) and Bournemouth (32), and their minus-17 goal difference is unsurprisingly the worst in the division.
They have, however, earned two points in their last three matches after a 1-1 final at Newcastle last Saturday.
Villa took four points from West Ham last season, including a 1-0 win in the corresponding fixture May 9. Both clubs have kept clean sheets in three of the last four meetings, with each side taking five points.
At Villa Park, the Villans haven't won a league match since that May meeting, earning two points from nine matches - also a club-worst winless span - and they've been shut out in six.
"We will need to be very balanced between attacking and defending," manager Remi Garde told the club's official website. "This is the problem when you play home games as we've seen in the previous weeks. Many teams have problems at home because there are teams that are very good at counter-attacking, like West Ham. That will be a danger for us."