Two of the Premier League’s record bumper crop of claret-and-blue wearing sides (a record three, unlikely to be broken any time soon barring unexpected events in Scunthorpe) face off tonight in Birmingham. Mauricio Pellegrino brings his West Ham side to Villa Park knowing that, if the Hammers can take all three points, they will be third in the Premier League. With just five weeks gone in the Premier League season, it’s early to get too excited, but given the also-ran status of the East London side over the past few campaigns, the lofty heights of the Champions League spots would be something for the fans to talk about.
For Dean Smith’s Villa side, the return to the top flight has been encouraging without delivering much in the way of concrete results. They have three points from four games, all of those gained in a home win over Everton. After an opening-day loss at Spurs, the failure to take any points from a home meeting with Bournemouth or a visit to Crystal Palace will have the Villa Park faithful looking nervously over their shoulder; they begin tonight’s encounter in the relegation places, although any win tonight will catapult them into 13th place and settle a few nerves.
Anyone’s guess how this match will go
The Premier League this season has, to some extent, defied prediction on a regular basis. With all but these two teams having played five games, the only 100% record belongs to Liverpool, and Manchester City have dropped points at home to Tottenham and at Norwich – losing the latter game. Hence we are in the position where West Ham could end the weekend’s fixtures in third place, a spot that was occupied at Saturday lunchtime by Leicester. Wolves, who were tapped for a top-six finish, currently sit second from bottom. So while the form book argues for a West Ham win here, the scoreboard could say something very different by 10pm this evening.
Nonetheless, as much as we can shrug our shoulders when it comes to prediction, the fact remains that predicting is what we’re here to do. So we have to throw the cards we have up in the air and interpret how they land. Aston Villa have entered the Premier League with the willingness to attack that earned them a promotion last season – but the defensive instability that comes with signing pretty much an entire new team. West Ham, in Sebastian Haller, may just have found a reliable striker after years of exciting-yet-inconsistent forwards. Factoring in the Premier League’s love of confusion, this match could well end 0-0; however, it would make more sense if the visitors maintained their recent form and won, with both teams scoring – that’s 3/1 at Betway and represents good value.
Haller to hit the heights again?
West Ham have had a reputation through the years as a side who play pretty football but never quite manage the consistency that would see them earn a place among the top sides. Part of that has been down to the absence of a striker that can make and take chances on a regular basis. Javier Hernandez was reliable at putting them away, but too lightweight to carve out openings in the final third, which is why the pricey acquisition of Eintracht Frankfurt striker Haller has made a lot of sense. The French forward scored 24 times in the Bundesliga last season, and has hit three in three games since his arrival in London.
Haller combines some of the best qualities of two strikers who departed the London Stadium this year. He’s a threat in the penalty area, much as Hernandez was, while also offering the physical presence that Andy Carroll has taken to Newcastle with him. He’s not going to give the creaky Villa defence a moment’s peace tonight. Priced at 29/20 to get on the scoresheet tonight (Unibet), he’s found the net in recent wins over Watford and Norwich. The best strikers in the game have a tendency to pad their total against struggling sides, and Haller will want to take that opportunity this evening.
Villa’s tough times to continue?
Such has been the turbulent beginning to the Premier League season – Manchester City losing to Norwich? Arsenal ditching a two-goal lead at Watford? Newcastle winning at Tottenham? – that it’s anyone’s guess what the table will look like come May. Aston Villa are by no means guaranteed to make an immediate return to the Championship, and given their nine-figure summer spending spree, they’re certainly not going to go out without throwing everything at the effort. That said, as Fulham discovered to their cost last season, major squad investment does often mean the resultant team will take a while to gel.
West Ham discovered that very fact to their cost last season, but the settling-in period for those players is now largely complete, so the addition of players like Haller and Villareal midfielder Pablo Fornals merely augmented a fairly decent collective. They’re a much more complete side right now, and our prediction for this clash is that the visitors will emerge with a 2-1 win – priced at 8/1 by Grosvenor – and allow their fans to dream, at least for a while, of Champions League football. With Villa missing Egyptian wide-man Trezeguet due to suspension, Smith and co. will have to find the points elsewhere to take them up the table.