Matchday: Hammers to stir up the Hornets?

Will it be a case renewed energy and vigour from the Dubai training camp or post holiday blues as West Ham take on Watford at Vicarage Road?

Watford West HamIf reports are to be believed we are promised a team packed with renewed energy and vigour as a consequence of the warm weather training break in Dubai since our last competitive match. Most of the pictures that I saw from Dubai involved the players eating and dancing but we are assured that they also worked had and with great intensity to work particularly on defensive frailties. Today we will be able to judge for ourselves the effectiveness of this expensive bonding and possibly be wowed by how well those batteries have been recharged. One can only hope that the late kick off doesn’t further interfere with adjustment from the Dubai time-zone – wouldn’t want Mark Noble’s tackles being any later than usual.

It was a very good trip, we trained very hard, more than if we had stayed here. We were all together and we all trained once a day. We used it to do a bit of fitness, intensive small games, some work on defence, it was all good. The team bonding is good for the players who didn’t open themselves totally, who come to training and just talk to your best friend and then go home.

– Slaven Bilic

Today’s opponents have one of the most cosmopolitan squads in the Premier League and, until the recent loan acquisition of Tom Cleverley, captain Troy Deeney was frequently their only English born player. They have also fielded the oldest average age starting eleven of all Premier League clubs during the course of the season. So a super-charged and (relatively) youthful Hammers might be fully expected to zip past these elderly Hornets  and make amends for the calamitous defeat at the London Stadium in September.

A lot of the reporting after Watford’s win at the London Stadium was focused on Troy Deeney and his reaction to the apparent ‘showboating’ by our players after they had taken a two goal lead. In media terms Deeney had ‘slammed’ the Hammers but in reality he had used the situation to motivate his teammates, and with great success you have to say. It is what I remember as “come on lads they’re taking the piss now” over the park on many a Sunday morning. Whether our manager can now use the perceived slight by Deeney to motivate his own players, who remember are already straining at the leash, even further has the potential to provoke the footballing equivalent of shock and awe.

Head to Head

West Ham have never lost two games on the bounce to Watford and this is a record we have to defend today. Overall it is a very positive good record against the Hornets with West Ham having won 22 out of 35 league meetings. At Vicarage Road we have won 9 out of 17, having lost just 4 times. In the last 12 encounters (home and away), however, it is a very even contest with each team having won 5 with 2 drawn games.

Team News

Sun, sand and warm weather training have not worked their magic on Andy Carroll’s groin by all accounts and he remains a major doubt for today’s game. If there is any doubt at all with Carroll it is likely that he will be missing and not even on the bench. With fellow physio room inmate, Diafra Sakho, still some weeks from recovery I would expect the man-for-all-positions Michail Antonio to turn out once more as the primary striker. I don’t see Andre Ayew as a viable option to perform the role as an outlet or to hold the ball up. If Ayew gets a look in it would probably be at the expense of Sofiane Feghouli but the Algerian did enough in the second half against Albion to earn another chance.

Elsewhere, Aaron Cresswell is available and Sam Byram is also fit. My prediction is that Slaven Bilic will avoid a difficult midfield decision by sticking with Cheikhou Kouyate at right back.  Expect Darren Randolph to keep hold of the keeper’s jersey despite his recent wobbles.

We cannot compare today with that game. It was a long time ago. West Ham had some problems in that period and we were coming from a particular period, too. We did a very good game after losing at the beginning, but West Ham are doing very well now.

– Walter Mazzarri

In a Yin meets Yang moment Watford have a cluster of defender injuries which is handy for them given that West Ham do not have any forwards. Former occasional Hammer’s favourite Mauro Zarate may line up for the Hornets now that he has brought his sulking back to the Premier League.  Watford also have M’Baye Niang in their squad the striker having chosen the Hornets over West Ham because they showed him greater love.

Man in the Middle

Today’s potential match spoiler is Craig Pawson from South Yorkshire. Pawson has taken charge of the Hammers on three occasions so far this term; home wins against Bournemouth and Chelsea (EFL Cup) and the 5-1 defeat by Arsenal. In a total of 25 matches Pawson is just one short of his century of Yellow Cards and has 3 red cards to his name.