With a perfect record in December so far, notching four consecutive wins and a hatful of goals, West Ham United will be brimming with confidence ahead of the visit of Watford to London Stadium on Saturday.
The Hammers piled further misery on bottom-of-the-table Fulham’s campaign last time out as first-half strikes from Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass sealed all three points for the east London outfit.
During their impressive run, West Ham have scored 11 goals and conceded only three, though admittedly their opposition have not been of the highest calibre — Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and last weekend’s opponents Fulham make up four of the bottom seven in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Watford ended a six-game winless streak as they defeated Cardiff 3-2. Goals from Gerard Deulofeu, Jose Holebas and Domingos Quina enhanced a dominant 70-minute display from the Hornets, who survived a late resurgence in the closing stages to earn their first victory since the 27th October against Huddersfield Town.
Though results have been lacking of late, Watford have generally performed at a consistently high level under the guidance of the meticulous Javi Gracia.
Interestingly, in the 2017/18 season, each home side won this fixture 2-0. In November of last year, Will Hughes and current Everton man Richarlison sealed a home victory at Vicarage Road, while in February, in Gracia’s third game in charge of Watford, goals from Javier Hernández and Marko Arnautovic sunk the Hornets at London Stadium.
Since Watford returned to the top flight in 2015, they have triumphed over West Ham in three of the six meetings between the sides. In fact, the Hornets have been victorious in more than half of the encounters since 2007 — though this spot of good form was preceded by a bleak sequence of 18 winless years against the Hammers.
Both men in the dugouts are feeling the pressure of the festive period as the Premier League approaches its most hectic stage of the season.
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini has recognised his side’s good from in December and stressed the importance of prolonging this admirable run.
“We’ve started well in December but we’re missing players,” the Chilean said. “I always say that December is a key month for any team. We need to play so many games — seven in this month — that this could be the part of the year that decides a team’s future.”
Gracia also recognises the significance of the festive period, and acknowledges that West Ham will be a tough test for his Hornets side to take on.
“We know West Ham are full of confidence and they are in a good moment, but we don’t feel different. We usually keep the same attitude in all our games and play as we know we can.
“We are going to play five matches in 15 days, and we know that it is important to keep our level, play our way, and I am sure at the end of the season we will achieve our objective.”
An ankle injury to former Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere will sideline him for the fourth West Ham game in a row.
Lucas Perez is in contention to return, however Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini all remain absent from first-team action.
Watford midfielder Étienne Capoue is set to return to the starting 11 having served his three-match suspension.
Andre Gray, Will Hughes, Adalberto Peñaranda and Sebastian Prödl continue their recoveries from injury.
West Ham United - Fabianski; Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku; Snodgrass, Noble, Rice, Anderson; Antonio, Hernández.
Watford - Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Quina, Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Deeney, Pereyra.