2018-19 EPL Match Day 18 Preview — West Ham United (7-3-7) vs. Watford (7-3-7)

Currently the hottest team outside the top four and rapidly ascending the table, West Ham United look to win five consecutive Premier League games for the first time in nearly 13 years Saturday when they host Watford in a clash that could see the winner vault into sixth place.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Irons (7-3-7) have not won five on the bounce in the Premier League since Jan. 4-Feb. 13, 2006. They finished ninth that season – one of their five top-half finishes in the past 13 seasons. What has made this run impressive is Manuel Pellegrini’s side have found offence in the last two-plus matches without top striker Marko Arnautovic, who will remain sidelined until the new year with a knee injury suffered in their 3-1 win over Cardiff City on Dec. 4.

West Ham have struck for 11 goals during this four-game run, all coming from just five players. Chicharito has recorded three of them, but he turned playmaker on 29 minutes for Michail Antonio in last weekend’s 2-0 derby win at last-place Fulham as the duo followed up Robert Snodgrass’ strike in the 17th minute.

Felipe Anderson and Lucas Perez also have two goals apiece during this purple patch of scoring, with Snodgrass also serving as provider for three markers. The Irons and Watford have identical records, with the Hornets edging them out for eighth in the table on a goal difference of two.

“I’m just playing where and how the manager wants me to play,” Snodgrass told West Ham’s official website about his current form. “He speaks to me a lot about every position and that’s what you want as a footballer. He tells me how I can be better in each position and he’s a perfectionist. He’s been at the top level for a reason and I think we’re starting to see his ethos in the way we’re playing.”

Pellegrini also has not been afraid to switch things up after learning a lesson in a loss. Following their 4-0 hiding by Manchester United, the Chilean opted for a 4-4-2 formation which has been used in all four victories as youngster Declan Rice and veteran talisman Mark Noble have anchored the centre midfield.

Depending on other results, the winner of this match could pip Manchester United for sixth as both sides are two points back of the dysfunctional titans following their sacking of Jose Mourinho.

Watford are still looking for their early season form that saw them bolt out of the gate with four league victories and five overall, and for nearly 70 minutes last weekend, they had recaptured that lightning in a bottle. The Hornets were three to the good and seemingly on their way to a comfortable victory over Cardiff City, but the Wales side made things exciting with two goals two minutes apart in the 80th and 82nd.

Javi Gracia’s charges saw off Cardiff’s late challenge for a 3-2 victory – a needed three points after they threw two away by allowing a stoppage-time equaliser at Everton and former manager Marco Silva in their previous match.

“We were very pleased with the result because we have played many games recently and we didn’t get the reward we maybe deserved then,” Gracia told Watford’s official website.

“It was a very important victory and we can analyse the game after knowing we have played well. We have played well for 70 minutes, scored three goals and in that period their keeper was amazing. We have suffered a bit in the last part of the game, but we have had control of the game and we deserved the victory.”

Watford will get a key component of their starting XI back for this game as Etienne Capoue returns after serving a three-match ban for his straight red card for fouling Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho. Nineteen-year-old Domingos Quina deputised well starting in Capoue’s customary spot alongside Abdoulaye Doucoure in the final two matches of that ban and netted his first career Premier League goal in the win over Cardiff.

The Hornets are winless in their last four in league play (0-2-2) outside Vicarage Road and have one win in their last seven road contests after opening the season with a 3-1 victory at Turf Moor over Burnley.

Still, the nine points from their eight road contests this term (2-3-3) are a positive considering they took just one point from the last 12 road games of last season and were scoreless over the final 728 minutes of those matches.

One of those shutout losses came at London Stadium last term, a 2-0 defeat as Hernandez scored in the first half and Arnautovic salted away the three points on 78 minutes. Watford did record a 2-0 victory in the other encounter at home as Will Hughes scored a goal and set one up for the since-departed Richarlison.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, West Ham are 11/8 favourites to pick up that fifth straight win on the bounce, while Watford are a 21/10 choice to claim back-to-back victories. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/2.

Oddsmakers are giving the slight edge to the offence, with 8/11 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/10 for the under. There are also 4/7 odds for both teams to score at least once compared to 5/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.

Whether this is nostalgia or oddsmakers thinking this game could carry into the final half-hour 0-0, Andy Carroll and Chicharito are joint-first options for first goal-scorers at 11/2. Lucas Perez (6/1) and Antonio (13/2) are next on the toteboard, with Watford striker Troy Deeney rounding out the top five at 7/1. Hammers winger Anderson and Hornets striker Issac Success are both 15/2 options for first goal.

Carroll and Hernandez are joined together for any-time goal-scoring picks at 8/5, with Perez (7/4) and Antonio (15/8) also under the 2/1 threshold. Deeney is just off that standard at 21/10 while Anderson, Success and Watford reserve forward Stefano Okaka are all 9/4 options.

PREDICTION

Look at what this charming man has done in London.

It took some time, but Pellegrini has been able to pull together the parts of an aggressive summer window of signings into a cohesive unit that has the look of a side capable of qualifying for Europa League play come season’s end.

The fact West Ham have thrived without Arnautovic as opposed to simply survived without the Austria international shows the buy-in by the players into the Chilean’s methods. The emergence of Snodgrass gives the Irons a very capable front six — a group that also has depth when one considers summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko is a long-term injury absence, and Jack Wilshire has been more of a support player than pivotal role in this East End revival show.

Watford, however, will provide a good challenge. The fact the Hornets escaped with a victory against Cardiff was crucial because to throw away four points in that manner as opposed to claiming four of six points in the last two matches would have prompted talk of the “same old Hornets” as they burn brightly early before fading.

The other good thing Gracia has going at the moment is Watford are getting goals from various sources. What the Hornets need to get back to their August level, however, is Roberto Pereyra to find his early season form.

The Argentina international appears to score in bunches, and when he scores, he also creates. It has been seven matches since Pereyra factored on a goal, and only recently have Watford figured out to score without his touch.

This could sneakily be the best game of the weekend, and Capoue’s return from suspension tightens the gap between the sides. Look for this one to be decided late, but right now, the hosts are just too good to resist.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 2, Watford 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 18 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (7-4-6) vs. Liverpool (14-3-0)
Arsenal (10-4-3) vs. Burnley (3-3-11)
Chelsea (11-4-2) vs. Leicester City (6-4-7)
Everton (6-6-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (13-0-4)

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