West Ham United-Watford Preview
The top four is not a place one would typically look in the table to find West Ham United, yet that's exactly where the Hammers are heading into Saturday's match at Vicarage Road versus Watford.
Along with Leicester City and Crystal Palace, Slaven Bilic's West Ham have been one of the surprise packages of the season, and a win over Watford will give the club their third consecutive victory in league play, but three points could be hard to come by at a challenging venue like Vicarage Road.
It certainly isn't out of the question however, as Hammers are in exceptional form. A point on Saturday would extend the Hammers' (6-2-2) unbeaten streak to an impressive seven consecutive league matches. It's their longest unbeaten league run since October-December 2000, when they went eight in a row without losing.
West Ham's latest victory further burnished their possible title credentials, a 2-1 win over reigning champions Chelsea last weekend which saw oft-injured Andy Carroll restored to the squad to score the winner 11 minutes from time. It was the latest in a series of high-profile wins for Hammers that already included Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Efficiency and tenacity in the final third have done wonders for the Irons this season and they'll need to continue a trend of scoring early and often in order to get a result. Bilic's men have scored first in all six of their victories this season, and they've grabbed a 1-0 lead inside the opening 22 minutes in five of those six wins.
Another key for West Ham is continuing to take quality strikes, as the club has scored with 16 percent of their shots, the highest rate in the division.
"Well, it's been a good start and we are enjoying it but we are keeping our feet on the ground totally. It's only a start, but we are confident and if we continue to work hard, like we have been from day one, I don't see a reason why we should drop dramatically," Bilic said. "There will be ups and downs with results, that's football, but we are confident and we are gaining everything that is important: atmosphere, individual confidence, team bonding. Winning games is the best way of doing that."
Watford (3-4-3) enters the clash with some momentum after snapping a three-match winless slide last weekend via a 2-0 victory over Stoke City at the Britannia thanks to goals from Troy Deeney and Almen Abdi.
The Hornets have done a decent job of late when it comes to keeping the ball out of the back of their net, having not allowed more than one goal in five of their last six matches. The difficulty, however, continues to be on offence.
Quique Sanchez Flores' men have scored just eight goals, tying them with West Bromwich Albion for fewest in the league, and have netted just once in their last five home fixtures - an Odion Ighalo strike in their 1-0 win over Swansea in September.
It's also largely been a tale of two halves this season for the Hornets. The club has allowed a league-low one goal before the intermission, but then has some trouble getting going when play resumes, having netted just three times in the second 45 minutes.
"We are working well, the results are really good, but we are still working very hard with the idea to improve every time," Flores said. "We are transmitting to the players that at the moment it is okay, but we can improve and we will try to improve in the future."
This will be the first meeting between the sides since clashing in the Championship in the 2011-12 season. West Ham took four points off Watford that season, including a 4-0 win at Vicarage Road and a 1-1 draw at Upton Park.