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Aston Villa-West Ham United Preview
Win. And score goals.
Those are the two objectives for Aston Villa, who will be in the midst of a three-team relegation scrap during the final matchday Sunday when they face West Ham United at London Stadium.
Villa (9-7-21) enter Sunday in the most favourable position among themselves, Watford, and Bournemouth, and on the verge of one of the most impressive escapes in recent Premier League memory. The Villans - who were seven points from safety a fortnight ago -- are 17th, ahead of Watford on the narrowest of goal difference and three points clear of Bournemouth, who also have a slim disadvantage when it comes to goal difference.
A victory would ensure safety provided the Hornets do not beat Arsenal by a margin of two more than Aston Villa's margin of victory. Thus, a one-goal win by Villa would require a three-goal victory by Watford for the Hornets to leapfrog them.
Aston Villa also have a superior goals scored to Watford, which is the second tiebreaker used after goal difference. A loss by Villa and a win by Bournemouth at Everton would consign the Villans back to the Championship since the Cherries would have a superior goal difference.
A draw would also see Dean Smith side's through to safety only if Watford do not win.
"The mindset is to play with the same belief and confidence that we have for the past few weeks," Smith said at his Friday press conference. "It's been tough, but I love a scrap and the players have bought into that.
"The most important thing is to be above that dotted line on Sunday and we know what we need a win to guarantee that."
Villa put themselves in the catbird's seat with a well-earned 1-0 victory over Arsenal on Tuesday. Trezeguet's goal on 27 minutes proved to be decisive for the Midlands club, who have made a late dash to the tape with seven points from their last three matches. The Egypt international has picked an opportune time to find a rich scoring vein with three goals in his last two matches, doubling his league play haul to six.
"He's an important player for us, as he's showed in the past few weeks," centre back Tyrone Mings said of Trezeguet. "Sometimes you need that spark and he's been brilliant."
Villa, though, have been hard-pressed to find points outside their grounds with just 10 in 18 matches (2-4-12). They are 0-3-4 outside Villa Park since winning 2-1 at Burnley on New Year's Day and have shipped twice as many goals (36) as they've scored (18).
West Ham United (10-8-19) are intimately familiar with the graft needed to secure a return to the top flight, having completed that task themselves Wednesday with a 1-1 draw at Manchester United. Michail Antonio furthered his goal-scoring binge with a well-taken penalty in first-half stoppage time, and the Irons put in the labour over the final 45 minutes to nick the needed point for a Premier League return when the new season starts in seven weeks.
"We are safe now but I think it would be a big mistake to go into the (Aston Villa) game too relaxed. We need to try to win, to keep playing as we are doing, and that's all," Pablo Fornals told West Ham's official website. "If we win we can finish a position higher (than if we go behind Brighton), so why not?
"It's not just next season - I think after the restart, we saw what West Ham United are. I'm sad and I think the fans are sad because now we are playing beautiful football, fighting with everyone, so I think if the league were still going we could continue growing."
Antonio has scored eight of his team-best 10 goals in league play over the last six matches, and it is not a coincidence West Ham's fortunes have risen with each bulge of the net. The Irons are 3-2-1 in that span but have not claimed back-to-back home wins since knocking off Norwich City and Manchester United very early in the term.
Current Hammers boss David Moyes was not in charge during the reverse fixture, a 0-0 draw in the Midlands where Aston Villa played the final 23 minutes with 10 men after Arthur Masuaku was booked for a second time.
Villa have left east London victorious just four times in 20 trips during the Premier League era (4-10-6) and are 0-2-2 there since a 2-1 victory in 2011.
Updated July 25, 2020