West Ham host Watford at the London Stadium with both seeking the extra points they need to allay their Premier League soccer relegation fears (3pm ET Friday).
The situation may be slightly different by kickoff, with Bournemouth and Aston Villa in action on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. As it stands West Ham and Watford are level on points, each three clear of Bournemouth in 18th, which is the final relegation spot.
Both the American bookies and the publicly available statistical models expect them to survive and for Bournemouth and Villa, a point back from Bournemouth in 19th, to join the already relegated Norwich in the Championship next season. Across the models, West Ham are given between a 90-92% chance of staying up, while Watford are in the 80-82% range.
What is certain is that with just three matches left to play, two after Friday’s clash, a win for either side would put the victorious team in touching distance of safety. West Ham took all three points when they met at Vicarage Road way back in August, with Sebastian Haller scoring twice, and they are the bookmakers’ favorites to emerge victorious again.
After three defeats to nil and just one win in their previous five matches back after the EPL lockdown, the Hammers ran riot away to Norwich on Saturday. Four goals from Michail Antonio, matching his tally from his previous 20 appearances in one fell swoop, not only provided them with a vital three points but also a clear goal difference advantage over the other teams in and around them.
At a top-line level, very little has changed in West Ham’s results since David Moyes replaced Manuel Pellegrini as head coach at the end of December. Their accumulation of one point per match under Pellegrini represented the league’s 16th best record at the point of his departure, the same rank as their marginally worse accumulation of 0.94 per match under Moyes.
There have, though, been stylistic changes. Under Moyes, West Ham have defended deeper and much less proactively than they did under Pellegrini, and they have leaned more on counter-attacking as a means of shot creation. Bolstered by better attacking and defending of set-pieces, their underlying numbers have improved at both ends of the pitch, with the overall effect of giving them mid-table numbers rather than those of relegation candidates.
Watford have experienced a more obvious turnaround in both results and underlying numbers since Nigel Pearson became their third head coach of the season in early December.
Pearson inherited a side who were plum last, seven points shy of safety, with just eight points from their first 15 fixtures. They have taken 26 points from their subsequent 20, eight more than West Ham and 11 more than Bournemouth and Villa behind. A huge improvement at both ends of the pitch, supported more solidly by the underlying numbers on the defensive end, has given a team who appeared to be on the way down a very good chance of staying up.
Three defeats and a draw in their first four matches back from the league stoppage placed Watford into more serious danger, but back-to-back 2-1 wins over Norwich and Newcastle mean that their safety is again in their own hands. Two penalties from Troy Deeney provided the latter of those victories on Saturday, but they felt like the consequence of the pressure Watford put on the visiting defence rather than a mere stroke of good luck.
It is difficult to gauge which of the two teams most needs the three points on Friday. On paper, Watford have a tougher pair of closing opponents in Manchester City and Arsenal, but neither of those have anything now to play for. In contrast, West Ham first face an in-form Manchester United side seeking a top-four berth and then take on Villa on the final day. If Villa are not already relegated by that point, that could be a direct duel for survival.
As mentioned earlier in this preview, West Ham are the bookmakers’ favorites for this one, but it feels like there is more value in backing Watford. They have won four of their seven matches against fellow members of the bottom five this season and although they lost out to the Hammers on home soil, they have a solid chance of balancing the record with victory on Friday. This is our West Ham vs Watford predictions and betting picks verdict:
- Bet on Watford to win @ best available odds of +250 (5/2) with Bovada Sportsbook.