Five Talking Points - Watford

Mark Noble


The big topics for discussion as West Ham United prepare to head to Vicarage Road to face Watford in the Premier League on Saturday...


Shared responsibility

Before Dimitri Payet’s departure in January, it almost went without saying that he would be the most-creative player in each of West Ham United’s Premier League matches.

In each of his 18 Premier League appearances this season, the Frenchman made more key passes than any other Hammer in ten, and the joint-highest number of key passes in five more. On just three occasions – away at Crystal Palace and Leicester City and at home to Arsenal – was another West Ham player more creative than the No27.

Times, of course, have changed, and now the role of opening up opposition defences is being shared around Slaven Bilic’s team.

In the five matches since Payet returned to France, Michail Antonio chalked up three assists against Crystal Palace, Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass have each topped the key passes charts once, while four players shared the creative load at Southampton – Antonio, Snodgrass, Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate.

Payet assisted both goals in the home defeat by Watford in September, so the question is who will step into his key passing void at Vicarage Road?


AC does it?

Andy Carroll

One question, if not two, on the lips of every West Ham United fan ahead of Saturday’s game is ‘Will AC be available?’.

AC, of course, could refer to either Andy Carroll, who missed the home draw with West Bromwich Albion due to a groin injury, or Aaron Cresswell, who limped off at half-time with a dead leg.

Carroll’s return would be most welcome, seeing as the No9 has been in blistering form since Christmas, while Cresswell himself will want to keep his starting place seeing as Arthur Masuaku is now in full training after his own lay-off with a knee problem.


Inconsistent Hornets

While West Ham United’s season has been split between victories over opponents in the bottom half and defeats by those above them, Watford’s season has been wildly inconsistent by comparison.

The Hornets have neither won nor lost more than two Premier League games in a row, while Walter Mazzarri’s side have beaten three of the top seven – Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal – and picked up 16 of their 30 points from matches against teams currently above them in the table.

Even on their visit to London Stadium back in September, Watford were outplayed for 40 minutes, fell two goals down but ended by winning in style 4-2.

Throw in defeats by League One Gillingham and Millwall in the two domestic cup competitions and trying to predict Watford’s form and results is approaching impossible!


Two former Hammers

Mauro Zarate

West Ham United will face two familiar faces when they head to Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami played 63 times in Claret and Blue between August 2008 and January 2011, scoring five goals, while Argentine forward Mauro Zarate scored seven times in 29 appearances between August 2014 and January 2016.

Both players attracted something of a cult during their spells in east London – Behrami for his non-stop running and work-rate and Zarate for his enigmatic forward play and spectacular goals.

Now 31, Behrami joined Watford from German side Hamburger SV in summer 2015 and is approaching 50 appearances for the Hornets, while 29-year-old Zarate moved to Hertfordshire from Italian club Fiorentina last month.


Away comforts

Just as they did last season, West Ham United have hit some real form on the road in recent weeks.

Pre-Christmas draws at Manchester United and Liverpool were followed by a thumping 4-1 victory at Swansea City on Boxing Day.

An undeserved 1-0 New Year’s Eve defeat at Leicester City proved to be just a blip as Slaven Bilic’s side kicked-off 2017 with 3-1 wins at Middlesbrough and Southampton.

With eleven points from their last six matches on their Premier League travels, the Hammers will travel around the M25 in confident mood on Saturday.