The Saints managed a creditable draw against Arsenal at the Emirates, hot on the heels of a win against Manchester United. Ronald Koeman will see this match as winnable by comparison but it’s still a hugely difficult fixture against the Hammers, who have shown consistency and commitment this season—along with a good dash of flair and champagne football. West Ham are 6 points off fourth place—not an insurmountable barrier—yet it’s hard to see anyone but Manchester United dislodging one of the current Champions League chasers. It’s up to Slaven Bilic to instil belief. West Ham also have an FA cup replay with Liverpool to consider, with every chance of going through to the next round. Will that prove a distraction?
Virgil van Dijk
An impressive rearguard showing against Arsenal earned the Saints a point last time out, and alongside his goalkeeper, Van Dijk was instrumental in keeping the likes of Sanchez, Ramsey and Ozil at bay. Losing Toby Alderweireld was obviously frustrating for Koeman, but the ex-Celtic defender has been a superb addition to the league.
West Ham fans haven’t seen this kind of languid skill in a long time, but Payet is proving worthy of the ticket price in almost every game he plays. 6 goals and 4 assists in 16 starts is no bad tally either, with plenty of the season left to hit double figures for both. Payet’s versatility has proven a boon for Bilic too, offering him the chance to field strong midfields without sacrificing creativity. The Frenchman makes an average of 4 key passes per game, so it’s no secret why the Hammers suffered without him.
West Ham had to work hard to break down the 10 men of Aston Villa following Jordon Ayew’s moment of madness. Antonio put in a star turn though, earning himself a goal and MotM. Considering his season took a while to get going, the 25 year old has put in some worthy performances since, with 3 goals and 2 assists in 9 league starts. His muscular forward play is similar to Victor Anichebe’s and with Manuel Lanzini still out, he should be starting this match against the Saints.
The Emirates was even quieter than it usually is in Southampton’s last match, and Forster was a big part of why. Despite being 18 feet tall, he moves like an acrobat and commands his area well—a result of having been Celtic’s keeper on big European nights. Forster’s performance against Arsenal was all the more impressive considering how much of the season the Englishman has missed through injury. His first games back were in January after 10 months out.