WHZ View: West Ham man faces huge test v Aston Villa
West Ham take on Aston Villa at the London Stadium on Monday night knowing that a win could take them as high as fifth in the Premier League table.
The Hammers go into the game off the back of two consecutive wins and clean sheets, but must be aware of the threat of Villa and their devastating attack.
Dean Smith’s side have scored 19 goals from just nine league matches and although Ross Barkley is set to miss out, David Moyes will need to find a way to stop the in-form Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins.
Key to Moyes’ plans will be centre-back Fabian Balbuena, who has impressed in recent weeks on the right side of the Hammers’ back three. The Paraguayan has been one of West Ham’s better performers this season, starting seven of their nine matches in the Premier League.
On average he has completed 1.4 tackles, 2.1 interceptions and 5.4 clearances per match, in addition to 1.1 aerial duels (via WhoScored). He is not as accurate a short passer as Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna or Aaron Creswell, but he attempts more long balls than any player other than goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Why he will be so important in this game, in particular, is because he will be tasked with marking Grealish, who usually plays in the left half-space for this Villa side. The England man possessing a lethal left foot, which he can use to shoot or link with teammates, so it is vital that Balbuena is able to keep him at bay.
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If Grealish is stopped or at least limited, Villa’s attacking options will be significantly weakened, especially in the absence of Barkley.
The 29-year-old has already gone up against the likes of Sadio Mane, Son Heung-Min and Raheem Sterling this season with relative success and he will be key once again on Monday.
Of course, there are other areas in which Villa can hurt West Ham, but for this game, the performance of Balbuena is especially crucial.
In other West Ham news, there is no need for West Ham to rush one of its star players back from injury