In a way, last weekend's loss to Tottenham Hotspur was the worst of Villa's current run of 6 straight defeats. It was a game no one expected Villa to win, but for 70 minutes they were not only ahead they deserved to be ahead, with the difference a healthy Christian Benteke can make on full display. It was the first encouraging game in nearly two months, and it genuinely felt as though the home side were going to pull it out. Then Benteke went momentarily crazy, got himself sent off, and Villa let in two of the most predictable goals in the history of football.
Now, Villa are forced to go right back to life without Benteke, on the heels of a pretty painful capitulation and without a win point since mid-September. In recent years, West Ham have been just the kind of side you'd hope to see in such a situation; not especially good, not especially threatening, strong enough to stick around at the end of the year but always a decent bet for at least a point. But since nothing can ever really go well for Villa, they have to face the new-and-improved West Ham, the side that's currently sitting fifth in the league thanks to some stylish, attacking football. Because, sure, why wouldn't that be a thing that would happen?
West Ham are powered by summer window acquisitions Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia-spending money on you biggest area of need in the off-season, imagine such a thing!-who have so far scored 9 goals between them. Stewart Downing has been shifted into an attacking midfield role and is thriving, looking like an entirely different player. Alex Song-Alex Song!-anchors what's been one of the better midfields in the league, and the eternally-linked-to-Villa Aaron Cresswell has sparkled in his debut season at the Premier League level.
In short, West Ham have figured out a way to put together a convincing, exciting team featuring several emerging stars, veterans undergoing renaissances, a world-class talent or two, and a solid supporting cast. They've done it relatively cheaply and quickly, and they've adjusted their style to suit the talent they have on hand. Now, contrast that with Aston Villa's current situation. Or don't, if you'd prefer not to start drinking just yet.
It's an odd feeling to go into a match against West Ham as heavy underdogs, but there's no doubt that's the case for Villa this week. West Ham probably aren't going to hang around the European places all year long, but it would be pretty stunning to see them fall below anything but comfortably upper-mid-table given how we'll they've played and the quality they have in the side. If they have a weakness it's definitely in the defensive phase of the game, but seeing as how they're playing Aston Villa that's likely not going to be much of a problem.
Thankfully, there's some relief on the horizon in the form of Burnley, Crystal Palace, and Leicester. But it's not difficult to see the losing streak run to 8 before that run of games, and how much damage will have been done by then? Villa are absolutely desperate for a result from this game. The problem is that they've stood still while teams like West Ham have gone out and gotten better, once again. It's not a strategy the club can get away with forever.