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xV: A Villa fan’s guide to West Ham United v. Watford

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Aston Villa fans will have all eyes on the London Stadium tonight — but what result is best for Villa?

Watford FC v West Ham United - Premier League
WATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Angelo Ogbonna of West Ham United and Danny Welbeck of Watford battle for possession during the Premier League match between Watford FC and West Ham United at Vicarage Road on August 24, 2019 in Watford, United Kingdom.
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a numbers-focused column about Aston Villa (or, this week, West Ham and Watford).

I could sit here and talk about Villa’s draw with Everton, about the story (again) of Villa playing well enough to get the desired result, but not executing; about how this team is finally showing glimpses of hope for the future; about how Villa would be comfortably safe if they had played like this from December on. That all makes me sad, though.

Instead, we’ll focus on the most pressing question to Villa fans: What’s the best result from West Ham United v. Watford tonight?

Why you want a Watford win…

You want Villa to have the most control of their own destiny.

Technically, with a Watford win, Villa control their own destiny, to a degree. It’s the only result of the three that does — even if West Ham United would go on to win away to Manchester United in the season’s penultimate match, they would still have a chance to final-day survival with a win over Arsenal. It may include needing to beat West Ham by seven or eight goals, but the path would technically be there.

But more reasonably, a Watford cuts down on the number of other results you need to survive. For example, the following quick, straightforward scenario secures survival:

  1. Villa beat Arsenal and West Ham
  2. West Ham fail to win at Manchester United
  3. Bournemouth drop points against Southampton or Everton, or Villa edge ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference

The other benefit is that this is probably the outcome that best keeps Villa’s survival hopes alive with a draw against Arsenal; you’d still technically only need two other results to survive here:

  1. Villa draw Arsenal and beat West Ham
  2. West Ham lose at Manchester United
  3. Bournemouth lose to either Southampton or Everton, or they win four points and Villa edge ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference

Why you want a draw…

You want to keep the maximum number of scenario survivals alive, given two Villa wins.

A win from either side all but secures their survival, and reduces it to three teams fighting for one Premier League spot, which naturally reduces the permutations where Villa stay up (you’re dependent on one or two specific results going a certain way to have a chance).

While the two sides will both inch closer to the finish line if they share the spoils, it would conceptually give Villa three paths to safety.

First, it doesn’t lock Villa out of the scenario we discussed earlier, which requires two other results:

  1. Villa beat Arsenal and West Ham
  2. West Ham fail to win at Manchester United
  3. Bournemouth drop points against Southampton or Everton, or Villa edge ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference

It also opens up this second scenario, dependent on Watford’s results:

  1. Villa beat Arsenal and West Ham
  2. Watford gain no more than one point off Manchester City and Arsenal*
  3. Bournemouth drop points against Southampton or Everton, or Villa edge ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference

The other benefit here is that it’s really the only result that opens up a survival scenario where both Villa and Bournemouth can survive:

  1. Villa beat Arsenal and West Ham
  2. West Ham fail to win at Manchester United
  3. Watford gain no more than one point off Manchester City and Arsenal*

*Technically, Villa could survive if Watford draw both of these matches, too, if Villa win their last two by a combined six goals or more to make up the goal difference gap.

A West Ham–Watford draw, though, would pretty much force Villa into a must-win scenario against Arsenal on Thursday. Anything less, and they’d be reliant on a lot of outside help and completely battering West Ham on the final day. That seems… unreasonable, particularly if the Hammers aren’t safe themselves.

Why you want a West Ham win…

You don’t think Villa can beat West Ham on the final day if the hosts aren’t already safe.

With a West Ham win, there’s one realistic survival path:

  1. Villa beat Arsenal and West Ham
  2. Watford gain no more than two points off Manchester City and Arsenal*
  3. Bournemouth drop points against Southampton or Everton, or Villa edge ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference

Alternately, we have a scenario where a draw against Arsenal works here, too

  1. Villa draw Arsenal and beat West Ham
  2. Watford lose to both Manchester City and Arsenal*
  3. Bournemouth lose to Southampton or Everton*

*Similar goal differential concerns are at play in all of these spots as well.

Believing in this outcome requires the right answer to two questions:

  1. How much better are Villa’s chances to beat an “on-the-beach” West Ham than an interested and desperate West Ham?
  2. How much do you trust both City and Arsenal in what are dead rubbers for them?

The latter, honestly, is the thing that scares me about this scenario. Where West Ham’s other match is against a Manchester United side that’s playing great football and is right in the Champions League mix, Watford’s final two are against a City team locked into second place and an Arsenal side that wouldn’t be able to qualify for Europe through the league and may be resting up for an FA Cup final. To me, each of those are more winnable than the Hammers’ trip to Old Trafford — and anyway, I’d rather be reliant on one result than two.

The xV verdict…

I think your answer really comes down to this: Do you want survival more in Villa’s hands, or in someone else’s?

If you want survival more in Villa’s hands, you’re rooting for a draw or a Watford win.

If you don’t trust this Villa team can do it on their own, you’re rooting for a West Ham win, praying for City and Arsenal to help you, and hoping that the Hammers are geared up for their holiday on 26 July.

Personally? I’d take a draw or a Watford win — but I think you’re in the right if you disagree.