Swansea City are in desperate need of all three points as their battle against relegation continues against fellow strugglers West Ham United on Boxing Day (3pm).
Bob Bradley was tasked with pulling Swansea clear of the drop zone when he replaced Francesco Guidolin in the Liberty Stadium dugout in early October, but so far the former Egypt and United States manager has struggled to galvanise the squad he inherited. The Swans remain mired in trouble at the wrong end of the table, with a superior goal difference to Hull City the only thing that is keeping them off the foot of the standings.
A dismal record of 37 goals conceded has been their principal problem, although it is difficult for this preview to hold Bradley solely accountable for Swansea’s flimsiness at the back. Their problems at that end of the pitch date back to the club’s failure to secure an adequate replacement for Ashley Williams, who joined Everton in the summer. Recruitment issues in general have clearly had a negative effect on the Welsh outfit’s chances of survival, although Bradley will believe there is still enough time to turn things around.
West Ham have also had a disappointing first half of the campaign, with Slaven Bilic hitherto unable to inspire a repeat of last season’s challenge for the European places. Successive 1-0 victories at home to Burnley and Hull City have lifted some of the pressure, though, with the Hammers climbing up to 13th place having previously been on the cusp of slipping below the dreaded dotted line.
There is still plenty of work to be done if the east Londoners are to remain comfortably clear of the bottom three for the remainder of the season, however, particularly when it comes to defending. West Ham’s backline has been breached 31 times in 17 games, more often than anyone else in the division bar Swansea, Hull and Crystal Palace – three of the bottom four.
Centre-back Federico Fernandez remains sidelined with a broken toe but Swansea have no other injury issues ahead of this crunch clash in front of their own supporters, with South Korea international Ki Sung-yeung now available for selection once more. Bob Bradley looks set to stick with the 4-2-3-1 setup he has employed in recent encounters, with Gylfi Sigurdsson as a No.10 rather than a false nine and Fernando Llorente leading the line ahead of him. After conceding 15 goals in their last five outings in the Premier League, the Swans will need to tighten up defensively if they are to triumph at the Liberty Stadium in this game.
Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore, Diafra Sakho, Reece Oxford and Sam Byram are all sidelined for West Ham, while Pedro Obiang will miss the Boxing Day fixture through suspension. On a more positive note, central defender James Collins has shaken off a hamstring problem and could feature in south Wales. Bilic seems to have settled on a 3-4-2-1 formation in the last few weeks and will probably stick with it here, with Dimitri Payet (pictured) and Manuel Lanzini likely to be essential in two of the three attacking roles behind central striker Andy Carroll.
Swansea have shown some signs of life at their home ground in the last few weeks, beating Crystal Palace 5-4 and Sunderland 3-0, but another victory will probably be beyond them against West Ham. Bilic’s charges may have a poor record away from the London Stadium this term, winning on just one occasion, but they should have too much attacking quality for their defensively frail opponents. So this preview fancies an away triumph, while Payet can find the net at any time.