With seven points from West Ham’s last three games, the Hammers moved from 17th place to 13th in the Premier League table. Visiting the Liberty Stadium to play Swansea City on Boxing Day, West Ham can continue a push for the top half of the league table as they sit only five points behind Southampton in seventh.
The skepticism in the team is still there, but it feels much safer than a month ago, with the team flirting with a relegation spot only a point away at the time. But a 2-2 draw against Liverpool, followed by two consecutive 1-0 victories over Burnley and Hull City gives West Ham a five point cushion from last-place Sunderland.
While the two home victories needed a bit of luck - Hull City struck the post three times in the clean sheet victory - the Irons escaped with all three points. Another three points on Boxing Day will be a final Christmas present for Slaven Bilic and West Ham.
It has not been smooth sailing for Bob Bradley in his short time in charge at Swansea. Since the American manager took over at Swansea in the middle of October, the Swans have conceded more goals than any other Premier League side (25).
Despite the Swans winning only two of their last 16 matches, with 11 losses among those, Swansea’s last two home matches were victories. A quickfire 5-4 victory over Crystal Palace was followed by a 3-0 win over Sunderland.
Gylfi Sigurdsson started the second half by converting a penalty against Sunderland, and it would not be long after that Fernando Llorente sealed three points with a brace in the victory in early December. Sigurdsson and Leroy Fer lead the Swans with six goals, and Llorente tallies five total.
Ki Sung-yueng and Federico Fernandez both could feature for Swansea on Monday after returning to training after an injury.
Diafra Sakho has been ruled out for another eight weeks due to a back injury. While there can be a case made to start either Ashley Fletcher or even Toni Martinez, it seems likely that Andy Carroll will be the lone striker against Swansea.
Monday is also a chance for André Ayew to get on the score sheet for the first time as a Hammer. Since his four goals in his final three matches for Swansea, the Ghanaian has yet to find the net.
But it is not for the lack of trying. Thus far, Ayew has played a winger role, not the striker position he was advertised as when his transfer broke West Ham’s transfer fee record. He will likely be in a similar position on Monday, pushing Michail Antonio to a right back role with Pedro Obiang out.
Obiang is suspended for Monday’s match through yellow card accumulation. Cheikhou Kouyate will likely fill into the holding midfield besides Mark Noble, forcing Bilic into a four defender formation.
Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and André Ayew would be part of an attacking midfield behind Carroll. Regardless of what lies ahead for Payet in the January transfer window, West Ham must utilize the French playmaker for as long as he is in Claret and Blue. According to BBC, Payet has created more goalscoring chances, 63, than any other player in the Premier League. It is even more drastic when looking at the Hammers alone, in which no other player has created more than 19.
For Andy Carroll to succeed, the English striker needs delivery into the box. For delivery into the box to work, Carroll needs to get forward into the box. In the first half against Hull City, Payet had an average position higher up the pitch than Carroll. The striker was forced to track back while possession changed hands in the midfield. The Hammers need to control midfield play so Carroll can be an imposing threat in the opposition’s box.
Mark Noble slotted home the rebound from Tom Heaton’s initial penalty save to win it for the Hammers against Burnley, and converted his penalty against Hull City for the same result. While West Ham need to be more clinical rather than relying on two penalties, it is good to see the captain take his chances well from 12 yards out.
With Kouyate in the midfield, the Senegalese international can make his signature surging runs forward. As a center back, the nagging responsibility to defend has limited his attacking threat considerably.
With Sam Byram injured, and Alvaro Arbeloa hardly a solid option, there is a hole at right back. That hole can be filled two ways. One, Håvard Nordtveit slots in at right back, despite being a natural defensive midfielder or center back. Second, the do-it-all Antonio can play right back.
It’s hardly Antonio’s best position, but Bilic will be left few options at right back. Nordtveit has played limited time there and has not impressed - he gave up the winning penalty kick to Tottenham a month ago. But seeing him celebrate with Noble against Hull City shows he has fit in with the squad, even when he usually is on the bench. It would be good to see him prove his ability.
Starting Antonio gives West Ham a larger attacking threat, especially with Ayew ahead of him on his Swansea return. It is likely the option Bilic will elect against a lower-quality Swansea attack.
Elsewhere in defense, there is little debate between starting Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell across the back line. Darren Randolph will keep his place in goal for the Boxing Day trip.
Prediction: Swansea 0-2 West Ham
The Hammers should cruise to victory on Boxing Day for their third-straight League win. Most importantly, it would be the third-consecutive clean sheet.
With Ayew, Lanzini and Payet, there will be plenty of creativity going forward. If they work together, Carroll should have ample chances to score his second Premier League goal of the season.