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Despite having the opportunity to host another side struggling for form on Boxing Day, once again West Ham failed to end a miserable run of results which has seen them slip outside the top five in the table. Indeed, they now lie seven points below fourth-placed Arsenal.

Passive defending saw the Hammers go behind against Southampton at the London Stadium, and though they came from behind twice to equalise – first through second-half substitute Michail Antonio and then Said Benrahma – they ultimately lost out 3-2 due to some crucial dead-ball interventions by James Ward-Prowse.

While David Moyes may well have cursed his team’s luck in conceding three goals from as many Saints shots on target, they have nonetheless gone completely off the boil during the past month and will want to turn things around before the end of an otherwise excellent year.

Since beating Rapid Vienna to seal progress in the Europa League back in late November, it has been mostly a story of woe for West Ham, who have won just once in the intervening period of eight league and cup games.

Not only did the Irons drop more points on Sunday, they had previously lost back-to-back London derbies against Arsenal and Tottenham, the latter seeing them exit the EFL Cup at the quarter-final stage.

Undoubtedly injuries have disrupted their hitherto well-drilled defence, but if Moyes is to lead his men into another challenge for a top-four place during the spring, things will have to change soon.

Michail Antonio made his comeback after COVID-19 infection on Sunday, and produced an immediate impact by scoring just minutes after his introduction as a half-time substitute. The West Ham striker had failed to score in any of his previous eight Premier League appearances, but is now likely to start – allowing Jarrod Bowen to shift back out wide.

Following the Hammers’ insipid first-half showing last time out, Manuel Lanzini also came on for Pablo Fornals, and that switch could also be retained from the first whistle at Vicarage Road.

Having been exposed defensively but regularly contributed in the opposition area against Southampton, Craig Dawson – who signed for the club from Watford last year – will still start in the back four due to the ongoing absences of Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna.

Left-back Aaron Cresswell remains out of action too, so Arthur Masuaku could also be retained in the first XI, though Ben Johnson is a contender to cover if required.

Watford, meanwhile, have had the opportunity to recover a number of players affected by both COVID-19 and injuries during their enforced break.

Adam Masina and Ken Sema are expected to be fully fit and involved in the squad, but Nicolas NkoulouFrancisco SierraltaPeter Etebo and goalkeeper Ben Foster are still sidelined, alongside the club’s Player of the Year, Ismaila Sarr, who had scored just one goal under Ranieri before suffering a knee injury that could keep him out for several weeks.

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One of the few success stories for the home side this term has been Nigerian striker Emmanuel Dennis, who will start up front, shortly before his departure for the Africa Nations Cup early next month.

Watford possible starting lineup:
Bachmann; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose; Sissoko, Kucka; Pedro, Cleverley, King; Dennis

West Ham United possible starting lineup:
Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson; Rice, Soucek; Bowen, Lanzini, Benrahma; Antonio

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