When the new Premier League season started, I was rather hopeful in West Ham’s chances of proving that we are indeed a solid team to play against. However, as we started with poor results and even worse performances, I got ready to endure another difficult year as a Hammers’ fan. Generally speaking, we possess a rather talented team with a unique mix of exuberant youth players and more composed experienced ones. With a forward line-up composed by Arnautovic, Chicharito, Lanzini, Carrol, Antonio and the newly added Joao Mario, we should have been able to at least pile up a decent amount of goals scored. Furthermore, former Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna, with the help of Reid, Collins, Cresswell, Masuaku and the experienced Zabaleta and Evra spurred my confidence in keeping our goals against to a minimum. The likes of Kouyate, Obiang and Mark Noble completing the midfield ultimately form a more than respectable team to face.
What Happened to the Hammers?
Now, you may be wondering why I have listed the majority of our players at the start of the article; the reason is that I wanted to illustrate exactly the vast depth of our team. Additionally, the quality of the players, while not world class, still makes a good impression on any average football fan. So why is it that West Ham finds itself battling for relegation once again, even though it possesses a unique team formation that should easily compete for top half of the table?
The answer is, quite simply, in the tactical disposition David Moyes and West Ham put on the field every week. Changing formations and players led to constant confusion that has had negative consequences on the playing style of our team. So, how should West Ham play? With a great deal of games coming up against top-tier teams, I will try to motivate my view on the matter and show possible approaches to be taken.
Facing Chelsea in two weeks, following an extremely delicate match against Southampton, will prove to be a rather tough challenge. Although the Blues have not been on top of their game this year (and especially the past few months), they still have a top-talented team with a uniquely passionate coach to guide them. Chelsea’s strength is in its singular 3/5 men defence and linking plays between Hazard, the supporting midfielders and Morata/Giroud. It is thus vital for West Ham to limit these connections and ultimately man-mark Hazard as if he is Lionel Messi. Keeping a strong, organized shape at the back, with shifting movements from the centre backs and fullbacks will be vital in aiding the recovery of the balls by making the playable space in midfield smaller and give less room to think and interact to the Chelsea players.
Restricting space in the midfield will ultimately enable West Ham to concentrate more easily in organizing themselves adequately at the back. Marking Giroud should be relatively easy for a three-man defence as the Frenchman tends to be quite still in build-up plays. The answer is completely different if Morata or Pedro is involved. The Spaniards like to run into space, utilizing his unique pace and technique to take on defenders one-on-one. With the support of Willian and Hazard, this can ultimately detriment West Ham’s defensive tactics. What Moyes and his defence have to take into consideration is the constant movement by the Spanish strikers, to facilitate the runs of the wingers to open up the spaces that the Hammers tried so hard to close in the first place. Adequate marking by the 3-men defence (i.e. constant shifting between the three defenders to guard Morata/Pedro based on position and movement on the field). Ultimately, a very big chunk of the game will be decided by how well West Ham organize themselves at the back and the option they opt to go for when guarding the strikers.
Having said that, although the majority of the plays will be directed by Chelsea, our front line up has a vital job to conduct. Keeping up the ball in difficult situations as well as striking with quick and rapid counterattacks will prove to be a decisive move for the game. In a similarly played out game against Tottenham, West Ham were able to defend extremely well, limited the shots on goal they gave Kane & Co. and ultimately brought back home a solid 1-1 at Wembley. Nevertheless, what was lacking there was the intense work of the strikers. Chicharito found himself often alone fighting against the physical Spurs defence. What David Moyes can count on now, is the aid that Arnautovic and Lanzini (fresh off a goal-scoring game with Argentina) as well as possible important runs from Joao Mario (if he is played as a centre midfielder).
Overall, while the “catenaccio” approach to the game may seem difficult to keep up for 90 minutes, it is the most viable solution West Ham have at hand. The unique mix of physicality (Arnautovic), speed and technique (Lanzini) and finishing (Chicharito) will have to be utilized perfectly by the frontmen to capitalize on the occasions they will get, if the defence manages to organize themselves just like they did against Tottenham. Do not worry West Ham fans, just forward this article to David Moyes and we will return victorious from this Derby day in London.