Following the disappointing loss to Everton, we are once again faced with the continuing challenge of goal scoring.
We did have some good chances in the first 25 minutes or so, but failed to convert. From this moment, our midfield five lost its shape, players suddenly appeared static and we were reduced to pushing vertical and square passes, with little penetration.
To be fair, many of the players were backing up from the Tuesday EFL Cup win over Chelsea, and perhaps fatigue was a factor in our meltdown. That said, we should have at least taken a point away from that game.
In this article, I once again suggest the use of the 3-5-2 formation, with some player changes, an emphasis on the attacking push for scoring early, better player movement (on and off the ball), and greater creativity in passing.
After 10 games, there is an urgent need for goals, and we must make use of the fact that many of our players are capable of finding the back of the net. However, we should expect a regular contribution from the players up front. For that reason, I suggest the use of two classical strikers to improve on the paucity of goals scored so far.
The back three sees the introduction of Arbeloa or Collins to replace the suspended/injured Winston Reid. In addition to their normal defensive duties, I would like to see better long passes to central or wide midfield spaces, if and when they occur.
Irrespective of what he is told, I anticipate (and hope) that Cheikhou Kouyate makes his penetrating runs through the middle of the park. Accordingly, Ogbonna and Arbeloa must take up temporary positions to cover the hole left by Kouyate’s forward surge.
Once again, I anticipate the importance of Mark Noble as our central midfielder. In recent games he has made some good strikes at goal, and I’d like to see him move forwards into positions where he is able to attempt long-range shots on goal.
Aaron Cresswell should remain as a left wing-back, where we can expect him to continue playing as quasi left winger. When he adopts this role, he is able to provide nice curling crosses to our central attackers, as well as providing the potential for making powerful left-to-right swinging shots at goal.
Bilic may also entertain the option of using Cresswell to take free kicks from the left side of the penalty area, offering an alternative to Payet, who would continue taking kicks from the right side.
In order to allow the introduction of two strikers – Andre Ayew and Simone Zaza – I have slotted Michail Antonio in the crucial right wing-back position where, similar to Cresswell, he will play as a right winger.
One drawback to 3-5-2 is the problem of formal wingers, or lack of. If the attacking midfielders gravitate out wide, it tends to create a gaping hole just forward of where we might expect Noble to play. Thus, it is imperative that Cresswell and Antonio continue to drive down the left and right sides of the park to add the extra attacking options.
Depending on the flow of play and how well Zaza starts, Antonio can be moved back to a centre-forward role. If this were to occur, Bilic can use either the impressive Edmilson Fernanades or Pedro Obiang, who has been very dependable in midfield.
We should expect Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet to adopt their roles as attacking midfielders. Lanzini must not be tempted to adopt a left-wing position, since it creates another hole in his absence from the central position.
Furthermore, from the left central attacking position, he can make some of his incisive runs into the penalty box, as well as being in a better position to strike at goal. Payet, as our creative playmaker, will start in the right attacking central position, but likely to be given the license to roam freely.
The choice of strikers is not easy; Ayew, if fully fit, must start the game. Perhaps Zaza should be given another chance, and may feel more comfortable with a co-striker; Ayew’s presence may allow Zaza extra free space in order to allow a decent strike on goal.
I feel it is worth the risk, since I believe that once he has scored, he may get into his groove. An assessment of the game should be made around 30 minutes of the first half. If Zaza continues to struggle and if we have not scored, some modification will surely be required.
One option for Slav is to give Antonio another chance up front. In recent games when he has played up top he has looked dangerous, but due to his blistering pace has often been alone, having left Lanzini and Payet in his wake. I feel that Ayew is fast enough to be a potentially good partner for Antonio and is worth some consideration. If Antonio is used up front, Edmilson Fernandes will adequately fill in at wing back. The second option open to Bilic is to use either Jonathan Calleri or Ashley Fletcher to partner Ayew.
Whatever eventuates, I have a tiny suggestion for Slav to think about. If he feels that there are still some lingering problems with the collective team self-confidence, he could do worse than show all current West Ham players a video of the way we played against Chelsea in the recent EFL game…