After the valuable draw away at Liverpool, we now turn our attention to the up-coming four games, which could define our season.
Despite comments to the contrary, we were lucky to come away with a point at Anfield in a game which Liverpool could have won in a canter if they had their shooting boots on.
A diagram on BBC Sport says it all; during the game, Liverpool entered our penalty box on a massive 53 occasions, compared to West Ham entering the Liverpool box a five times.
Once again, Slaven Bilic chose to use a 4-5-1 lone striker formation. When will he learn? Although Michail Antonio played his heart out, he simply lacked the necessary support to challenge the Liverpool defence.
Had Bilic started out with a second striker then Antonio could have been very hard to mark, and the goals may have flowed. In addition, Bilic made a difficult situation worse by implementing a disorganised 5-4-1 formation on the 70th minute, which added more stress on an over-worked defence.
Had he waited for another 10 minutes, we may have been able to spend more time fighting for possession in the midfield, playing Antonio as the counter-attacker, with Andy Carroll placed just behind; his aerial superiority and potential for flicking on passes to Antonio could have posed more danger to a tiring and frustrated Liverpool.
In addition, there would have been a significant reduction on the pressure which was exerted on the back four. At the 80 minute mark, he may have wished to park the bus, with a well-constructed 5-4-1 formation, which would have been better equipped to deal with Liverpool’s attempted onslaught.
However, despite these criticisms, we all enjoyed watching the team playing with greater passion and composure, a welcomed improvement following the debacle against Arsenal.
Furthermore, it was also very pleasing to see Marcus Browne, Domingos Quina, and Alex Pike promoted to the bench, a big endorsement for these talented young players.
Aside from the various lone striker formations, which have been used or considered, a number of experts/pundits have called for the recall of the attacking 4-3-3, with Payet and Lanzini on both wings.
At the present time, neither player is playing well enough to justify such a formation that could easily back-fire. Each time they have been employed in wide positions, it has resulted in them being isolated and ineffective.
Both are very capable playmakers and, for the time being, should be playing centrally, with Payet at the tip of a midfield diamond, tucked neatly behind the two strikers (above).
Bilic has confirmed that Cheikhou Kouyate is fit for the Burnley game, and I’d prefer to see him revert back to his preferred midfield position.
He and Mark Noble or Pedro Obiang could be used as the holding-midfielder. Noble has looked a little over-worked recently and Bilic may use these games to provide him with some much deserved relief.
The rest of the diamond is secured by using Lanzini as an attacking central midfielder in close proximity to Kouyate. Ideally, Lanzini should be the first of our playmakers to ignite an attack, pushing up directly or moving in a diagonal manner to link up with Payet.
This would be a very positive tactic, since Payet will be aware that he has support on its way. Both Lanzini and Payet have the dribbling skills to beat two/three players at a time, but recently, Payet gives us the facial impression of “why do I have to beat four-five players by myself?”.
If Lanzini is on song, he and Payet combined can create goal-scoring chances for themselves, as well as providing an impressive and consistent flow of passes/crosses to either of the strikers.
If Lanzini continues to struggle, his position could be filled in by the promising Edimilson Fernanades or even the young Domingos Quina.
Furthermore, Kouyate is capable of making impressive charges into deeper areas of the park, providing additional support for Payet and the two strikers. An additional supply source to Payet can also be provided from the over-lapping left-sided forays from our talented Aaron Cresswell.
I’d be happy to give Harvard Nordtveit another opportunity as a stand-in right-back, with the option of also allowing an under-played Alvaro Arbeloa to gain some playing time.
He has an excellent pedigree, and if used as a right back then Nordtveit could be deployed in his preferred position in midfield. While we wait for the return of Diafra Sakho and possible January recruits, there is no reason why this present group of players can take the team up to a much better playing level, one which we were accustomed to seeing so often last season.
Assuming that we are able to gain a one/two goal lead then, if Bilic feels the need to make a defensive change, it should be done with the most appropriate formation.
I would prefer to see him delaying the timing for a further 10 minutes in order to sustain the momentum which was gained.
A sudden change of formation with 20 minutes left, can be sufficient to allow the opposition to make a very unexpected turnaround.
Just consider the stirring finish which enabled an enthusiastic Bournemouth to pull off a most unlikely 4-3 recent win over Liverpool. The 4-5-1 formation (above) which is most appealing, would just involve bringing Andy Carroll back to the tip of a midfield five, but within reasonable proximity to Antonio, and Payet in central midfield.
Carroll could use his aerial skills to flick forward passes onto Antonio, or back passes onto a running Payet. Carroll should be given the license to shift across the width of the field, with the caveat that he does not end up isolated too deep.