West Ham faces a very tough assignment, as they welcome Manchester City to the London Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The last time that we met West Ham suffered a humiliating 5-0 loss in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. We were just coming off one of the worst slumps in form in recent times, while City were riding high, having been close to the top of the Premier League table for much of the season.
Football would be a dull old affair if it wasn’t for its unpredictable combinations and permutations, which so often dictate the outcome of a single game, let alone an entire season.
Even without the services of our former playmaker, we have put together some very impressive performances of late; thus demonstrating emphatically that a combination of the optimal team player selection and starting formation can challenge virtually any team on the day.
A quick review of the Manchester City squad reveals a group of high-quality players all over the pitch playing under the astute guidance of Pep Guardiola, one of football’s most successful managers.
However, success is not automatically guaranteed, as can be seen from the outcome of City’s last four leagues games, where they have only been able to grab four points and have conceded 10 goals, including an emphatic 4-0 thumping at the hands of Everton.
By contrast, an improvement in midfield solidity and stability has allowed us to improve our goalscoring, and at the same time reducing the patent leaks in defence, which plagued us for much of the season.
The best possible starting line-up formation for West Ham, based on the evidence from out past two games, is a 4-4-2 structure. The recent signing of Jose Fonte will provide the all-important link with Winston Reid in the centre of the back four, although Bilic may be tempted to begin the game with James Collins.
Sammy Byram has shown enough good form to justify starting at right-back. Byram has shown a desire to attack down the right side and was unlucky to miss out on scoring against Middlesbrough. Aaron Cresswell will start out at left-back as he continues to improve on his fitness and work-rate levels. Unfortunately, Cheikhou Kouyate is unlikely to be fit enough to play against City and will probably return to the midfield against Southampton on Saturday.
Pedro Obiang has had a very good season to date, and is an automatic selection as one of the holding midfielders. The manager has the option of filling the adjoining position with either Mark Noble or the impressive Edmilson Fernandes. Noble picked up a foot injury in the last game, and it is unclear whether he has recovered sufficiently in time for the game.
While Manuel Lanzini is likely to play the match as our attacking playmaker, Robert Snodgrass, may be selected to join him as the other attacking midfielder. Although Sofiane Feghouli has played very well in recent games, Snodgrass may be chosen for his attacking prowess and ability to score from long-range free-kicks.
Alternatively, Bilic may be tempted to use Snodgrass as an out-right striker, although Antonio’s outstanding form may encourage him to remain in his present position next to Andy Carroll. If Andy Carroll runs himself into aerobic oblivion, Jonathan Calleri may get some game time, based on his improving form, and his clear ability to play off Manuel Lanzini in the final third. Calleri may have turned a corner after scoring his first goal for the club against Middlesbrough.
When Man City arrive for the game, they will encounter a team which, at present, is playing with full heart and passion. If we can reciprocate the recent individual/team form that has been shown in recent games, there is a good chance that we can put in another impressive display.
Once again, I advocate that after the initial settling in phase, we embark on a fast and accurate passing approach; we have to make effective use of any early possession gained and put the challenge to our opponents with a couple of well crafted goals.
A comparison of the likely starting line-ups of both teams would suggest a very fast-paced encounter. The state of the game in addition to player fatigue may force Bilic to make some important decisions, which could ultimately decide the outcome of the game. By necessity, managers are often faced with altering the original formation into a very defensive park the bus structure(5-4-1 or 4-5-1), especially in situations where a win or draw is the desired result.
Caution is required, since a premature alteration can result in an almost complete loss of midfield possession, which can result in the team being held in a state of siege within the defensive third.
Player anxiety can build to the point where mistakes can ultimately be costly. If possible, the change in formation should be delayed as long as possible to reduce the chances of losing a game that was there for the taking.
I advocate the use of astute substitution, while the original formation is still being used (60-75th minute frame). The approach of bringing on fresh substitutes can assist in maintaining the overall team stamina and momentum gained earlier in the game. The timing of substitutions can dictate when a change to a more defensive formation is required, while still allowing potential for breakaway counter attacks.
Ideally, one attacking player should remain in an offensive position, possibly Carroll or Antonio; an additional pair of fast attacking players can remain just in the optimal position to allow the adoption of dual roles in defence and attack.