After a stunning performance against Southampton, West Ham have a good opportunity to consolidate their position in the top ten when they entertain West Bromwich Albion at the London Stadium on Saturday.
The stand-out team effort against Southampton served to show the underlying potential and quality of our team, and should encourage the team to finish the season on a very high note. In a match where it was so hard to name a Man of the Match, Pedro Obiang was outstanding in harnessing the midfield, in addition to scoring a tremendous goal and assisting Andy Carroll with a perfectly-timed through ball.
Robert Snodgrass gave a fine performance and an indicator of his potential to add potency to the attack, while Cheikhou Kouyate was a pillar of strength playing as a central defender, but also added much needed support to the midfield.
Our success was a reflection of how we hunted in packs, with a new-found determination to gain and hold the initiative throughout the game. Slaven Bilic deserves praise for his ability to motivate an under-strength team to play with a never–say-die approach, which was so patently absent in the game against Manchester City.
If we can consistently emulate that performance, we may still have a slight chance of gaining a top seven finish.
The upcoming game should see the return of Sam Byram at right-back, enabling the manager to revert to a back four, in an expected 4-4-2 formation…
Bilic will be tempted to move Kouyate into midfield, partnering Pedro Obiang in what could provide a very dynamic pairing, capable of defending and, when required, adding strength to iur attack. This leaves Bilic with the headache of where to play Mark Noble.
I do expect that he will have a role in this important game, although it may be in the role off the bench. Lanzini should lead the attacking midfield, ideally located in a central play-maker position. Robert Snodgrass has been on fire since he arrived from Hull and I would not be surprised to see him score in this game. Bilic has the luxury of playing him as a right attacking midfielder, or possibly as a classical right winger.
There are rumours abound that Gareth Southgate will be present at this game; if so, Andy Carroll will be making an all-out attempt to impress for a possible inclusion in the upcoming friendly against Germany and the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.
By the same token, Southgate may also be paying careful attention to Michail Antonio as he continues to power-house his way through what has been a very impressive season so far. Bilic has the option of using Andre Ayew or Jonathan Calleri if Carroll tires and/or experiences any further problems with groin muscle tightness.
An examination of the formation presented above, will demonstrate how I have made a slight staggering in the position of Fonte/Reid, Obiang/Kouyate, and Lanzini/Snodgrass. This is a deliberate tactical ploy to enhance the diagonal positioning between players for optimal passing, as well as proving improved cover in defending against counter-attacks.
I have indicated specific running strategies by the inclusion of arrows within the diagram. Bilic will no doubt be encouraged to use Byram as an over-lapping attacker down the right side, which could allow Robert Snodgrass to make incisive runs into high central attacking positions.
In the absence of a formal left-winger, Cresswell can continue to fill this void. If Lanzini is tempted to move from the all-important central attacking role to the left wing, a large hole will be created as a result. Lanzini is far more effective when playing centrally, and by now, this should be apparent to all.
If he is assigned the duty of running along a central vertical line, from the half-way line to the opposition’s penalty area, then he will have a chance to control attacking proceedings from the midfield.
I have indicated that Obiang and Kouyate should be encouraged to create narrow attacking channels, somewhere between the sideline and centre vertical.
West Brom must be treated with the respect which they deserve. They have had two wins and a draw following their heavy defeat to Spurs back on January 14th.
Under the astute management of Tony Pulis, players such as Salomon Rondon, Nacer Chadli, Matt Phillips and James Morrison have performed well throughout this season. We cannot afford to allow these players to settle in comfortably, so it is important that we gain the early initiative in the manner which we did so brilliantly against Southampton.
Any possession gained must be put to maximal effect in order to continue the present momentum in winning style. If we harbour any lingering hopes of catching Everton in 7th, we simply have to win this game to close the five point gap against our West Midland opponents.