As the dust settles on one of the best games at the Boleyn Ground in recent memory, there are still many West Ham supporters who feel a little disappointed that we did not get all three points against Man City.
All the more disappointing was when we saw Cheikhou Kouyate’s header rattle the cross-bar with the last play of the game.
However, West Ham played with inspiration, team-work, sharp-passing, clever combinations, playing fast and wide, and always looked for goal-scoring chances.
When a little-known football journalist suggested playing Alex Song as defensive playmaker in front of the back four, with a midfield four and Valencia up front, the mockery and clowning was almost deafening.
Furthermore, it was suggested that Kouyate move up a little further ahead of Noble, in a staggered formation, with Payet and Antonio on the same horizontal in their respective left and right wide positions. Someone must have been reading Slav’s thoughts, however, since it was this formation which worked so brilliantly against Man City.
Fancy the thought of having two playmakers in a six man formation! While the 4-1-4-1 formation looks quite similar to the very popular 4-2-3-1 set-up, the availability of a defensive playmaker, joined by overlapping full-backs provides a different dimension, and allows a formation that can quickly mobilise into a six man unit.
In the Man City game, we were able to maintain most of our possession around the middle of the park. The four midfielders are able to provide more offensive quality to the play, and also provide a greater barrier against counter-attacks from the opposition.
In the 4-2-3-1 set-up, the likely central pairing of Noble and Kouyate are required to expend a lot more energy in their dual roles in defence and attack. In addition, it has been very hard to find a spot for a match fit Alex Song in this set-up; as such, we seem to have been missing the services of a very talented and versatile player who can add extra options in his ability to dictate ball movement all over the pitch.
Placing Song into the all-important central defensive playmaker role, while allowing Noble and Kouyate to adopt positions further up-field, allows both players to concentrate more on offensive duties, especially Kouyate, who likes to embark on quick surges into attacking holes.
If the attacking midfield quartet is able to maintain a greater percentage of possession and set up a variety of different attacking options, this small change in formation adds an exciting and dangerous modification to the more commonly employed, stereotyped 4-2-3-1 formation.
In addition, the inclusion of the 4-1-4-1 formation to the team’s repertoire adds a surprise element to our play. Time will tell whether the inclusion of two playmakers in a 4-1-4-1 formation will prove to be the generally preferred choice…
On the basis of our 4-3 aggregate success in our home and away Man City games this season, it may be fair to suggest that we are able to compete with the best club sides in European football.
Our present squad is very promising, especially allowing for the imminent return of Manuel Lanzini and Diafra Sakho. The first step on the road for silverware success, however, would likely involve the creation of a much deeper squad, with the inclusion of at least two top-class strikers, and acquisition of fast, Premier League quality players to cover a number of positions in which we are presently deficient.
It may require funding over two seasons in order to reach this goal, but on the basis of our last outing, it is no longer the dream of long-starved West Ham supporters, but an achievement which can be attained under the astute guidance of Slaven Bilic.
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