After watching the exciting 2-2 draw against Leicester City, I came away feeling quite excited, despite missing out on a win we richly deserved.
For the past four weeks it has appeared that we had lapsed back into a uni-dimensional style of play, with an over reliance on the use of the long ball and wide crosses, designed to target our single central striker. It was somewhat reminiscent of how we played for much of the second half of last season, unpleasant to the eye, and ultimately costing Sam Allardyce his managerial position.
No sooner than Sam leaves, we are introduced to the new Slaven Bilic, and despite the concern of a lack of managerial experience in the Premier League, he has taken us to a new level that few of the most optimistic supporters expected to witness in such a short space of time.
Until the last month or so, we had played brilliantly, using our quick-passing, running style of attacking football. In addition, it was effective in getting our team in to the top six. As many of the best pundits and former great players openly admitted, here was a case for the existence and emergence of the West Ham Way. I fully agree.
I remained ever hopeful that we could revert back to our main basic playing principles outlined by Slaven Bilic earlier this season…
1. Pace and acceleration
2. Solidity and resilience
3. Defending in numbers
4. Quality on the ball
5. Flexibility in formation
6. Quality short and longball ground passing
7. Obtaining early momentum and dominating the midfield
8. Emphasis on scoring early
In looking forward to our final games, our fate lay partially in Slav’s hands. Was he able to make some very quick re-adjustments which would see the team return to its most successful playing style? Until the last game, I was somewhat skeptical that he could make the necessary adjustments in such a short space of time.
In that Leicester game, we dominating the play for most of the time, showing the all-important flexibility we had witnessed for much of the season.
Kouyate continues to play as the engine in midfield, demonstrating his desire to launch forward and score goals, and he was unlucky not to open the scoring in the opening seconds of the game.
If he can work on improving his shooting prowess over the summer, could we witness the emergence of a mature onset striker? He is a determined powerful runner, very solid on the ball and very effective in heading.
Furthermore, once he gets moving, he is very hard to shake off the ball. A few master classes from the likes of Tony Cottee may prove to be very fruitful!
Cresswell continues to shine game in and game out. He provides a special role when he moves up the left side, and like Kouyate, has always shown a keenness to get his name on the scoresheet.
His superb half-volley goal was truly inspirational, and here again we have a nominal left-back who could just as easily play as an outright left-winger. Michail Antonio continues to impress with his superb pace and acceleration, and is ever prepared to run himself to the last erg of his energy potential.
While he has been asked to fill in as a make-shift right back, his natural place is on the right wing. Again, he has proven to be an effective goalscorer, who just like Kouyate, has the proven potential to improve on his goalscoring technique – another summer assignment for Cottee!
On Wednesday, we welcome Watford to the Boleyn Ground for an game which is probably more critical to West Ham than it is to our visitors.
The important factors for West Ham is the benefit of being at home, the must win issue, and a welcome return to form. All sounds good, but never under estimate the imaginative input of Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores, who is likely to continue with his favoured 4-4-2 formation; old-fashioned in the eyes of some, but not easy to break down. Then we await to see if Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney appear, or are rested for their FA Cup semi-final against Palace.
Having scored 14 and nine goals respectively this season, these two players pose a challenge to the best of defences.
My suggestion is that if we wish to dominate possession of play, we revert to the more aggressive 4-3-3 formation.
While some pundits continue to argue that the 4-2-3-1 formation is a more balanced set-up, the 4-3-3 has been shown to be the most effective goal scoring choice. If we are able to launch an all-out early assault with the focus of setting up an early 2-0 lead, we always have the flexibility of reverting to the 4-2-3-1, especially if players show the effects of fatigue and/or minor niggles.
One may expect either Tomkins or Byram, to start at right-back. It is imperative that we allow Michail Antonio to resume duties at right-wing, which is his most natural and preferred position.
In addition, the benefits to risk ratio surely favours him making a goal-scoring effect from this position. We should expect Slav to continue playing with Dimitri Payet on the left, with a free roaming role. He could quite easily adopt a no.10 position, behind the nominated central striker, or just as easily swap wing positions with Antonio.
Before considering the midfield trio, let us focus on the preferred choice of likely striker. If fit enough, do we allow Diafra Sakho to start proceedings?
If he is up for it, he could be factorial in scoring the goals necessary for victories in our remaining games.
Alternatively, Slav may wish to start with Andy Carroll, who appears to be hell bent on making his way into the Euro 2016 England squad. If neither of these players is successful, we can always call on Enner Valencia to be used in later stages of the game. While in the minority, I think it is important that West Ham keep him. Fast, blessed with stunning shot power, he has to find a way of building up his stability on the ball, to be fully effective.
Asides from Lanzini, we should expect to see Noble and Kouyate in their familiar role in the midfield. However, I did note Mark Noble struggling a little in that non-stop Leicester game. Should he encounter problems with fatigue, Kouyate could always move into a more central role, allowing Victor Moses an attacking role at right midfield.
In conclusion, with the preferred formation, we have numerous options of obtaining a comfortable, if not emphatic win.