At long last, we await the whistle which will herald the beginning of another frenetic experience known as the Premier League.
I am sure that I share the feelings of all West Ham supporters for an exciting and more promising start in the first 6-8 games, setting up a potential platform for an unlikely, but possible crack at the top six. A big ask, yes!
However, although not readily apparent, we may have the ingredients to make a marked improvement on the disappointing experience we had to live with for most of the last season.
Quite recently, Slaven Bilic apparently went public in saying that the team was making the same mistakes in training as were made throughout many of the games of the last season. I feel this is a somewhat unfair and premature suggestion.
To date, we have made five very good signings during the present summer transfer window, adding much needed solidity in defence, and goal-scoring potential to the team. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that we may add another one or two signings before August 31, including introducing Brentford’s Jota to re-enforce the midfield.
Another winger and/or striker would be ideal, but that said, we have done very well in the deals that have been made to date. It seems that our pre-season training in Austria and Germany has added another level of fitness to the established first team players, as well as introducing some of our promising youngsters to the squad. In particular, Declan Rice and Toni Martinez excelled, and both have made a strong argument for inclusion to in the first team this season.
There may be some good evidence to suggest that our current squad of players are not playing coherently, because they are being asked to play in a formation which simply does not suit.
Before the first ball is kicked at Old Trafford, Bilic must correctly perceive two important problematic issues and make sure he is able to work with the solutions, which are easy to put in to effect.
The first relates to fitting the optimal formation around the players who are presently available. That means dispensing with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. There is nothing wrong with this formation, providing you have a lone-wolf striker like Cristiano Ronaldo or Romelu Lukaku and two physically strong defensive, holding midfielders in front of the back four.
Furthermore, the use of the three attacking midfielders puts too much pressure on our single creative play-maker, Manuel Lanzini. Although we survived relegation last season, most of our games resulted in few goals scored and some awful problems in defence.
Bilic is a likeable and astute judge of character and football. There are a number of alternative formations which were tried on a couple of occasions last season, with surprisingly good outcomes. They will be discussed in greater detail below.
In addition to laying down the best formation, it is imperative that Bilic makes use of a number of very promising youngsters, who will add extra pace, creativity and high energy play. This includes Martinez, Rice, Holland, Byram, Samuelson, Masuaku, Fernandes, and the recently acquired Haksabanovic.
Each season, the pace of play seems to get faster and faster. In addition, the outcome of many EPL games is determined by the team who dominates in the middle of the park, both in possession and creativity of play (both on, and off the ball). Adding another player to the mid-field, and making astute subbing for ‘tired legs’ is almost mandatory if we are serious about finishing high up the ladder.
Two Creative Formations for West Ham
NOTE: This article was written before Manuel Lanzini was ruled out of the Man United game with injury.
Although sometimes viewed as a tired and over-worked formation, the 4-4-2 offers solidity over the entire park.
The back four is fairly typical, although I have deliberately pushed up Arthur Masuaku a little higher to make use of his pace and dazzling runs down the left flank, and diagonally across the field.
The midfield four make up a slightly atypical shape, in order to encourage incisive diagonal passing, as opposed to vertical and horizontal passing which can occur if the formation is perfectly square.
In the absence of Cheikhou Kouyate, I have slotted in Edimilson Fernandes, who enjoyed a very good year last season. Lanzini is most creative in a central attacking position, and I have partnered Andre Ayew to join him; again, a player who started to show some much needed improvement, late last season.
Alternatively, Arnautovic could play in this position, but until Sakho is fit to play, I have reserved him as the second striker to chaperone Chicharito. While this formation offers solidity and is easy for players to understand, there is the problem of playing without designated wingers.
However, several players could be assigned a roving role to move laterally if the play dictates so.
This formation has been used for some time in various European leagues, particularly with Italian clubs.
Bilic employed the formation towards the end of the season, with some very pleasing outcomes. Our three designated centre-backs will hopefully not be over-run, on the assumption that the five midfielders are mobile, creative, and accurate in their passing. This formation is appealing for a number of reasons, two which clearly stand out.
If possession is problematic and our opposing players are making a home outside our 18-yard box, then Obiang and/or Fernandes, can fall back to set-up a temporary 5-3-2 formation, when needed. This formation (the 5-3-2) is often employed towards the end of a fast tough game, in order to maintain a winning or even position.
The second major advantage of the 3-5-2, is the employment of wing-backs and an attacking playmaker behind the strikers. Attacks can be generated via the flanks or down midfield corridors with accurate passing from either Obiang or Fernandes.
Although we could benefit from the presence of Michail Antonio, both Masuaku and Ayew should be able to add punch and pace on the left and right side flanks respectively. Decisive thinking and astute vision can create an overwhelming five-man attack from the slightest opening.
Conclusion and Prediction
Despite the absence of some critical players like Cheikhou Kouyate, Michail Antonio, and Diafra Sakho, who I feel will have an important role in the ultimate outcome of our position this season, we are fortunate enough to be able to field an impressive team.
If Bilic gets it right, then I feel cautiously optimistic that we can return home with an even share of the spoils.