Brighton have been something of a bogey side in the Premier League for West Ham, but Manuel Pellegrini will know exactly how to change that on Saturday.
The Hammers take a trip down to the south coast this weekend as they visit the Amex Stadium in an attempt to gain their first Premier League victory of the season – and over Brighton, too.
Last season the Irons suffered a marginal 1-0 defeat in this fixture but there were plenty of positives to take from the Friday night clash in October. West Ham dominated possession (65%), amassing 17 shots to Brighton’s nine – both, though, hitting the target four times.
Seemingly a lack of quality in the final third of the pitch let the Hammers down that night, but with the additional attacking flair among the squad this season, it would be surprising to see Pellegrini’s outfit fire another blank.
When you take a closer look and examine the West Ham setup on that night, the tactical approach differs to now. Pellegrini opted for a 4-3-3 formation – the personnel of Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang and Declan Rice forming the midfield trio. That will change this time around, though, with Rice the holding anchor while letting loose the attacking quarter of Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere, Pablo Fornals and Felipe Anderson.
As for Brighton, the Hammers can expect a different approach under Graham Potter’s command. In the latest clash at the Amex between these two sides, the Seagulls grabbed a 25th-minute winner courtesy of Glenn Murray (who else) and held onto their lead via defensive organisation and maintaining a rigid structure. That will differ on Saturday as Potter opts for a more attacking style of football; evident in their 3-0 win against Watford last weekend.
Potter deployed a 5-4-1 formation against the Hornets but utilised his wing-backs very effectively – Watford had no solution. However, playing three central defenders allows the opposing midfield time and space on the ball – if they do so against West Ham, it could play right into our hands.
Following the 1-0 defeat last October, Pellegrini spoke about his frustrations.
He said: “I am frustrated because I think we do the things to win the game.
“We didn’t play a bad game, we were better than brighton.”
The Chilean manager expressed his disappointment with the scoreline and he had a valid point. The Hammers were unfortunate to come away empty-handed and it highlights how crucial scoring the first goal on Saturday will be.
Arthur Masuaku is expected to return to the fold following Aaron Cresswell’s sub-par performance against Manchester City, while summer signing Pablo Fornals could replace Michail Antonio as West Ham seek to play offensive, free-flowing football as often as they can. The 4-1-4-1 formation was utilised in pre-season and it certainly had positives and negatives.
The attacking line of four behind Sebastien Haller provides the Hammers with ample amounts of technical quality. The Brighton set-up will allow the those players to drive into space and interchange among their positions, making it difficult for the Seagulls to keep in touch with them.
Rice struggled by himself against City as Wilshere often got caught too far forwards, but the Irons are expected to dominate the match this time around and that will be less of a concern.
The midfield battle is where this game will be lost or won. Brighton played a central-midfield pairing of Davy Propper and Dale Stephens in their 3-0 victory at Vicarage Road; it will be vital for West Ham’s Rice and Wilshere to keep control of the ball and, physically, stamp their authority throughout 90 minutes.
A tricky test for Pellegrini’s side, but if they play to their strengths and convincingly dictate the midfield, the Hammers will be confident of returning to east London with all three points.