Amidst the doom and gloom that surrounds our club, West Ham welcomes Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to the London Stadium for the late Saturday game.
Liverpool presently occupy 6th position in the Premier League, and left to their own devices, can beat nearly any team on their day. That said, there are ways of overcoming their high-press, aggressive gegenpressen tactics. Before we dissect the mechanisms of approaching this very well drilled and organised team, let us be aware of the need for West Ham to put together the fittest and fastest players available for this critical encounter.
Prior to discussing the tactics and strategies that West Ham should utilize for this encounter, let us take a brief examination of a typical Liverpool formation and their use of space and shape to dominate proceedings against unwary opponents.
In recent games, Liverpool has been using a high-press narrow 4-3-3 formation. Typically, the left and right backs will sit out in a wide position, close to the half-way line, and quite isolated from the two centre backs. Their starting midfield will often take on a triangular shape, with the deepest member sitting right on the middle centre-spot.
If they gain any sense of confidence/domination they will attempt to form a moving four-member rhombus formation. In the diagram presented above, the most advanced of the midfielders will make a short move to his left, to be in perfect line with the defensive central midfielder.
If the right back makes a long forward inside run, a diamond shape will be formed, which is the beginning strategy designed to force opposing players towards the flanks. Ideally, attempts should be made to prevent the formation of the rhombus or break down the structure as soon as possible.
The best way of achieving this, is to make an internal disruption to the rhombus shape, usually by a diagonal run from the side to the central focus point of the shape. Running around the periphery of the rhombus, waiting for a natural disintegration, is fraught with danger
Further control of the midfield can occur if the left and right wingers move back and medially to form a triangle, which sits directly on top of the pre-formed central rhombus. The most advanced of the central midfielders serves as a joint link to allow the formation of a seven-member rhombus.
Bear in mind that the simple diamond-shaped rhombus and its more complex related structure can adopt a variety of weird and bizarre shapes, and when they move in a cohesive and smooth fashion, they can be very hard to overcome, hence my call for prophylaxis.
The gegenpressen is a little over-stated; the reality is that when Liverpool are not in possession, a player will make a very emphatic one on one press to regain the ball. Typically, they will attempt to stop any opposing player from infiltrating their own half of the field. There are two related ways of dealing with this intimidating strategy.
The player in possession can try and win the one-on-one tackle, but should be equipped with the option of pushing a well-timed pass into the path of a team-mate, who has made a run into an inside parallel channel to receive or participate in a give-and-go pass. These inside channel runners would be typically Obiang/Noble and Kouyate who have made the move from their normal central left and right positions, respectively.
The West Ham Formation
Assuming that Liverpool adopts the narrow 4-3-3 formation discussed above, it makes good sense to attack them at their weakest structural points.
A 3-5-2 formation is suggested to allow sufficient width to allow the insertion of wing-backs on either flank.
These players must be prepared to take on major roles in allowing us to attack a relatively weak Liverpool defence.
Here I present a few important strategies for us to get Lanzini and the two central strikers into dangerous attacking positions. The most obvious example is to take on the left and right Liverpool wing-backs in a direct man-on-man contest. This simple school-boy approach can be facilitated by team-mates running an inside channel to allow a simple pass and in order to by-pass the defender.
The other weak link in the Liverpool formation is the deepest lying central midfielder – usually Jordan Henderson – who would normally have an important role in instigating attacking moves. The way to effectively approach this central-lying player is for the wing-backs to send long diagonal passes in front or just behind to link up with Lanzini and one of the central attackers. Alternatively, players can form a diagonal passing chain, which seeks to create the same outcome. This chain allows for short passes from one player to another, diagonally forward-placed player.
Another option is for the wing-backs to send long cross passes from one flank to another, in an attempt to disrupt the strong central Liverpool presence. If well rehearsed at training, this would allow a West Ham team-mate to anticipate the direction of the aerial pass, and run into close proximity to receive the ball, which can allow further penetration into Liverpool’s defensive third.
The correct use of these strategies (direct or diagonal) should allow us to create three on two contests, involving Lanzini, Ayew and Chicharito, to split the two Liverpool centre backs. Aside from the wing-backs and our attacking players, all other players should be looking for open spaces and holes that will appear from open play, and can be employed as points for potential penetration.
The heavy use of wing-backs in this style of play will ultimately lead to some degree of fatigue. Fresh, fast legs should be judiciously used to maintain or improve the momentum of wing-back play. Another surprise weapon could see the involvement of Carroll/Martinez/Sakho as strong impact players, who would enhance attacking from corners and free-kicks.