West Ham return to the London Stadium on Saturday for a crucial encounter against Swansea City.
Despite a late second half resurgence, the Hammers lost a gallant fight against a rampant Spurs side last weekend. As disappointing as it appeared, there were some good points to be taken from the defeat.
The back three looked fairly solid; Pablo Zabaleta worked tirelessly, as did Chicharito and Cheikhou Kouyate. Arthur Masuaku was a real revelation during his brief second half appearance. For the first 30 minutes, the team looked composed and appeared dangerous on a number of occasions.
Chicharito was restored to his natural position as central goal-poacher, with Marko Arnautovic and Michail Antonio playing on the left and right wings respectively. In the 33rd minute, Antonio was injured and replaced by Andy Carroll; Chicharito was once again consigned to the wing, with Carroll being restored to the central striker position.
Within a minute we fell behind, the result of a defensive error made by one of our own strikers. Our original formation, which was so well organised for the first half-hour, lost its shape, and the rest is now history.
While we await for the return of Manuel Lanzini, a fair degree of anxiety has developed concerning our ability to play effectively without Antonio and Lanzini, possibly, our most creative and dangerous players.
In this article, we shall examine some modifications to formation(s) and tactics; approaches which should allow us to win this game, despite the absence of Lanzini and Antonio from the start. We know they’re both going to be in the squad v Swansea, but the chances are they’ll begin the game on the bench.
Option 1: Use of a Modified 3-4-3/3-5-2
Swansea City have been using a regular 3-5-2 set-up, with Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Bony leading the front line. On their day, both players can be a handful, but neither have reached top form to date.
Leroy Fer and Tammy Abraham are also potential threats, and quite capable of goal-scoring. That said the Swans have struggled to score goals in the EPL, and have relied on the brilliance of goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski, to gain valuable scoreless draws against Tottenham and Southampton, respectively.
The first formation can be viewed as a 3-4-3 or depending on the positioning of the advanced attacking midfielder, can also be used as a 3-5-2.
I have inserted a surprise element, by employing Marko Arnautovic in an attacking utility role. A close examination of his attributes suggest he could be quite a handful, playing in a relay mode, between our advanced central strikers (Chicharito/Sakho) but within reach of our central and wide midfielders.
In this advanced position he could perform multiple duties, including long-range strikes on goal. In addition to his ability to react quickly, he is strong on both feet, and his height and composure on the ball suggest that he could be more than a nuisance in this position.
By taking him away from his accustomed position, we lose nothing in left side attack by using the promising Arthur Masuaku to run the wide channel and embark on his exciting diagonal dribbling runs.
For the right side, Bilic could use the exciting Nathan Holland or stick with the impressive Pablo Zabaleta, and move Diafra Sakho a little wider and deeper in order to explore the advanced wider channels. I have assigned Winston Reid to play in a slightly more advanced role, in order to cover the central space created by moving Arnautovic.
This formation can easily revert to an inverted 3-5-2 formation, especially if Arnautovic is starved of possession. In this modification, Arnautovic could join Obiang and Kouyate in central midfield, or alternatively, move to a left attacking midfield space to cover a space between Masuaku, Obiang and Chicharito.
Finally, if required, the formation can revert to 3-5-2, by bringing on Declan Rice as a defensive midfielder; this would allow Winston Reid to move slightly deeper to assist the other center-backs.
Option 2: Use of a 4-4-2 Formation
On initial inspection, one may easily perceive this as a 4-2-4 formation.
The inherent flexibility mainly involves the positioning of the midfield four. Our central midfielders should be allowed to follow their natural instincts in moving forward to bolster the attack.
As displayed, the midfield resembles a v-shaped configuration. Crisp, fast passing, combined with fluid player movement, could quickly produce an overwhelming six-man attacking unit; recent games have suggested that both Obiang and Kouyate are reaching top form and capable of scoring goals.
Before proceeding, I am aware that this formation creates potential holes between the central midfielders and our central attacking duo. However, Swansea no longer have the brilliant Gylfi Sigurdsson to take advantage of the spaces created. This formation is an all-out attempt to swamp the fragile Swansea defence and convert quality possession and chances into early goals.
A slight modification could allow the two advanced midfielders to adopt deeper positions, especially if they are not gaining sufficient possession.
Another modification could convert the starting formation into an offensive 4-3-3. Arnautovic could play as a third striker or left winger, while bringing Holland back to a deeper conventional midfield position, linking up with Kouyate and Obiang. In such a scenario, I would assign Holland a free roaming role, moving between midfield and right wing, if and when required.
While I have included Cresswell and Arnautovic in the starting formation, there is no reason why Masuaku could not be favoured, either as a left-back or even as a left-winger. If we are lacking in pace or creativity, Masuaku has the potential to ignite the situation. If used a sub, it must be done early!
Tactics and Strategies
An examination of either of the aforementioned formations will reveal a common theme of starting groups of players in staggered positions. In the static line-ups, this accentuates the ability to create triangulation and diagonal passing.
Simple as it may appear, fast moving triangular units can create havoc within seconds. Look at the best teams in the world if you remain in doubt. Staggered positioning will encourage the use of effective incisive passing, which again is not only exciting to the eye, but also highly effective.
This tends to discourage the over-use and reliance of square and vertical passing, which more often than not becomes predictable to opposing players/teams; at the same time, slowing any momentum/initiative that may have been gained.
The number of possibilities and variations are numerous, and only requires a little imagination and vision from the gaffer, in order to introduce some exciting novelties and help change our fortunes.
The scene is set for a potential emphatic home win on Saturday afternoon.