While most West Ham supporters are still bemoaning the bad loss at Old Trafford last week, we must now move on and look at important issues which must be employed in order to gain our first win of the season.
While our opponents, Southampton, did not cover themselves in glory against Swansea, they have a number of dangerous players who must be kept as quiet as possible.
Before we review Saturday’s game, a few words relating to our first game seem appropriate. While we played very poorly, our opponents played very well and together with Manchester City, could well be Premier League champions this season.
Aside from Zabaleta and a great cameo from Declan Rice, little praise can be given to the rest of the side. It was nice to see the return of Sakho, but he still needs to get back to his peak.
A comprehensive review of what happened (or, rather, what did not happen!) is not justified after one game; that task will be addressed after our first 6-8 games, when we have a much better idea of where we stand.
However, once again, I must make another comment about the inappropriate 4-2-3-1 formation that was used in the first half at Old Trafford.
As I suggested last week, the use of this formation would have be an open invitation for the strong Manchester United players to dominate midfield, dominate possession and isolate Chicharito at the same time. If Bilic persists with this formation, he does so at his own peril as manager.
Tactics and Formation
For the game at St. Mary’s, I suggest the use of the 3-5-2 formation, which should improve outcomes in midfield and provide more goalscoring opportunities.
Most of our players from last season have had some experience with this formation, so we should gain a better share of ball possession.
In addition, Bilic may do well to consider using some of our promising U23 players who performed so well in their 3-2 win over Swindon, earlier in the week.
In addition to Declan Rice, Makasi, Samuelsen, Haksabanovic, Holland and Martinez must be close to first team squad inclusion.
At the time of writing, it appears Michail Antonio will be back in action, which should add much needed penetration and pace down the right flank or through the middle. Evidently Cheikhou Kouyate may be travelling with the squad, but it is not clear whether he will play or not. For that reason, I have not considered him for this game. The odds of people on gambling sites such as casinodiscussion.com have taken this in to account when predicting the outcome of the game.
The 3-5-2 allows us the luxury of playing down the flanks, or, alternatively, through the middle of the park. In addition to a change in formation, it seems that some players need further work at training or a change in position.
Starting up front, I am suggesting that Marko Arnautovic and Diafra Sakho share the responsibility of the second central striker. It may be useful to start with Sakho, in order to see what he and Chicharito can achieve in the first 15-20 minutes of the game. Arnie will get his chance when Sakho tires, but let’s hope he does a little better with ball crossing.
As logical as it may sound, it is imperative that we gain the initiative as soon as possible; the use of short, sharp, incisive diagonal passes will go a long way to achieving this early sense of confidence, dominance and comfort moving forward.
The 3-5-2 formation is used, in part, to bolster the strength of play in the middle of the park, from where attacks can generate. It can allow an enthusiastic group of players to keep the ball well away from our back third of the field.
The midfield five includes two wing-backs; they have the dual function of assisting the central attacking midfielders and attacking down their respective flanks. Both Cresswell and Antonio can also track back to help our centre-backs when required.
I look forward to an improvement in crossing from general play and corner kicks, which could be taken by Cresswell or Antonio; Cresswell, Chicharito or Arnautovic could be used to take free-kicks close to goal, while Mark Noble should be used to take free-kicks from midfield.
I have kept Pedro Obiang in his familiar midfield position, despite his poor performance last week. Obiang and Noble would be expected to take on both attacking and defensive duties if this formation is used.
An interesting aspect of the 3-5-2 formation is the potential use of a defensive midfielder or deep-lying playmaker. This is a critical position, which the late Bobby Moore often played.
Although still only 18, Declan Rice has shown sufficient maturity to justify his place in this vital position. He could be assigned numerous functions; central defending in front of the centre-backs, as well as distribution to the wing-backs, midfielders and even the strikers, using his superb passing skills.
His height will be useful at set pieces or in situations when Southampton attempt to counter-attack with long balls to pick out Austin or Redmond.
Alternatively, Zabaleta, with his vast experience, could also slot in at this deep-lying position, with Rice playing as a right centre back.
However, I think Rice would see more action in the position I have originally assigned. Ogbonna and Reid will make up the other two centre-back positions. Should Reid decide to make an up-field run, Rice could easily sit back to cover in defence.
Southampton have the unenviable record of not having scored at home for six games. Rest assured that this will be a very fast attacking affair; a goalless draw would be my last expectation.
It is my hope that, if we follow a sensible game plan and with the welcomed return of Michail Antonio, we should aim to get a goal or two within the first 30 minutes.
If we encounter problems, then Bilic can always call on some of our enthusiastic youngsters to make the vital breaks.
Predicted score: Southampton 2 -3 West Ham United