After the two week international break, we now focus our attention on the intrigue and excitement of Premier League football, in particular a trip to Burnley.
Burnley made a fabulous start to the season when they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. At present they occupy 6th position and have turned out to be very resilient in defence, having conceded a paltry five goals to date.
In addition to their victory over Chelsea, they have won against Everton as well as securing impressive away draws against Spurs and Liverpool, teams with serious intentions of securing a top six finish this season.
However, since their opening day win, Burnley have found goal-scoring difficult, having only added four goals in their past six games.
Burnley’s success to date can be attributed to their manager’s flexibility in formation, and player mobility/speed. Sean Dyche favours the use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, although he has shown a great deal of imagination and vision in employing a variety of alternative formations when needed.
These formations include the 4-4-2, the 4-1-4-1, the 4-4-1-1 and a modified 4-3-3 set-up. It is hard to predict which formation he may choose against West Ham due to the absence of the dangerous New Zealand striker Chris Wood. As a result, it is likely that Sam Vokes, who grabbed an impressive brace against Chelsea, will lead the attack.
Burnley will also miss their captain and impressive custodian, Tom Heaton. However, they have the impressive Nick Pope to call on during his absence. Aside from the impressive Sam Vokes, other players who have impressed include Stephen Ward, who likes to play out of defence as an over-lapping winger, and the three midfielders in Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Steven Defour.
By contrast, West Ham have not enjoyed a good season to date. The best of our experiences were typified by the late inclusion and performances of Arthur Masuaku and Diafra Sakho in recent games. Sad to say, we have looked like a group of individual footballers, rather than a cohesive and well-drilled football team.
In fairness, we have managed to reduce goals going in at the wrong end, which characterised our start to the season. Like Burnley we have also found goal-scoring difficult, partly due to the absence of our wonderful play-maker Manuel Lanzini, but mainly due to problems in formation structure, player selection and the continuing issue of asking players to play away from their optimal position.
Assuming that these problems have been correctly addressed during the last two weeks, we will still have to play very well in order to secure the all-important three points.
I have chosen a modified 3-5-2 formation (below) with a modified W-shaped midfield, similar to the attacking component of the famous WM formation, employed at Arsenal by Herbert Chapman, between 1925-1930.
On the basis of recent form, Chicharito and Diafra Sakho should lead the attack. Much to his credit, Sakho has done much to rehabilitate himself back to full fitness, and has been looking close to his formidable best. If he is able to continue in this present streak, I feel he should be rewarded with an improved and extended contract, which will add further enthusiasm to his contributions to the team.
The midfield formation would normally include Pedro Obiang to partner Cheikhou Kouyate as our central midfielders. Mark Noble would normally be given the nod, but I have omitted him from the starting line-up in favour of including faster options such as Arthur Masuaku or Aaron Cresswell. That said, I would expect Noble to be used as a late ‘super-sub’ inclusion.
In employing a back three in defence, it is hard to find the best way of including Cresswell. He is more naturally suited to playing as a left back in a four man defence, and this may tempt Slav Bilic to employ a 4-4-2 formation to allow his inclusion in the starting line-up.
That said, many famous players have developed into positions different from their original places on the field. Cresswell has often looked more impressive in attack than defence, and his talents in ball distribution could add another dimension to our team play to Lanzini, Antonio, Sakho, and Chicharito.
Manuel Lanzini has been pushed up high, just behind the two central strikers, although depending on the tempo of the game, he may be required to occupy a deeper position if quality possession proves to be problematic.
Other alterations include the use of Masuaku or Marko Arnautovic in left midfield, while pushing Michail Antonio further up-field into a utility role covering the right midfield and right wing areas respectively. The back three have played very well in recent weeks, and have selected the same players to occupy the centre-back roles.
A global analysis of the selected formation will hopefully demonstrate how we can cover the vertical channels which the Burnley midfielders may wish to explore, while at the same time providing a number of useful attacking options between the midfield and our strikers.
Ideally, we could benefit greatly by the inclusion of some of our talented U23 players like Nathan Holland, Marcus Browne and Martin Samuelsen at critical moments in the game.
The imperative is for us to start the game with accurate passing and fast determined running, both on and off the ball. Burnley will be looking to counter-attack us at every opportunity, so all the more incentive to grab two early goals.
If our manager gets it right, we should look forward to three points.