Another year passes and another begins.
Once again we face the New Year with the traditional 3rd round of the FA Cup, and it never comes tougher than a meeting against a Manchester City team bristling with talent and quality all over the pitch.
While much of the first half of the season has been disappointing for West Ham, recent performances suggest that our fortunes have changed for the positive.
Despite the result against Manchester United, we played most of that game with great passion and heart, even with 10 men.
This FA Cup game offers our only realistic chance of progressing to a possible place in next season’s Europa League. A win against Pep Guardiola’s side would give us the confidence and self-belief that, on our day, we should fear no team.
Manuel Lanzini’s last performance suggests that he may be the evolving critical play-maker who can spark his team-mates into action, while we all wait for Dimitri Payet to return to his best form.
For this game, Slaven Bilic must try to put together a team which combines stability/solidity, together with strength in attack. One could be easily tempted to put together an aggressive 4-3-3 but, in doing so, we may be too exposed in midfield.
For this all-important fixture, I am advocating a fairly standard 4-4-2 formation, in which I expect five players to swing the game in our favour.
Let’s check out the formation (below), and the player duties required for a stirring West Ham performance…
The 4-4-2 has the advantage of providing a very strong midfield, capable of dominating proceedings with early intensity.
The problem with 4-4-2, though, is that it is a quite narrow formation, and requires certain considerations to allow for attacking opportunities down the flanks.
If we are to succeed against Man City, it will take a mixture of quick, accurate passing, together with non-stop running from most of our players.
The back four of Aaron Cresswell, Angelo Ogbonna, Winston Reid and Havard Nordtveit more or less pick themselves. Aside from their expected defensive duties, all of these players should be aware of linking passes through to Pedro Obiang and Edimilson Fernandes.
Cresswell has the additional responsibility of making long runs into the vacant left-wing position, particularly on the re-bound. Likewise, Nordveit may make shorter surges into the right midfield position, where he can meet up with Dimitri Payet and Antonio.
Reid may have the dual options of making passes or running into a central midfield hole, especially if Fernanades moves up.
Likewise, we may occasionally see Obiang push through to a slightly central-left position in order to draw out defenders or even make a long-range attempt on goal. While Ogbonna may be tempted to make short bursts into vacant midfield holes, I’d prefer to see him concentrate on his defensive duties.
Obiang and Fernandes play pivotal roles at the back of the midfield four. From the left, a series of diagonal passes could tear apart virtually any defence, and seems ever so more dangerous compared to the stereotyped square and vertical passes seen too often this season. From the right, a similar sequence of diagonal passes could have the same incisive impact.
Clearly I have picked out Lanzini, and to a lesser extent Payet, as the central attacking duo. Either Lanzini or Payet could burst though the middle of the defence and have a strike on goal themselves, or alternatively play through to Carroll or Antonio. For maximum efficiency, I’d prefer to see both Lanzini and Payet stick to fairly central positions, tucked in behind the two strikers.
That aside, the team must look to both Carroll and Antonio to score the goals.
Play to their potential and we might well see the West Ham Way back in action again!