There is probably no better time for Slaven Bilic to settle on the formation that saved our skins in the second half of our last game against Hull.
After an abysmal first half in which we were totally outplayed by our enthusiastic visitors, Bilicmade some crucial alterations in the formation and player placements for the 2nd half. The use of two strikers resulted in a marked improvement in our playing performance, and both Andre Ayew and Michail Antonio were unlucky not to get on the score sheet.
While still being a long way from ideal, we at least looked competitive, and should have won the game comfortably. Ayew’s ability to keep pace with Antonio seemed to demonstrate that this striker combination may be the best available for the present time.
In fairness, Andy Carroll won most of his aerial duels, but he had no one in support to pick up his second ball. While he should be congratulated for his work effort, did Carroll ever really look close to scoring?
If Bilic continues to instruct Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to supply Carroll with the perfect delivery, then we are surely doomed. Payet and Lanzini are both natural play-makers, but when employed as wingers, they often remain in static positions on the flank, seriously diminishing their individual creativity and chances of scoring/assisting themselves.
If Payet is instructed to lie as a deep central attacking playmaker, then all sorts of possibilities will open up. Lanzini’s efforts in recent weeks have been well below what we have become accustomed to. From a central or left sided midfield position, we should be expecting to see him launching on those diagonal dribbles into deep-lying holes.
One of the problems that have occurred this season, is that Payet and Lanzini have often run into each other’s paths. If Payet sees Lanzini running towards him, it is his responsibility to move laterally to act as a decoy in dragging central defenders away from a middle area just outside the box.
This will provide the space and time that Lanzini needs to make some sort of direct and/or indirect impact. BY analogy, Lanzini should be supplying Payet, which will enable him to strike on goal.
This upcoming game is just ripe for Bilic to give the talented Tony Martinez some playing time. He has a good chance to continue on his merry goal scoring efforts in the U23 team. Having just scored a hat-trick last week, Martinez’s confidence will probably be at an all-time high. Better to let him loose against a struggling Swansea, than to delay him for the more difficult New Year games against Leicester and the two Manchester clubs.
Perhaps, in young Martinez, we have the potential striker that Bilic has been looking for all season. It may also be a good time to give young Domingos Quina (arguably the most talented player at West Ham) some playing time, with the caveat of not exposing him to too much physical threat at the tender age of 17.
In putting together a starting line up for the Swansea game (below), I had two major objectives in mind. Clearly we need the three points from a game which, theoretically, is ours for the taking. More importantly, on January 7, we have a huge FA Cup 3rd Round challenge against Manchester City. At this stage of proceedings, the FA Cup remains the only realistic (albeit, unlikely) route to the Europa League. A win against Manchester City would be a huge confidence builder for the rest of our season.
For much of his managerial tenure at West Ham, Bilic has adopted the philosophy of attacking from defence, using the highly favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. When the best, in-form players are available, this approach has often been successful, but not now.
At this time we do not have the solidity or stability to adopt this formation. If Bilic makes the sensible move of pushing Cheikhou Kouyate back into a four man midfield, together with Lanzini, Payet, and Mark Noble, we have a realistic chance of creating good goal scoring opportunities for the likes of Andre Ayew, Martinez and Carroll, as well as the exciting and dynamic Michail Antonio.
In addition let us not forget how well Payet, Lanzini and Noble can strike a ball from open-play, in addition to Kouyate’s aerial heading prowess. Until we can obtain the services of a right back, the likes of Edimilson Fernanades, Harvard Nordtveit and a very useful Alvaro Arbeloa should be able to do enough to plug up the space created by moving Kouyate into his more natural midfield spot.
While Bilic is more likely to start the game with Andy Carroll up front, he should be given 30 minutes to do something. The same principle also applies to Lanzini; if he can’t put more than a few passes together, then for heaven’s sake, give Martinez or Fernanades a decent chance. It is high time for Bilic to start showing some of the insight and creativity we know he has, otherwise, he could end up in the same situation that has beset Alan Pardew.