For many of us, an unexpected element of luck comes our way during our lifetime.
When we examine the overall history of our club, I think it only fair to say that luck has not always been on our side. However, when I awoke the other morning, it took me very little time to appreciate that an unpredicted stroke of good fortune had fallen our way, at a most appropriate time of the season.
Of course, I am referring to the rescinding of the red card decision which Cheikhou Kouyate received in our last game against Crystal Palace.
The availability of Kouyate, has suddenly put a different complexion on matters pertinent to our remaining games of the campaign. While Dimitri Payet has been a major factor in revolutionising our play, Kouyate has also been a consistent contributor, with his outstanding dual role as a holding and attacking midfielder; he and Mark Noble have largely formed the midfield cement that has held our formations together.
While Noble plays the greater anchoring role, Kouyate has shown his willingness to drive his way upfield, linking up with the attack, and also scoring goals at important times. I wonder how much Arsenal will be looking forward to seeing him again, since it was his stunning header which led to the first goal in the memorable win at the Emirates on the opening day of the campaign.
So let us look at the present situation. In the history of our beautiful game, it is rare to see teams notch up to 10 games on the run. However, the records show a number of European teams winning 20 or more consecutive games. In England, Arsenal won 14 consecutive games, while Liverpool and Manchester United both chalked up 11 in a – all of these feats occurring in the 1980s.
So, given the right circumstances, the challenge that we face can be achieved. In 50 years of sustained West Ham support, I have never felt as confident as now that our club can do it. We have an astute, insightful manager. At the present time we have a squad of players who are close to, if not at, peak fitness. So what is the best formation which is likely to achieve such an ambitious outcome?
The 4-3-3 formation is arguably the most venomous of all modern formations. There is good reason why dominant European clubs have employed it. These are the sides which are determined to win week in, and week out, with sufficient offensive muscle to overcome other clubs.
When in possession, the 4-3-3 can allow up to seven players for attack. In order to achieve this, orthodox teaching suggests use of the three attacking players to pressure the defence, the two full-backs overlapping behind them and two of the central midfielders pushing up-field. Unfortunately, West Ham only have one full-back who regularly raids into deep attacking positions – we did have two, until the serious season-ending injury sustained by Carl Jenkinson.
My solution to this deficiency is to form a well-staggered triangular central midfield, where all members can join up into potentially goal-scoring positions. In order to allow this out-and-out-attack to work, it is essential that the back four all move closer to the centre of the pitch in order to cover our own marauding midfielders.
An alternative is to use Sam Byram at right back to allow the dual defending and attacking role expected in 4-3-3.
The beauty of a well organised 4-3-3 is the capacity to stifle the opposing team. There are two main elements that contribute to this effect. Perhaps, most importantly, is the ability of the three man central midfield to dominate possession through a continuous cycle of fast, accurate passing triangles. The other important feature is the use of three strikers, who are given license to press high up the field.
The overall combined effect leads to a situation where opponents find difficulty in gaining and keeping possession. The opposing midfielders have trouble gaining a hold of the ball and are often pressed quickly when they do. The opposing defenders are faced with three strikers pressing them, and assuming that our full-backs push forward, the opposing wingers are often starved of decent possession.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team of 08/09 is a fabulous example of a full-functioning 4-3-3, where the attacking formation was able to penetrate virtually every defence in Spain and Europe.
An article of this nature would be incomplete without mention of the possible use of a 4-2-3-1 formation to achieve our mini-crusade of 10 wins or so.
This is particularly pertinent given Slav’s penchant for employing it during his coaching tenure. However, I believe that this very useful and flexible set-up, and it works best when the lone striker is a particularly potent goal scorer.
When fully fit, either Diafra Sakho or Enner Valencia can be excellent finishers, but this season has favoured neither of them. However, given a constant stream of passes from wingers and attacking midfielders, they are far more likely to produce the goods in the short frame time considered.
I have pencilled in both Sakho and Valencia for the centre-forward position, given their very recent return to the first team.
Once again, I feel obliged to remind all concerned of the importance of the early quick start. This is a must, since one may be well assured that when we face the likes of Arsenal, Leicester, and Manchester United, winning will only occur if we garrotte them before the reverse occurs.
The time has never been riper for us to play with the intention of winning all remaining games, given our stroke of good luck and the re-induction of the West Ham Way!