Before we review the upcoming away encounter against Southampton, I feel duty bound to share a few sentiments that I think maybe pertinent to most West Ham fans at the present time.
A recent posting at HITC discussed the poor form of our players in the last miserable drubbing against Manchester City, with specific focus on Aaron Cresswell. Cresswell is a good player, and with the exception of Antonio, most of the team played poorly in that game.
Unfortunately, I think we have been plagued by some sort of complex malady, which began towards the end of last season and continued on ever since, with a few exceptions in between.
So what could we glean from our performance against Man City? A lack of appropriate formation, a lack of tactics and strategy and little or no movement on or off the ball. In addition, we never settled during the crucial first 15 minutes. Any possession gained was quickly lost due to poor passing.
Players were often found totally out of position, lining up in columns of three near the sideline, creating enormous spaces in the middle of the park and allowing City to run riot.
Worst of all, there was little, if any, sense of team pride or desire to give Man City a decent fight. For better or worse, I do believe there is a West Ham Way, but at present we are light years away from it.
Slaven Bilic seemed to simply blow it off by saying: “Man City are a great team, and we were never going to win anyway.” What an approach! Does he not realiSe that there are many good teams Premier League other than Man City.
In a post-match interview, Bilic also said: “We started off good”.
He must be kidding himself – put simply, we never started at all. One looks at a team, like Sunderland, who are struggling, yet they played well enough to grab a valuable point against a very classy Spurs team. It all amounts to a depressing state of affairs.
I’m not sure how long our club will allow this dreadful sequence of big losses to continue. While we may not be the most glamorous team around, we have a fine heritage, tradition and team spirit, that was built on sheer .blood and guts. We have a world-renowned Academy, which began after Ted Fenton in 1937.
With all due respect to our present manager, we simply must look for an alternative formation to the 4-2-3-1 structure, which was used in the last game. The structure only works effectively when the team has a solid back four, strong, aggressive holding midfielders, a central midfield playmaker and a fast, vigilant, lone-wolf striker who is capable of converting half-chances into goals.
At present we don’t have the players who can make optimal use of this highly favoured formation. In my last submission, I advocated the use of the solid 4-4-2 formation, which worked to such great effect against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough. But for reasons that escape me, we went missing against Manchester City.
For the Southampton game, I once again suggest the use of the 4-4-2 structure and in addition, the consideration of a more offensive 4-3-3 formation (below).
The 4-3-3 can easily transform to a 4-4-2 if one of the strikers drops back deep to assist in midfield support.
Both of these formations offer greater stability and solidity in midfield since they easily form simple moveable shapes on the assumption that players move around, both on and off the ball. In the absence of player movement, these formation models remain nothing more than static structures.
From the very start of the game, in the all-important settling-in period, the ball has to be pushed around to fellow players who have moved into optimal positions, which then allows sequential passing to a third team-mate.
This old but effective use of moving triangles can be used out on the pitch. Well timed short passes involving well organised running, can quickly create spaces for sequential angular structures to develop, in addition to further off-the-ball player movement. It can also act as an effective antidote to the potential creation of non-moving linear and horizontal player alignments.
Another crucial factor during the settling-in phase is the important role for effective challenge in order to gain a reasonable share of possession. If the team is able to make effective use of any possession gained, then small advantages will accrue.
The adage of ‘from little things, big things grow’ becomes so relevant. Whether an offensive or counter-attacking style of play is advocated, a high press within the first 30 minutes provides the initial steps towards scoring the first goal or two.
We welcome back Cheikhou Kouyate for the Southampton game – his presence in midfield adds another dimension to our play. Snodgrass should start ahead of the inconsistent Sofiane Feghouli in order to allow him time to settle into our style of play. His potential to score from long range set-pieces adds another string to our bow.
While Lanzini can play as a winger, he is far more effective when positioned in a central attacking position, tucked in closely behind a two or three man striking unit. It allows him the advantage to feed accurate short-range passes onwards, as well as making his own dazzling runs through any spaces created in the top-third of the pitch.
An effective utilisation of one or other of the suggested formations presented above should pave the way for an important, confidence-building win.