After recovering from the disappointment of an unnecessary loss to Tottenham, we must move on and give serious consideration to our two important encounters with Manchester United.
The first of these games, playing on Sunday, is an away Premier League fixture at Old Trafford, followed by a Tuesday evening EFL Cup quarter-final encounter, once again at the same venue. Slaven Bilic faces the difficult challenge of putting together two strong line-ups, which will allow us to be competitive in both games.
Slav has been quite open in expressing his desire to obtain some silverware for the club this season, which also leads to a place in next season’s Europa League. However, at the same time, he is under considerable pressure to help the team move up the table from its current precarious position.
The big question is whether we can get positive results over the next two games. A common ploy is to rest some of our best players in the first game in order to make them available for the mid-week clash, which some may view is of slightly higher priority.
I believe that this is a dangerous approach, especially in the present time at West Ham. A number of our players are still in the process of reaching peak fitness and form. By side-lining such players for the first game, we run the risk of interrupting their road to improvement.
That said, it is prudent to rest some players after a certain stage of game one, in order to allow them to recover for selection in the Cup game on Wednesday.
In selecting the formations and starting players, I have taken into account two important factors; an attempt to maximise our scoring potential, while at the same time, keeping a strong hold in the middle of the park which, by doing so, will hopefully reduce the pressure on the defenders.
Once again, I stand by my principle of trying to quickly settle/stabilise on the ball, with the aim of domination, and scoring goals in the first 20-30 minutes.
If the team is able to achieve this, then it is imperative that any changes made in formation are done so with due consideration to retaining the rhythm of play.
Likewise, any substitutions made, should be aimed at maintaining optimal strength in midfield and attacking positions…
For the first game, I suggest the use of the 3-5-2 formation (see above), which has looked well-balanced in recent games. I feel that Antonio is better used in an attacking role, compared to the right wing-back position.
He is a naturally gifted attacker, but by contrast, he struggles somewhat in defence. Therefore, I have paired him to join Sakho up front.
If Sakho tires at some stage, then Ashley Fletcher should be given the nod to replace him. The midfield five, set up in a pyramid, should use Cresswell as our over-lapping left wing-back. By moving Antonio to the front, I have chosen Pedro Obiang to fill in the right wing-back position.
He is particularly strong and stable on the ball, and while he is not a natural runner into deep forward positions, he is an accurate passer and should be allowed to take some modest moves forward, but mainly trying to link up with Noble or a retreating Antonio.
If a more attacking approach is deemed necessary, Fernandes could be quite useful. Lanzini and Noble form a strong central position ahead of Cresswell and Obiang respectively.
Lanzini should try and resist his natural temptation of wandering too far to the left flank; he looks far more dangerous igniting attacks from a more central position, and he is also required to make sure that holes don’t open on the left of the midfield.
Mark Noble has looked a bit slow in recent games, and if necessary, Edimilson Fernandes would be a good substitution, if required. Payet has been chosen as the central attacking midfielder, sitting close behind the two strikers.
I’d prefer to see Payet remaining fairly deep, with total license to move from one side of the field to the other. To cover the space directly behind him, this area should be covered by Lanzini or Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate from defence.
Collins comes in for the suspended Reid, but depending on the pace of the game, Alvaro Arbeloa can take over duties at right center-back. I have pushed Kouyate slightly more forward from Ogbonna and Collins in order for him to play a dual defensive/attacking role. For the first game, I have restored Adrian in as our custodian.
For the EFL Cup game, I have suggested starting with a very strong attacking 4-3-3 formation in order to go all out for the win (below). Randolph should start this game in goal.
The back four is strengthened by the return of Winston Reid, partnering Ogbonna in central defence. The midfield trio will look stronger by the inclusion of Cheikhou Kouyate with Lanzini and Noble.
Should Lanzini and Noble tire from the effects of the first game, I have slotted in Fernandes and Feghouli as possible replacements, which may allow for a positional switch, with Fernandes playing left and Feghouli on the right.
I have selected an attacking trio with Payet, sitting as a No.10 just behind Sakho and Antonio. If we are winning, but showing obvious signs of tiring, it is quite easy to re-adjust to a familiar 3-5-2 formation.
This would see Kouyate moving back to partner Ogbonna and Reid as the three center-backs, while at the same time, pulling Payet back to a more centralised midfield role, where he can still use his great play-making skills.