It has been a rough couple of weeks for West Ham: two consecutive 4-1 losses away from home have put the Hammers in a rather delicate situation in the never-ending battle for relegation. While the East London club have not been consistent throughout the year, these setbacks have come at a delicate time seeing as the season is coming to an end and the losses brought forward a little bit more than just an additional defeat on the stat sheet; West Ham appeared confused and disorganised, traits that could prove deadly going into this last part of the season.
Part of the reason why players (and fans) find themselves puzzled is the continuous alteration of formation. I am by no means saying that modifying your player disposition on the pitch is wrong and leads to confusion amongst footballers, I stand on the complete opposite side of this is the decision is based on solid tactical analysis and appropriate changes are made. However, David Moyes has opted for a variety of different line-ups, utilising questionable player linkages that may have caused more harm than good to West Ham’s playing style. In his first month, the Scottish Manager opted for four different formation in as many game weeks: ranging from a 4-3-3 to a more offensive 4-2-3-1 (my personal favourite for West Ham and its players), a rather conservative 4-1-4-1 and finally adapting to some sort of a 3-4-2-1 with which he was able to find some limited success. Since then, Moyes has been focusing on perfecting the three-men defence, a trend becoming increasingly popular in the Premier League nowadays, while shifting the combinations of the forwards. The high number of attacking players available (Chicharito, Carroll, Arnautovic, Lanzini, João Mario and Antonio) allow him to do just that. While experimenting can be good and is definitely needed in the consolidation of a new formation, over-testing has potential for negative spillovers on the team.
In the previous articles we discussed about Arnautovic and João Mario’s adaptability; and while Lanzini and Antonio have similar traits, they have all been implemented in a variety of different positions, even after successful games, in order to find the appropriate fit for West Ham’s line up. On one hand, it is true that players like the ones mentioned above are added to the team to give the manager a higher number of options to choose from. On the other, the continuous rearrangement and disposition on the pitch distorts the possibility of creating an efficient and consistent playing style to be utilised throughout the entirety of the season. Overall, even though the singular characteristics of the attacking players that Moyes has available allow him to experiment on potential line up combinations, it is in fact this continuous alteration of the players and positions involved that impedes this golden outcome.
A Stable Point
One of the few things that seem to be set in Moyes’ schemes is the 3 (or 5) men defence. With the adaptation of Aaron Cresswell as a centre back and the completion of the back line with Ogbonna and Winston Reid, the Scotsman seems rather satisfied with the first line of his formation. The three-men block is supported by two fullbacks playing, depending on the occasion, on the line of the defenders or alternatively of that of the midfielders. Moyes has relied primarily on Zabaleta and Masuaku, who have performed rather well considering their “new” role. The addition of experienced French defender Patrice Evra further confirms the intention of utilising the three-men defence for a prolonged period of time. Evra developed valuable experience playing alongside one of the world’s best three-men defence block: the BBC (Baragli, Bonucci and Chiellini) at Juventus. On the right side, Moyes can also deploy Antonio, as a more offensive yet generous type of player for the Hammers. Of course, all these players have experience playing in a normal four men predisposition, which allows the Scotsman to have further option to turn to for his selection.
Where to Go from Here?
While David Moyes has numerous things that he still has to fully grasp regarding his tactical management at West Ham, the sound foundation of the back line is a great starting point. Although the performances given by the players varied greatly, from organised and intense games to more unfocused and confused displays (especially in the past month), the implementation of the 3-men adapted defence line is the key to the continuity of the formation. From here on the possibilities vary greatly: playing Arnautovic alongside Chicharito with Lanzini as a #10 or Lanzini and Arnautovic as wingers supporting Chicharito; Moyes can choose from anything in between, as well as utilising different players (like João Mario, Antonio and Carroll). Ultimately, it is vital for the Scottish manager to identify the unique tandem to utilise more frequently and give tactical assurance to a rather disorganised team.