A strong defensive show
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 6 March 2019 at 6:00pm
Written by: ConorCulver
Following last Wednesday’s slim 1-0 loss to Manchester City, it is clear that when push comes to shove, West Ham have it in them to play defensive football. Given the outcome of the game at the London Stadium, and with goal difference potentially becoming a factor in the race for seventh, a pummelling would have done no good whatsoever.
We lost to a very touchy penalty and for most of the game we kept City at bay by forcing them to shoot from distance, barring a couple of occasions when they got in behind. The main reason for this is the energy provided on the night. Everyone on the pitch worked their socks off – in particular Anderson and Antonio, their help offered when tracking City’s fullbacks. This energy, although fantastic, should not be something we look to implement going forward in the majority of our games – we should be looking to play attractive football as we have done for much of the season. It is reassuring though that when we need to, we are able to put in a solid defensive performance against one of the best sides in the world.
Pellegrini’s genius also cannot go unstated. First, the use of Andy Carroll. I’m by no means suggesting he should play often, but when we look to set up defensively he is our best bet (especially when Arnautovic is unfit). This is because he gives us a chance at winning outlet balls up front from defensive clearances and he also provides a threat from set pieces when attacking and is a useful piece back in our own box defending corners and free kicks. Also, the selection of two out-and-out holding midfielders was important. It saved Rice having to try and break up the City attacks on his own and also provided extra help for the back four.
There were also some fantastic individual performances that contributed to the effort. A special nod goes to Fabianski who once again made some superb saves to keep the score as low as possible. Given the defensive task of Leroy Sane, Ryan Fredericks was outstanding. He matched Sane stride for stride and let him know he was in a game early on with a monster tackle. Ben Johnson’s performance cannot go unnoticed either. Given the scale of his task, going against Riyad Mahrez in his first Premier League start and limiting him to a couple of shots from distance (except one time he ghosted in only to blaze over), he did a fine job.
Yes, it was a fantastic performance to lose to a dubious penalty against the now league leaders, but we showed against Newcastle that we can play a more fluid, attractive style of football whilst also defending well albeit with less energy.