Fans' Opinion

When you are haemorrhaging, first stop the bleeding

Author: . Published: at 1:58pm

Written by: Nick Moore

There has been much discussion lately among West Ham fans about playing with two strikers. Haller looks isolated. His strength is bringing others into play. So why not give him a partner like we always used to have? Why not go back to 4-4-2?

As the game against Newcastle showed, there can be a problem with two up. Ajeti came on and had seven touches in 45 minutes. If we were better in the second half it wasn’t this tactical shift that caused it. At the best of times we don’t get a lot of balls into the box. It’s hard to play without the ball. Playing two up can also leave you outnumbered in midfield. The danger is we end up with two players isolated instead of one. (We may want to reconsider this option when Antonio is fit.)

One of the problems was we couldn’t defend against quick breaks. This relates to another shift in tactics which has not been much spoken about.  Towards the end of last season Pellegrini moved Noble forward.  We moved from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1. Often people talk or write as though Noble and Rice are playing alongside each other. But they’re not.

This move was quite sensible because when Noble drops deep to pick the ball off the back four it can get very stodgy. We have a tendency to shift the ball slowly without progress through the lines. The switch worked as Noble got some goals and assists from open play.

But in the Everton game Silva targeted Rice and got his quick players who usually play wide to play round him. He included Walcott who has had success against us before with his pace. He and Bernard both came inside and ran at Rice.

It was part of one of those West Ham performances where we just didn’t turn up. Part of us not playing was that this tactic turned one of our consistently best players into an ineffective player. 

Premier league sides are not stupid. Since the Everton game Sheffield United and Newcastle have both used this ploy to undermine Rice. His performance against Newcastle was the worst I have seen from him playing the defensive midfielder role. This doesn’t mean Rice is not a good player; he is a great player and could get even better. If we can hold on to Diop and Rice we could do very well (if).

But we do need to deal with this strategy. Against Newcastle, our defending against pace was terrible. Zabeleta struggled in particular but all the back four resorted to pretty pathetic fouls on players running at pace at them. It was a surprise that our quickest player Fredericks was so late (72 minutes) in being sent on.

It may seem negative but if we don’t have a grip on any game it will be like in Bilic’s later days. We will be watching fast counter attacks playing round our defenders. Roberto actually kept the score down on Saturday so it’ll be no use blaming him.   

Although we play a back four we expect the full backs to get forward a lot. They do a lot of ball carrying. And overlapping is a vital part of the game. When we give the ball away, as even the greatest sides do, we need to have some cover.  We have to come up with an effective strategy. If we don’t side after side will simply follow suit. It will also have a bad effect on Rice. It is already.

The easiest thing to do is to put Nobes back in there. He lacks pace but if starts the defensive side of the ball he is better able to compensate. Another option would be to put Sanchez in. There are rumours that the manager doesn’t trust him. Well he is still on the bench. He shouldn’t be there if the manager won’t put him on. Beyond that possibly Connor Coventry could do the role? 

There are other changes of tactics we could adopt, I am always surprised that we don’t consider 3-5-2. If we don’t change we will keep haemorrhaging goals and all the hopes we had for the season will bleed away.

As a wise French coach once said “Plan the game so the talent will flourish.”

On Boxing Day 1963 Blackburn beat West Ham 8-2 at the Boleyn.  Another wise coach Ron Greenwood thought about making multiple changes to the team but in the end made only one change. Two days later West Ham beat Blackburn 3-1 at Ewood Park and that side unchanged went on to win the FA Cup in 1964. Something like that would do nicely. It can be done.