Formidable Back Five
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 10 October 2020 at 9:23am
Written by : Harry Fitzpatrick
For the first time since September 2019, West Ham have kept consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League. The change to a 5 back formation has worked wonders, with 8 goals scored and 2 conceded in their last 3 games with all being against teams in last season’s top 8. Two weeks ago, Leicester won 5-2 at the Etihad in a shock result that showed Brendan Rodgers’ side could mix with the best. Vardy bagged a hattrick whilst running the City defence ragged. Fast forward a week and Leicester were restricted to just 4 shots with 0 on target. Their only real chance of the game came in the 90thminute when already 3-0 down. Vardy uncharacteristically chipped wide when clean through against Fabianski. In the 93rd the VAR gods shined on us, disallowing a brilliant passing goal for offside, leaving Vardy infuriated as his afternoon in Ogbonna’s back pocket came to an end.
This was not just a poor day for Leicester, it has been a theme for the last 3 league matches. West Ham have conceded as many goals as shots Fabianski has saved (4). This stat includes the dreadful opening day performance where the Hammers conceded 2 goals and allowed 15 shots from the North-east outfit. Since the formation change, the backline has been solid not just as a unit, but individually too.
There would have been no complaints had Ogbonna picked up the Man of the Match award on Sunday, not something often said in a 3-0 win with 3 different goal scorers. His fantastic form has also been recognised at international level, with Italian manager Roberto Mancini selecting him in his squad. It is thoroughly deserved, and we all hope he gets a chance in their upcoming matches. Balbuena has also flourished in recent weeks. He was defensively solid in both the Wolves and Leicester fixtures, looking a completely different player to the one who crumbled at home to then Championship side West Brom in January. The General is making it harder and harder for Diop to reclaim his position in the side and if this form continues, how could Moyes drop him? Most surprisingly, Aaron Cresswell has shined in his new role of left centre back. He struggled last season at left back with his declining pace being a real target for opposition wingers. Now he looks comfortable and assured, providing 2 assists on Sunday. If a Liverpool full back whipped in *that* cross for the first goal, Sky would be showing it on repeat for weeks. The added benefit of Cresswell is that he is left footed. Defenders on the left-hand side are often much more comfortable if they are left footed. It is an issue Man City have had for years and Pep Guardiola’s spent over £100 million trying to find a solution. We’ve just had one fall into our lap.
The three centre backs have allowed for the usual full backs to move into a more attacking wing back role. Masuaku has been phenomenal now he has the licence to be further forward, delivering some wicked crosses, especially during the Wolves match where he provided the assist for Haller’s late goal. On the right-hand side, Fredericks also looks vastly improved compared to last season. He showed real attacking intent and looked more comfortable knowing he had more defensive cover behind him. It was a shame to see him go down injured, but Coufal looked brilliant on debut so it will be an intriguing battle for the position when Fredericks’ is back.
It can’t go unmentioned the work that the front three have also provided to the defensive effort. Bowen and Fornals have been constantly tracking back to help their wing backs, allowing the centre backs to play narrower and limit the space inside the penalty box, whilst Soucek and Rice cut off the passing lanes from midfield. Antonio’s astonishing work rate and strength allows him to hold the ball up like no other Premier League striker, giving the defence and midfield plenty of opportunities to reorganise, ready for the next attack.
It’s not often West Ham fans can gloat about having one of the best defences in the League, but now is certainly one of them. Credit must go to Moyes and his backroom staff for the tactic change which caused this, and to the players who work tirelessly to make it work. Long may it continue.