Trick or Treat
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 11 October 2020 at 9:35am
Written by: Jonathan Lee
Four games into the season and the now customary early international break is upon us and probably at a time we could have done without, given the fine performances and wins over opposition generally regarded as quality in our last two games. We have played one awful opening game, a decent game against Arsenal but with two fatal errors, and then two almost perfect team efforts against Wolves and Leicester which have taken us all by surprise, most notably back to back clean sheets. It goes without saying that if we play like that every time we take to the pitch, we will win more games than we lose, and maybe even end up with the rarely seen positive goal difference!
The key change since Newcastle appears to have been the move to a back 3, with 2 wing backs, and then almost a square if you like of 4 (Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Fornals) supporting Antonio. Importantly all five of those players have engines and are capable both going forward and in a defensive shape when the team gets behind the ball, and when playing the likes of Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester it tends to work as a formula – soak up the pressure and then break forward smartly and quickly. Whether that will continue against Spurs, Man City and Liverpool is another matter of course as we go up yet another notch in the quality of our opponents (despite their relatively indifferent starts to the season) but the fact we have conceded the least shots of all teams so far in the Prem speaks volumes. Fabianski has only been scoring 6/6.5 in player ratings as he has genuinely had next to nothing to do the last two matches; when was the last time we saw him have to pull off a worldie?
Even if we lost the next three games that would still be six points from a tough opening set of matches which most of us would have gladly taken after the Newcastle defeat but clearly the last two performances have got our hopes up! The main threat to us now, ahead of the return to league action, will either be a sudden loss of the form which has served us so well recently or a spate of injuries – the latter is probably more concerning, given (at the time of writing) a lack of inward activity in the transfer market (although doesn’t Coufal, pronounced ‘Sue-Fal’, look rather good) combined with the release of players (Diangana, Cullen, Wilshere, Ngakia, Hugill, Silva, Anderson …) leaves us currently with the smallest squad in the league; and only Diop to cover the current centre half pairing and Noble to cover the defensive midfield roles. We seem to have cover elsewhere with Lanzini, Yarmo, Haller, and Snodgrass available.
We are hearing from various sources that a couple of new faces are highly likely to be brought in but, unless a rough diamond has been found somewhere in the Championship, they are unlikely to be better than the players who turned out at the King Power Stadium where every player to a man was excellent. That said, across 38 matches you are always going to need a squad consistently performing and not just eleven men and so it will be important to have a starting bench each week that can contribute as much as the players who start the game. Expect muscle knocks and strains at some point for those players who are currently covering acres of ground each game, essentially that means all players bar the keeper and three centre halves.
There is also the question of whether our new three at the back formation is going to work as well against those teams who aren’t going to have 70% possession of the ball, so the likes of Burnley, Sheffield Utd, Fulham, WBA who will also look to play on the counter having soaked up pressure, but both teams can’t have 30% possession in a game and it will be interesting to see who blinks first in those matches. The next three games we’d expect nothing less than having to get back into shape behind the ball for large portions of the match, but (and whisper it quietly) can you imagine if we somehow managed to pull out a result or two, it might just start to feel like a special season in prospect, but then again, we all know the West Ham Way, don’t we…