West Ham have started the 2020/21 season by playing five of the big six plus Leicester, Wolves and Everton (Carabao Cup) after facing Liverpool FC next weekend. It must rank as one of the hardest openings to a season in Premier League history, especially considering the uncertainties and logistical issues of Covid protocols.
However, The Hammers have enjoyed a run of well managed results, including 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Wolves and Leicester City respectively, which has left them sitting 12th in the Premier League, between the Manchester clubs and the rest of the big 6 with a favourable +4 goal difference.
West Ham had a fruitful pre-seaon to prepare their new approach for the 2020/21 season and it is reaping rewards now. Teams like Wolves, Sheffield United and Brighton have over achieved with 5 at the back with in recent years and West Ham are following suit.
Counter-attacking teams with ten players behind the ball tend to build up their attacks more efficiently given how many players are closer to the ball upon exiting. The idea of leaving players up far from the ball often leads to hard to control passes with higher players being isolated from support runs. Combine that with an obvious ploy to not play out from the back at all, and you have a clear pathway to sustainable football despite individuals excelling and new key purchases coming in.
Some breakout performances have come from this change of formation that seems to suit some of their players, albeit hurting a few others. Left full back Arthur Masuaku has turned into the player that West Ham thought they were getting now that he knows he has extra cover behind him. Jarrod Bowen has also adapted to a deeper role where you can see his pace exploiting space on the counter attack and supporting Antonio on long balls.
Some players hurt by the changes, however, include 33-year-old club captain Mark Noble who has only played 71 minutes in the Premier League this season. Sebastian Haller, who could cost the club up to £45m, has averaged 10 minutes a game when involved at all, as he just doesn’t add the same defensive edge as Michail Antonio. Felipe Anderson was a fan favourite over the last 2 seasons but this new system saw him loaned out to Champions League side FC Porto for what was likely the same defensive reasoning.
West Ham were not very active in the transfer window this summer, which could add to the lack of team shake up. Soucek’s addition last season has been impressive given his box to box abilities and dedication to the defensive end, and this looks like it inspired the signing of his old Slavia Prague team mate Vladimir Coufal at RWB. Already with 3 assists this season with the Czech club, he has added 1 after starting all 3 games since his arrival.
Said Benrahma came in late on loan (option to buy) as one of the best players in the Championship who challenges last season’s purchase Pablo Fornals, and fan favourite Manuel Lanzini to the last remaining midfield spot. West Ham could struggle to improve on the current system but Benrahma’s extra creativity through the middle could improve their possession phase attacks as well as chip in with goals like Emiliano Buendia did for Norwich City last season.
The future is looking rosy for the East London club with their next opponents, Liverpool, being far from full strength despite goalkeeper Alisson’s return giving them a boost against Sheffield United last weekend. The remaining games for 2020/21 look a lot lighter now West Ham played played many of their toughest fixtures. Many of the big clubs were there for the taking during these unstable times as they tried to return their focus to European competition.
Huge news for Hammers fans is on the horizon too, as star midfielder and current captain Declan Rice looks close to signing a new contract helping fend off big clubs tempting him with lucrative offers. He was pivotal in the draw against Manchester City as his conservative positioning makes him the perfect catalyst and organizer of the teams counter attacks.
If West Ham could put together a solid run of 5 games after this Liverpool fixture then they could take advantage of no European competition and larger squad depth to climb up the league as bigger sides struggle with two games a week. The lack of fans hasn’t seemed to hurt them as they had trouble winning at home when the stadium was full last season anyway, owing to the hostility towards their owners.
That record led them to be considered one of the favourites for the drop this year but credit to David Moyes for adapting and getting the most out of, for what is for the most part – the same team as last year’s campaign. Their defensive structure could trouble Liverpool this weekend, while Antonio has caused everyone problems so far. Getting a result at Anfield would cause quite a stir and leave many asking, where could West Ham end up in 2020/21, as they go in to the busiest time of the season with one of the easiest schedules.
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