We are back to some Premier League action after a bit of a break and our next opponents are West Ham. Only four points separate second and fifth, so every game for those four teams is a must win. We currently sit at third, and West Ham are placed at twelfth. They are only four points above the relegation zone, so this match is vital for them as well. Last time we played them was away, and we beat them 4-1, back in November. West Ham had a different manager back then however, and are now under the direction of David Moyes, who has done well for them since he took over. Our only injury concern is Bogdan, who is day to day.
Moyes has brought some defensive solidity to his West Ham side, which was needed. He seems to use a three at the back system, and has used speedy Javier Hernandez up top recently, who has scored in his last two league games. In form Arnautovic will most likely flank him on the left. Defensively, expect to see a back five.
I think our most ideal lineup for this encounter would be Karius; Robertson, VVD, Lovren, Trent AA; Milner, Henderson, Lallana; and Mane, Firmino and Salah up top.
West Ham using a five at the back system means that they sacrifice a player either from the midfield or from the forward line. Since they usually use three attacking players, that means that they generally have only two midfielders. This means that in an attacking sense, switching play from half space to half space will be key in the attack. Why? Because of the two midfielders. If we can drag one of them to a half space, the other will most likely stay in the middle of the pitch so that the center backs are not exposed. That will leave our midfielder in the far half space wide open, and he can then send in diagonal balls behind the defense that our forwards can run towards and finish.
And how can we drag their midfielders over to a half space/flank? We can drag (at least) one of their two midfielders over by bringing up our fullbacks all the way up the field so that West Ham’s wing backs have to stay and turn their attention on them. Our three forwards will then distract their three center backs. This means their midfield has to worry about ours by themselves, and we outnumber them three to two. If West Ham decide to bring down their wingers to help in defense in a sort of 5-4-1 shape, then that leaves Hernandez up top all alone with no support when countering. Our two center backs will be able to deal with him since he is not exactly a forward who excels in hold up play.
We can expect them to favor their left side when they attack because of the in form Arnautovic. So I think defensively we utilize a mid block press, but only pressing when the left wing back for West Ham receives the ball. Use cover shadows and aggressive pressing when he gets the ball so that he can not play Arnautovic down the left flank or play in the middle of the field. When he is pressed, instruct our forwards to retreat a bit towards our midfielders. Give their left wingback the easy option of playing the ball back to the center backs. As for their right wing back (most likely Zabaleta), allow him some time and space with the ball. He was never the type of player that scares defenders, because he lacks quality when attacking. We can take a gamble on him going forward because he may just give us the ball. So I think that when he has the ball, focus more on covering any immediate options he has (forwards can now cover the center backs) instead of pressing aggressively. Like I said, he may turn the ball over not because he is pressed, but because he would not really know what to do, given that all of his options are taken away.
Overall I think we will be brimming in confidence and that confidence will ride us to a two goal victory over West Ham.