Text  Larger | Smaller | Default


Injury, a Bilic Godsend

Filed: Wednesday, 26th April 2017
By: Adam Smith

Many were convinced that the late season match-up with Everton would see Belgian goal-scoring phenomenon Romelu Lukaku add multiples to his seasonal total.

But a new formation and injection of different players saw the all-but-certain fate of West Ham change this past weekend, as the Hammers kept a clean sheet in a nil-nil draw at Home against Everton. And it could not have been better timed for Bilic.

Now, Super Slav is currently the epicentre of debate for fans and spectators alike. The mix of opinions on his future usually revolve around keeping him due to his emotional displays for the club and because he delivered a great final season at the Boleyn, while the outers want him gone because his tactics lack adaptation and he slots his players sub optimally.

We can chalk up a victory for the Slav supporters as the match against Everton saw a new formation and the correct positioning of players, namely Havard Nordtveit. The Norwegian summer signing was struck with injury early in the season and lost his place in midfield, however with injured Obiang and suspended Noble he found a home as defensive anchor and early outlet in the midfield.

Early in the match he did seem a little tentative on his turns and allowed the opposition to close the gap on him, limiting his passing. This was to be expected as he had not seen Premier League action in quite some time. Nordtveit offered stability defensively, supporting the three centre-backs and offering them an option in counter-attack. Nordtveit would have clearly been Man of the Match had James Collins and Arthur Masuaku not elevated their play to new seasonal heights.

The one affectionately known as ‘Ginger Pele’ has continued his unbelievable performances in central defence. Tasked primarily with shutting down Lukaku, Collins was absolutely superb. He played physical when need be and was constantly pressing forward, winning headers over the attacking Everton players. Much like the Sunderland and Swansea games, Collins continued to block an inordinate amount of attacks, relieving pressure on Adrian who re-took his net in this match. His play style seemed to keep Everton conscious of him at all times and he factored largely in the clean sheet.

The other central defenders, Winston Reid and Jose Fonte should receive praise as well for their efforts in this match. Reid was above and beyond what should be expected from a player coming off injury. He was hard on the ball and made timely tackles that halted Everton’s attacking advance.

Fonte, who has continued to up his play in recent weeks, played well and physical. He remains a growing calming influence in the back line and welcomed late substitution Dominic Calvert-Lewin into the game with a hard tackle that received a yellow card. Fonte had set the tone physically for the last portion of the game with a card that Bilic surely did not mind.

Man of the Match was clearly wing back Arthur Masuaku. Impressive in his last few appearances, Masuaku put on a performance that has many questioning the likelihood of Aaron Cresswell returning to his natural position. With natural positioning at hand, King Arthur was quoted after the game discussing how he was able to be more effective in an up-and-down wing back position, where he is involved in the attack as well as defence. He referred to it as his natural position.

Masuaku at left back and Edimilson Fernandes at right back were constantly involved in the pressure West Ham applied on the wings. Masuaku showed off his dribbling skill, passing ability and creativity in crossing the ball from the wing position. Masuaku looked the more comfortable of the two - granted, it is his natural position - however Fernandes was able to use his athleticism effectively in attack while his pace allowed him to retreat quickly. Fernandes’ value has grown from this game as he is now an option for Bilic moving forward in a three centre-back formation.

With it all but said, Slaven Bilic managed his best game this season. His first team selection suffered major losses like Obiang, Carroll, Antonio, Byram, and Noble. This caused Bilic to move away from his age-old, two centre-back, two full back formation as he used Reid, Fonte, and Collins in the middle with Nordtveit in support. Slav freed up Masuaku’s quick feet and Fernandes’ speed up the wings and used two strikers in the middle (considering Ayew, if you will) to invigorate his ‘compact’ attack. The dinosaur, apparently, shows something new.

Masuaku and Nordveit both commented on being played in their natural positions - and it showed. This had been a knock against Bilic who had regularly slated players out of position due to team need, instead of changing his formation to fit his squad. The new formation was surely used because the lack of depth at right back with Byram out, however it was a brilliant move that Bilic should get praise for. His team seemed to respond on the pitch getting the better scoring chances throughout the game and shutting down the Premier League's leading goal scorer.

The injuries forced Bilic’s hand, making him abandon four at the back and it worked out terrifically for the manager. Bilic had a minor victory in this draw as he showed his ability to change, which had been lacking for the entirety of this season. Whether it is ineptitude or stubbornness, Bilic hopefully has seen what the Hammers’ supporters have: new routes for success.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

comments powered by Disqus