Naming the missing ingredients

  • by madhammer
  • Filed: Monday, 28th October 2019

I'm sure i'm not the first person to make these comments and others, but a few things I have noticed in West Ham's play in recent weeks include the following...

1. Far to slow in moving the ball from back to front

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It gives the opposition time to get back in position and we don't have the guile and creativity to break down deep-lying defences. I'm not advocating a Big Sam-style approach, but it was telling that our goal came from a long ball downfield when they only had a couple of defenders back and there was space in which to attack.

In the first 30 minutes of the game Sheffield United offered absolutely nothing offensively. It felt like we were camped in their half - the Crystal Palace game felt similar. Every time they won the ball back, they kicked it long and gave it straight back to us, only for us to start another slow and laboured attack.

I recently read a statistic that stated the majority of goals are scored in fewer than six passes; it is part of the reason counter pressing has become so popular. If you can win the ball back when the other team is disorganised you have the space and opportunity to create mismatches and exploit opponents.

While we won the ball back well in the first 30 minutes of both these games we refused to play forwards and through the lines. When you are camped in the opposition half this is exactly the sort of time to try these passes, as the opposition aren't set up to counter.

2. Lack of off-the-ball movement

Pretty much every player in our midfield and attack wants the ball in to their feet and doesn't move off the ball for their team mates. With Sebastien Haller as the focal point of our attack we need to get runners in and around him, as it's clear he is not the type to run beyond and stretch defenders.

In fairness, Andriy Yarmolenko is quite good at moving off the ball when the ball is and around the box, but he does not possess the pace to do this from deep. Anderson is excellent at bringing the ball up the pitch from deep and getting us up to the halfway lane. But is then either seemingly to knackered or doesn't have the support around him to run beyond the striker.

In the final third it feels his default setting is to look for the overlapping full back and he often hangs back rather than getting in the box or making those out to in runs that the likes of Mo Salah, Rahim Sterling, Sadio Mane and Son Heung-min are so effective at making.

While you might reasonable argue that's not his game, as part of the front three and with a less mobile target man like Haller up front it is arguably more important that the wide players in this three run beyond him and get in the box.

3. We miss Antonio

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See above: someone who is prepared to run beyond the striker, move off the ball for his teammates and provide the general chaos factor he brings. He is unpredictable and while his decision making might not always be the best, he offers as a threat and option in the side we don't otherwise and become to predictable in his absence.

4. The return of Bobby Snod

Despite being critical of his signing I was won over last season and appreciated his work rate and effort in the centre of midfield, which was needed in certain games. Following the Everton debacle i wasn't surprised by his recall and he justified his selection adding some much needed grit and an extra body in midfield against Sheffield Utd's three-man midfield.
Clearly it is his shirt to lose now until one of Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals can wrestle it from him, which is clearly Pellegrini's preference after the somewhat baffling decision to bring on Lanzini for Anderson (baffling in itself my making an already slow team slower just as the game was opening up).

But, also because in doing so he moved Snodgrass out to the left wing to accommodate Lanzini. A position which Snodgrass doesn't have the pace to play in my opinion, but one that also left us weaker in centre midfield due to Lanzini's lack of defensive discipline.

5. The manager's confusing substitutions and selection continue

As above: not only did the decision to re-position Snodgrass from his central midfield birth make us weaker in the middle of the pitch, but I thought the decision to remove Anderson in the first place was odd.

To me he looked our brightest, attacking threat and as the game was becoming stretched I thought spaces were beginning to open for him to exploit. As frustrating as he can be at times (see point 2), he was the sole person in our team with any pace on Saturday and taking him off was criminal in my opinion, making an already one-paced team more predictable.

This lack of pace was further highlighted by the decision to drop Ryan Fredericks from the starting XI. While i get the Everton display was a horror show, and changes were warranted, I didn't actually think he did anything wrong in that game. While Zabaleta didn't have a bad game and remains a fantastic professional, a right side of Zabaleta and Yarmolenko isn't what one would describe as quick.

In fact to utilise Yarmolenko correctly it's imperative you have a quick right back outside of him who can hug the touchline and provide width which in turn creates the pockets of space for Yarmolenko to cut inside and use his dangerous left foot.

While Fredericks' delivery remains questionable when he does get in to those advanced positions I do think his inclusion makes us a more balanced team. While his recovery pace is crucial when we're counter-attacked, especially when coupled with the recall of the slower Fabian Balbuena for Angelo Ogbonna.

6. Mark Noble's positioning

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Let me begin by saying I am a huge Noble fan and he remains one of my favourites, if not my favourite player. However, in recent weeks I have noticed how wide some of the positions he takes up are.

More often than not I would say he is positioned out by the touchline, playing between the width of the touchline and edge of the 18-yard box. At the weekend to me it looked like we lined up in a 4231 formation with Snodgrass as the 10. Given Noble was being asked to play as part of a double pivot with Rice (although Rice was the slightly deeper of the two) I can't help but think this wide positioning is part of the reason why it is seemingly so easy for opposition midfields to find space and play through us.

Whether it is an instruction from Pellegrini or his own doing, I think Noble needs to play tighter to Rice and confine his roving to the width of the 18-yard box. I don't want him to limit his excursions forward as I think his incisive passing remains underrated, but i want him to do it from a more central position rather than from wide. See below his heat and pass maps from the weekend, which demonstrate this:

Mark Noble's Heat Map

Mark Noble's Pass Map

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