We are back in Premier League action against West Ham United on Saturday, and ahead of the game tactical expert Michael Cox analyses them in detail.
Slaven Bilic made an instant impact upon taking charge of the Hammers last season, but has found his second campaign much more difficult. West Ham are currently only a point clear of the relegation zone.
Bilic made his name as boss of Croatia, where he was renowned as both a good man-manager and an astute tactician. Last season, West Ham’s most impressive performances came away at big clubs, with fine counter-attacking wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
This is perhaps the most interesting thing about West Ham. They started the season playing a 4-3-3 system before shifting into more of a 4-2-3-1, but over the past few weeks have generally lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system, which seems to have been popularised by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.
That’s likely to be the system Bilic deploys this weekend, with wing-backs Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell speeding forward regularly on the overlap.
West Ham are a physically imposing team, with the switch to a three-man defence boosting their average height. Winston Reid is fantastic in the air, Angelo Ogbonna plays to his left and is similarly solid, while Cheikhou Kouyate is a converted midfielder but has adjusted well.
Antonio is also a surprisingly useful aerial weapon for a wing-back – he’s brilliant at arriving at the far post and has scored six Premier League headers already this season – and there are also rumours Andy Carroll might be fit to return after injury. He netted a hat-trick in this fixture last season, including two with his head, so Arsenal need little warning about his threat.
Dimitri Payet was one of the best players in the Premier League last season, usually drifting inside dangerously from an inside-left position. He can dribble dangerously into attack, play pinpoint through balls or shoot from long range, especially from dead-ball situations. Although he has been quieter so far this season, five assists by this stage underlines his creative threat.
AREAS TO TARGET
West Ham don’t look entirely convincing defensively in this three-man shape. Antonio has looked suspect defensively so far this season, while Cresswell is more secure but his constant forward charges can leave the team exposed to counter-attacks. Arsenal might find joy with speedy attacking down the flanks.
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