West Ham secure their first away league win of the season with a hard fought 2-1 victory over QPR at Loftus Road . The defeat sees QPR remain bottom on the division on goal difference with just 2 points from 6 games thus far.
The result was earned by through a combination of West Ham’s hard work and domination of the first half aided by Mark Hughes somewhat surprising starting line up which never quite worked.
Mark Hughes made two changes following the away defeat to Spurs. Clint Hill moved back out to left in place of the absent Bosingwa with Stephane Mbia making his Premier League debut in central defence. Further forward, Holiett made way for Cisse.
QPR lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.
The Hammers started in a 4-5-1 formation with an onus on Vaz Te and Jarvis to push forward and support the lone striker of Carlton Cole. Jarvis started in place of Taylor otherwise the team was the same as that which had drawn their last league game at home to Sunderland.
When the line ups were confirmed, it was clear that the key battle would be fought in the midfield area where West Ham had numerical superiority over their hosts. The challenge for the QPR duo of Faurlin and Granero would be to successfully compete against the Hammers trio of Noble, Diame and Nolan.
The Traditional 4-4-2
It shows how far the Premiership has moved on since it’s inception that it is quite unusual to see a team line up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation yet in the first half that is precisely what QPR did. The formation still has a position in the modern game but it’s faults in an attacking sense were clear to see during this game. QPR were far too linear and were easily outmaneuvered in the central midfield area. If the desire to play both Zamora and Cisse was particularly strong, Hughes should have abandoned the flat midfield four and went with a trio, one of who could drop much deeper to reduce the space which Nolan had to operate in. The 4th midfield player could have been Wright-Phillips with Cisse handed the task of playing inward from a leftish starting position to provide balance.
Instead, the midfield struggled to build and Cisse and Zamora were disconnected as a result.
West Ham started at a high tempo, pressing their opponents and seeking to push the ball forward quickly. QPR by contract were more patient, looking to pass their way forward from defence. Faurlin was the deepest of the midfield pairing with Granero in a marginally more advanced position.
To help compensate for the numerical disadvantage and to prevent the side being overrun in midfield, Park tucked in on the left hand-side but he was largely ineffectual neither contributing to defensive or attacking phases. Wright-Phillips remained wide on the right but he was often detached from the remainder of the team.
West Ham’s pro-active start was rewarded with the opening goal after just 2 minutes. Vaz Te was wide on the right and played a one-two with the oncoming Nolan. Clint Hill moved towards the ball and failed to follow the run of Vaz Te who collcted the pass and subsequently cut the ball back for Nolan. Again, no QPR player had responded to the quick movement of Nolan and his badly mishit shot was headed in at the far post by Jarvis.
The second goal was scored by Vaz Te and whilst discussion could focus upon Julio Cesar’s poor goalkeeping given the finish from such an acute angle, questions should also be focused on QPR’s inability to defend a set piece or clear their lines effectively. Following a scramble in the 6 yard box, the ball was poorly cleared along the goal lines and Tomkins quickly returned the ball to the back post where Vaz Te was positioned to score.
It’s worth noting that both Jarvis and Vaz Te cut in and provide an option at the back post. It would be easy for either to remain on the wing when plays develops on the opposite side of the pitch but both moved inward last night, providing the option at the back posts.
Throughout the first half, Nolan repeatedly shuttled between midfield and attack causing QPR problems. Given their surprisingly flat approach, Nolan was often found between the defensive and midfield line of QPR in space.
West Ham remained the dominant force for the remainder of the first half. The problem area was midfield which QPR were unable to take control over. For the opening goal, three QPR players had been beaten by the sharp passing of two West Ham players. This was what QPR were hoping they would do to the West Ham midfield yet failed.
Next Page: Second Half analysis and Midfield Battle Opta Stats!
Even though they trailed 2-0, QPR began the second half on the back foot with West Ham again, setting the agenda.
QPR had moved to a 4-5-1 with Park now in an advanced central position and Cisse occupying the left-wing position. West Ham were still dominant though forcing Hughes into two changes which temporarily altered the dynamic of the game.
The ineffective Park and Wright-Phillips were replaced by Diakite and Taarabt with an instant impact. Diakite went central with Taarabt on the left and Granero on the right as QPR switched back to a rough 4-4-2, Taarabt and Cisse working the left. The Moroccan picked the ball up on the left-wing and cut inside. If you were being highly critical, you could argue he was afforded slightly too much space by Demel but even allowing for that his 25 yard shot which looped up and then dipped into the top of the net was a sublime finish.
The goal lifted the crowd and QPR produced a higher tempo of football with a more direct feel to their play, rather than the ponderous approach in the first half which allowed West Ham to shut them down quickly.
The changing emphasis on the game was apparent on the influence of Kevin Nolan. From being a driving force in an attacking sense in the first half, he was now supporting his midfield colleagues as they worked hard to maintain their lead.
Any hope of QPR completing their comeback more or less evaporated with the dismissal of Diakite for two quick yellow cards ending his game after just 18 second half minutes.
QPR tried to force their way back into the game and reverted to hitting long balls as the game wore on but Jaaskelainen’s most testing moments came from a couple of long-range efforts which were hit through a ruck of players as West Ham dropped to the edge of their penalty area.
The Midfield Battle
It’s worth examining a few statistics to see clearly how effective the midfield trio for West Ham actually are.
The trio is well-balanced with Diame as the defensive force, Noble shuttling between defence and attack linking play whilst Nolan seeks to break forward and support the lone striker.
These roles are shown in the stats. Diame completing more tackles and competing in more ground duels than anyone else but keeping his passing relatively simple with a high degree of accuracy. Noble attempts and completes more passes for the Hammers whilst Nolan offers more of an attacking presence.
Whilst Faurlin was able to compete on a physical level with West Ham, this is not the type of game that Granero enjoys and he was easily bullied by his opponents, losing all but one of his ground duels and only making one tackle throughout.
The problem was evident but it took 45 minutes to realise it.
Six games into the season and already West Ham look assured of remaining in the division. The style of football under Allardyce may attract critics who complain about the lack of style or finesse. Allardyce will simply point to his record which shows teams competing season after season in the Premiership with a heavily systemised brand of football based around percentages.
It’s not pure luck that Jarvis and then Vaz Te appeared at the back post. Or that West Ham often collect possession of the ball outside of the penalty area following clearances. It’s the culmination of years of studying statistics by Allardyce and his coaching staff as he seeks to extract the maximum available from the resources at his disposal.
For QPR, owner Tony Fernandes confirms there is no panic and everyone should “keep calm” and Mark Hughes stresses that they have had a “difficult run” and played some “quality sides”. This is partly true. For whilst QPR have faced Spurs, Chelsea and Man City, they have also played Swansea, Norwich and now West Ham securing just 1 point in the process. Privately, the targeted points total from these three games would have been much higher.
Whilst bedding new players into the side takes time, should the poor run of form continue, QPR could find themselves embroiled in another relegation struggle similar to last season.