In the absence of Andy Carroll through long term injury, West Ham again opted to pack the midfield in a 4-6-0, with Kevin Nolan, who occasionally ventured forward providing the Hammers’ biggest goal threat on the night, alongside emerging star Ravel Morrison, who accompanied him in a more attack minded four, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole making up foursome on either side. And yet packing the midfield didn’t pay dividends for Sam Allardyce’s side, having only 45% of the possession against Chelsea.
Chelsea opted from their traditional 4-2-3-1 from the start, with Cesar Azpilicueta deputizing for Ashley Cole once more. Towards the later stages of the game, Chelsea switched to a 4-3-3, reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s last stint at Stamford Bridge, which I’ll come onto later.
Defending in numbers and passing options
Despite their increased numbers in midfield, West Ham only had a possession of 45%, whilst Chelsea produced a solid defensive display, West Ham’s lack of quality, or numbers going forward only exasperated the issue. As shown by the picture below, with the exception of Azpilicueta, every Chelsea player is tracking or marking a West Ham attacker, nullifying the majority of West Ham’s threat solely through positioning alone. Add to the fact that Ramires is showing Downing down the line means either the ball will be passed down the line, or Downing will dummy Ramires and whip a cross into the box, the new “West Ham way”.
Downing opts to sell Ramires an excellent dummy and cross the ball into Diame, whom the ball evades. Normally, crosses into the air, mixed with physical play are staple ingredients of Sam Allardyce sides, and more often than not, they work rather well, especially at home. However, with the exception of Diame and Nolan, West Ham had no recognisable aerial threats, and yet still persisted with crosses into the box, with little end product in terms of headers, 3 headed shots throughout the whole game, only one of which was on target, out of 26 crosses. And yet the West Ham hardly committed enough numbers forward or made the runs which carve out opportunities in a game where long balls simply aren’t enough, which goes some way to explaining their attacking stagnation, had wingers pulled off of the back of full backs, and Diame made his run into the back post, West Ham could have carved out many more chances in the game. Not that I blame the players for this, in my eyes it’s Sam Allardyce that should come under fire for not only his tactical naivety in not changing his game plan to suit the more technically gifted players at his disposal, such as Joe Cole, Mark Noble and…Stewart Downing. So lumping the ball in Maiga and the onrushing Nolan is not the playing style of a team that will beat one of the top teams in the country, hence it working against North London’s second best team so effectively.
Perhaps a surprising change during Chelsea’s visit to the Jellied Eel heartland of East London was the reverting back to Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3 used during his last tenure as Stamford Bridge. The new-co 4-3-3 saw essentially the same roles filled by new people, John Obi Mikel filled the place of Claude Makalele, breaking up attacks before they started and threading the ball to his more gifted compatriots ahead of him in the form of Lampard and Oscar, who filled the dynamic box-to-box role of bench bound Ghanian, Michael Essien, and Lampard of course, playing the role he previously occupied. Curiously, had Juan Mata started on the right, as some Chelsea fans believe, myself included, then we would have also seen the now commonplace tactic of inverted wingers, such as Robben and Duff were in the original 4-3-3, Hazard on the left naturally drifed in on his stronger right, and had Mata started, he would have done the same, however, the defensive stability Ramires provided was favoured over the genius of the Spaniard.
The only change significant change of tack is the nimbler, quicker poacher in the form of Samuel Eto’o in the stead of the great Didier Drogba, this, however, could be a positive, making himself more available for through balls and link up play with the two drifting in from out wide in Mata and Hazard. However, there’s a certain Belgian on loan at Everton who plays a similar role to that of the legendary Ivorian..
So what do you think? Is 433 Chelsea’s best formation? Do West Ham need a change of tactic, manager or is the more direct approach the best? Tell me what you think.