West Ham United have enjoyed a superb start to the season which has seen them fly up to seventh place in the table. The issue now is whether they can maintain their current form and push for a European place.
West Ham United are not a great side to watch play. They don’t play the best football and they certainly don’t think outside the box when it comes to game play. However, this is what has allowed them to be so effective. They have a method based around a big central striker and they will more than likely stick to that method in the hope of stealing a Europa League place next season.
The problem they face is how they will adapt over the rest of the season. They cannot rely on a single style of play because sooner rather than later, teams are going to work out a way to nullify the style of football that West Ham play. If West Ham don’t do this and stick to their guns then expect to see them slowly sliding down the table away from European glory and into the relatively obscurity of mid-table.
There were glimpses of a different style in the match against Stoke City but it wasn’t enough to produce more than a point in a 1-1 draw. West Ham played a 4-5-1 system, again based around Andy Carroll. The difference is that Sam Allardyce instilled more width in the side with Gary O’Neil and Modibo Maiga hugging the touch line on either side of the pitch.
West Ham have based a lot of their football this season on getting the ball into Andy Carroll as quickly as possible, relying on him to hold the ball up and then flooding the final third with support. If they combine this with more of what we saw last night then they have a better chance of maintain their current league position. The wider formation creates more space in the middle of the pitch which allows players like Kevin Nolan to get on the ball and be effective.
The danger of playing the ball up to a main striker as quickly as possible is that if the opposition has a clever defender or defenders, they will quickly work out how to cut off this supply line. The fact Stoke played Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth in central defence could have been a reason for getting the ball wide but it doesn’t mean that West Ham should switch back to conventional methods when they play against defenders who are smaller or not as aggressive.
O’Neil and Maiga both had success playing wide in the draw last night and when they cut inside with the ball, it left plenty of space behind them for another midfield runner to utilise. Mohamed Diame demonstrated this brilliantly whenever Maiga moved into a slightly more central position and it was difficult for Stoke to deal with because the full backs were also trying to get forward.
The priority for West Ham is always going to be to secure safety as quickly as possible but they hinted last night that they are a much better side than many give them credit for.
image: © law_keven