The Weekend's Best Tactics: West Ham v Tottenham

West Ham’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon demonstrated manager Sam Allardyce’s creativity and ability to improvise – something which the English boss has not often been recognized for.

When I think of Sam Allardyce, I seldom think of free-flowing, attacking, ambitious football – in actuality that’s more something I would ordinarily associate with Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas but ‘Big Sam’ deserves all the plaudits this weekend for an inspired away victory for the Hammers.

Without a centre-forward fit and available for selection for Allardyce, this away trip, a London derby, against a Spurs side that spent in excess of £100 million this summer and had conceded just two goals in the Premier League probably looked like a bad day at the office ahead of him on Sunday.

However, Big Sam made some big decisions, took some big risks and got a big payout from this weekend as a result. Without Andy Carroll, Allardyce deployed a 4-5-1 formation with midfielder Mohamed Diame operating as a ‘false number 9’. He packed the midfield, knowing that Spurs would enjoy the majority share of possession, especially in central areas and especially at home.

He was proven right – the hosts had 61 per cent of possession to the Hammers’ 39 per cent – yet Spurs were unable to do anything at all with it. Spurs had 14 shots on goal but just 4 were on target over 90 minutes, compared to West Ham’s 16 shots of which 5 were on-target.

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Tottenham played their game in and around the middle of the park and the penalty area but were allowed very few clear-cut opportunities to penetrate the box – this was not down to poor finishing or passing, this was down to West Ham’s two solid banks of four that squashed an squeezed Spurs when they were without the ball, denying them space to maneuver in the final third.

The midfielders dropped back into deep positions, kept compact to squeeze the space and the Hammers’ back line was fantastic in the first-half especially, epitomized by James Tomkins who was always so well-positioned, confident and strong in the box, committed to challenges and intelligent in his clearances.

West Ham did not simply play hopeful long-balls up field when they cleared the danger – they played the ball out of the back coolly, calmly showing a great deal of composure and self-assurance under intense pressure, again especially in the first half hour.

They stifled Spurs’ possession game and frustrated the home side who grew hasty and impatient as time went on – they managed to see out the first half having kept them at bay and, in the 66th minute when they earned a corner, they took the opportunity presented to them and the lead with it, via a Winston Reid header past Hugo Loris.

For the second there was perhaps a bit of luck about Ricardo Vaz Te’s finish which rebounded off the keeper and then back on to him to finally find the net but, I hasten to add, there was absolutely nothing whatsoever ‘lucky’ about the pass from Nolan to put Vaz Te through in the first place – a perfectly weighted and times 25-yard pass for him to run on to and, prior to that, Spurs were second best to the 50-50s that West Ham made sure they were first to get the ball up field on the break.

Diame epitomized this aspect of the Hammers’ play – he was intelligent and composed on the ball all afternoon, holding up the ball and distributing in up-field with great awareness and understanding with his teammates, despite being deployed out of position. He never once looked unnatural.

The final goal ensured that West Ham earned all three points and Ravel Morrison earned all the plaudits which, whilst the youngster’s goal was a stunning bit of individual brilliance, should be distributed throughout the team for a great team performance and a great deal of ingenuity, improvisation and intelligence from manager Sam Allardyce.

image: © Ben Sutherland

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