I don’t see Andre Ayew as an out-and-out striker. That’s sad, since West Ham spent an abhorrent sum of money on him hoping he would be the marquee striker the Hammers are dying for. West Ham could use a good striker signing, but in reality, the strikers the Hammers have now can get the job done.
Ayew is creative and knows where the back of the net is, but for West Ham’s attack to be truly lethal – or as close as it can be – he needs someone who can hold up the play and attract attention in the box, giving space for West Ham’s creative players to go to work.
As a result, Slaven Bilic should consider moving to a two-striker formation. Ayew will still be a striker, but it gives him more freedom to find space to hurt the opposition. Against Stoke City, Ayew tracked back to West Ham’s defensive half to get a touch on the ball. While Ayew’s frustration is hardly shocking since the service to him was nonexistent, it leaves the Hammers with no one to lead the line.
Through injuries, Bilic does not have too many options at his disposal in terms of strikers. Playing Simone Zaza along with Ayew may work, but West Ham must avoid playing him too regularly, lest it trigger a €20m permanent move to east London from his parent club Juventus. His on-loan partner Jonathan Calleri hardly made a good impression with his early opportunities at the club, and has since been an unremarkable substitute.
Injuries to Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho have kept out the two best candidates to play alongside of Ayew. But fortunes could be turning as Sakho could return as near as Tottenham away, according to West Ham’s Head of Medical and Sports Science Stijn Vandenbroucke. Until Sakho is 100%, it would be wise for Bilic to look at Ashley Fletcher.
The 21-year-old striker deserves his chance at consistent first team football. Despite being without a goal so far in his seven appearances with the club, he has shown good movement and promise in his limited game time. Compared to Zaza and Calleri (with the help of squawka.com), the former Manchester United product betters them in shot accuracy, while staying competitive in terms of pass completion and aerial duels.
So, following the international break, how can the Hammers line up for Tottenham away?
Here are three two-striker formations West Ham can use.
Option 1: 4-1-3-2
This would involve Bilic reverting back to four in defense. With Sam Byram injured, and Alvaro Arbeloa a step out of full fitness, the right back position is something of a problem. Cheikhou Kouyate has been a stand out player for the Hammers since playing the right side of a back three, and he is enough of a team player to slide out as a fullback. Otherwise it will be Michail Antonio stuck as a right back, and we all know he is not one.
The attacking width with this formation is good, and with Fletcher and Ayew leading the line, it could lead to much-needed goals.
Mark Noble would lose his place to Pedro Obiang. The Spanish holding midfielder had his shakiest match this season against Stoke City, misplacing some passes, but he has proved to be a consistent defensive option. Noble, on the other hand, has struggled.
Noble may offer more in the attacking game, but Obiang is a sturdier defender and a useful figure for this attack-minded formation.
James Collins reportedly suffered a calf injury during the Stoke City, so his presence in the central defense is questionable. If he is out against Tottenham, Kouyate can play as center back, and either Arbeloa or Antonio will cover at right back. Should it be Antonio, Bilic will likely employ either Edimilson Fernandes or Sofiane Feghouli on the right side of the attacking midfield.
Option 2: 5-3-2
This could be seen as a 3-5-2 as well. This formation relies heavily on the attacking ability of the fullbacks. Luckily for West Ham, both Antonio and Cresswell offer just that.
But with only two players in the attacking midfield, it will force Obiang to cover a lot of ground in the attacking half of the pitch. Payet and Lanzini will have less freedom to roam to wider parts of the field unless Ayew can drop back and play under Fletcher, or Cresswell and Antonio play on the wing, rather than as wing-backs. Both could work, and it would end up as a 5-4-1 of sorts or a 3-5-2.
Bilic did use Ayew in a similar role as that against Chelsea, his first West Ham game and one in which he left due to injury after half an hour. Andy Carroll started as a striker, and Ayew played right wing.
A three center back formation will likely only be employed as long as Collins is fit to face Tottenham, as Reid has a hamstring injury and Reece Oxford is reportedly on crutches following a high ankle sprain. If Collins is unfit, Bilic will likely be forced to play with four defenders, or start Havard Nordveit in the central of defense, a position the holding midfielder has some experience with.
Option 3: 4-2-2-2
This formation keeps Noble in the formation, and as he is captain, that could be likely. Two central midfielders does offer a sturdy defense. Bilic may elect to make this a 4-2-3-1, and that formation would work as well. Ayew could play on the right side of the attacking midfield, with Lanzini in the middle.
The Argentinian playmaker works better in the middle of the pitch than on the wing. Having only two attacking midfielders will force him to bring the ball wider, yet the 23-year-old is adept at finding space in the clustered middle of the box - both of his goals this season are from just outside the six yard box.
With only two attacking midfielders, it is difficult to find a place for Antonio. Should Collins be unfit, Antonio may find himself as right back once more, and against Tottenham, that is less than ideal.
While Fletcher is less experienced than Sakho, I see the England U-20 striker as a better starter in any of these formations. Sakho has been out of football for a long time, and is not likely to be up to full speed for a derby match against Spurs. At most, look for a substitute appearance from the Senegalese international.
Best option: 4-1-3-2
Playing in a 4-1-3-2 would keep the defense solid, but has an attacking element that could bring about goals. The flaws of the other two formations are not seen in a 4-1-3-2. It offers width and a sturdy defense. Obiang can focus on being a buffer for the back four, not wasting energy running up the field.
Antonio was unlucky to have his goal against Stoke City changed to a Glenn Whelan own goal. Keeping Antonio on the attack is key. The 26-year-old leads the Hammers with five goals. A 4-1-3-2 offers Antonio an attacking role from the opening kickoff.
Bilic may elect any number of formations, but utilizing Ayew as a lone striker will not bring the end result the Hammers need. Sitting in 17th in the Premier League, West Ham needs goals. They will come if there is adequate striker play - and that does not mean it has to be the strikers converting them.
Fletcher can provide the holdup play and garner attention in the box for Ayew, Payet, Lanzini and Antonio can find space and score.