West Ham blitzed past Southampton, winning another difficult match, as the club continue their climb up the table. Led by another goal from Andy Carroll, a stunner from Pedro Obiang (More on him in a minute) and an own goal from Steven Davies, the Hammers bounced back from a 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Manchester CIty.
West Ham started with a changed lineup, going out in a modified formation somewhere between a 4-4-2 and a 3-4-3.
Andy Carroll started up top, playing extremely high up the pitch (In contrast to earlier games, where he dropped far too deep into midfield.) Antonio played in behind him, in what amounted to a free role offensively, and a high press on Southampton’s midfield when West Ham lost the ball. On the flanks, Snodgrass replaced Lanzini, and impressed, while Feghouli ran himself into the ground on the right hand side.
In midfield, Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang both played very central, a luxury allowed by hard work defensively from the wingers. The defense, as is becoming usual, was designed to allow Aaron Cresswell to press high up the pitch. Kouyate slotted instantly back into the defensive minded right back position he had excelled in before AFCON, while Jose Fonte and Winston Reid manned the center of the pitch.
-West Ham In Midfield
The game featured several impressive tactical moves from Slaven Bilic, but before we move onto that, it’s important to note the fact that Pedro Obiang performed like Andrea Pirlo, Xavi and Steven Gerrard rolled into one player. Obiang has quietly been one of the best performers in claret and blue this year, but this match he stepped performances up to another level.
The combination of Noble and Obiang is, when firing on all cylinders, one of the best in the league. Strength, pace, passing, and shooting, between the two of them, every box is checked. For whatever reason, the pair hadn’t hit top form together this season, but that all changed against the Saints.
With Feghouli, Antonio and Snodgrass covering the space behind Andy Carroll, Obiang and Noble were able to focus on nullifying the threat of James Ward-Prowse.
In attack, with only Oriel Romeu defending them, the pair had time and space to pick the perfect pass. Southampton’s lackadaisical pressing, coupled with the inexperience of their defensive partnership, left plenty of room in midfield, and allowed both Noble and Obiang to finish with impressive completion rates.
-Attacks On The Left Flank and Possession in Defense
As mentioned previously, West Ham attacked mostly down the left hand side (10 of the Irons 13 crosses came from that side.) as a result of this, the whole lineup was slanted. Antonio, Feghouli and Kouyate were more defensive than Carroll, Snodgrass and Cresswell.
Switching to a back three when attacking has been a feature of West Ham’s attack for the past several months, but before Fonte moved, their was one clear weakness. Winston Reid was played at sweeper, but the New Zealander simply wasn’t comfortable enough on the ball to fill the role. With Fonte, this problem is solved.
The new signing, playing against his former side, completed 35 of 41 passes many of them under pressure from Manolo Gabbiadini and Jay Rodriguez. With Fonte comfortably avoiding the press while in possession, space was opened up for Reid and Kouyate to complete simple passes.
Reid, under limited pressure, completed 36 of 42 passes, most of them to Aaron Cresswell. Cheikhou Kouyate was less successful, but Bilic understood going in that he is less comfortable and the ball, and the team did their best to pass beyond this weak spot.
-Pressure On Romeu
The final tactic of note was the work of Michail Antonio. The Englishman was given the unenviable role of covering Oriel Romeu. Southampton’s Spanish defensive midfielder has been one of their stars this season. Romeu is a key to the Saint’s forward play, cleaning up loose balls, and passing forward to start attacks.
Antonio was never likely to steal the ball off Romeu, considering the midfielders excellent ball retention skills. Instead, Antonio pressed and harried Romeu, forcing him to pass backwards or to the side. It was a tactic that didn’t show up on stats sheets, but one that dulled Southampton’s attacks before they started.
West Ham, apart from the disaster against Manchester City, have been quietly improving in the second half of the season. Games like this should remind frustrated fans that the club is filled with talented players, and lead by a great coach. While the net result for this year may be disappointing, it isn't as hopeless as some would have you believe.
A tough run of matches against West Brom, Watford, and Chelsea sits ahead of the Hammers. It’s a set of games that could make or break the season, and matches that will test this system to it’s breaking point. While upcoming matches against carried, talented and on form opponents are a cause for concern, the latest performance from the team suggest that their should be room for cautious optimism.