West Ham collapsed against Newcastle United in a stunning 3-0 capitulation. It’s a result that may cost Slaven Bilic his job, and certainly destroyed any illusions West Ham fans had of another European charge.
The game was marked by total incompetence in almost every part of the field for West Ham, with useless midfield play overshadowed by shambolic defending. It’s a difficult game to break down tactically, because frankly, only one side displayed any semblance of cohesion. Newcastle set out with Rafa Benitez’s standard strong 4-2-3-1. West Ham ran desperately around the pitch and collapsed at the first sign of pressure.
Newcastle started in a 4-2-3-1, with debutant Joselu up front. Ayoze Perez played behind, with Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu on the flanks. Isaac Hayden and new signing Mikel Merino played in central midfield. The back four featured Javier Manquillo at left back, while center half Chancel Mbemba filled in out of position on the left. In the middle, Ciaran Clark and Jamaal Lascelles protected Rob Elliot.
West Ham, meanwhile, made several changes from a 2-0 cup victory over lower league opposition. Javier Hernandez returned up front, while Andre Ayew continued just behind him. Michail Antonio and Edimilson Fernandes played on the flanks, while two academy products held midfield in Declan Rice and Mark Noble. In defense, Pablo Zabaleta started at right back, while James Collins played alongside Angelo Ogbonna. Aaron Cresswell was the left back, while Joe Hart started between the sticks.
Newcastle set up in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation. It’s a tactic that Rafa Benitez has employed off and on throughout his career, most famously at Liverpool. Benitez has always prefered to play this formation in a very specific way, with his forward and center attacking midfielder playing almost together as a pair.
This combination of a what is best described as a ‘true 9’ alongside a ‘false 9’ paid massive dividends in many of Liverpool’s best seasons. Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano formed a perfect midfield duo, and Steven Gerrard played incredibly high up the pitch, just slightly off Fernando Torres.
Last Season, Newcastle’s lineup was similar. Gayle lead the line, and a multitude of players filled in behind.
In this game, however, Benitez changed things up. Both Ayoze Perez and Joselu dropped very deep. Often, one or even both would be playing alongside the center mids. This allowed Newcastle to outnumber West Ham in midfield, while still keeping their wide players on the touchline.
It allowed Newcastle to have six midfielders. To make matters worse, Andre Ayew constantly pushed up, meaning that Newcastle outnumbered West Ham six against four in the middle third.
This had the immediate impact of shutting off West Ham’s forward pairing. Ayew and Hernandez only touched the ball 50 times combined. In contrast, Joselu and Perez managed 78 touches.
Declan Rice and Mark Noble had plenty of time on the ball, but they had no opportunity to get the ball forward.
Frankly, the other aspects of the game are wholly unremarkable from a tactical standpoint. That is perhaps the most damming indictment of West Ham’s play. Neither side did anything particularly special.
West Ham were not overrun by clever play. They were not outperformed by brilliant tactics. At the heart of the matter, West Ham simply displayed a total lack of cohesion.
Perhaps Bilic can take some comfort from this defeat. His players are not poor. His tactics are not particularly atrocious. West Ham were defeated by a total lack of execution. No player preformed their role particularly well, and as a result every player was exposed.