It finished Spurs 0 West Ham 3 but this game was about a lethargic Tottenham team coming up against a Hammers side that stifled us by playing four central midfielders in a box.
West Ham’s stifling tactics
Without Andy Carroll and Modibo Maiga, Sam Allardyce effectively went 4-6-0, deploying a similar tactic to West Ham 2 Spurs 3 at Upton Park last season. In that game he tried to use three players to jam the middle, but this time, without a recognised centre forward, he went with four who played in a box shape.
When not in possession, West Ham were quick to retreat and sat deep. Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan were at the base of the box, with Mohammed Diame and Ravel Morrison playing higher up.
This gave central defenders Winston Reid and James Tomkins a screen and effectively got six players in the middle of the park, clogging up the space in this zone.
West Ham then kept two players in the wide areas, with Guy Demel being supported by Stewart Downing and Razvan Rat by Ricardo Vaz Te.
I’m not a big fan of average position diagrams as they can be drastically altered by players switching wings etc, but West Ham’s illustrates their stifling tactics perfectly. The four man box screening the central defenders is highly evident, as are the two players to defend in wide areas.
The result with us playing so narrow was that West Ham were able to win the ball back due to having so many bodies in the middle of the park. These four central midfielders set up in their box, snuffed the ball out and won it back, with a large proportion of their tackles being in this central location.
The problem for Spurs was that the space was out on the flanks where West Ham were playing 2v2. However, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend were moving inside, in to all the congestion.
The full backs should have helped provide the width, but they did not get forward enough.
Spurs struggle to get the full backs up
As we’ve seen this season, our full backs are a vital part of our attack, especially with us playing with wide forwards rather than wingers.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have been excellent at firing forward, looking to receive passes in-behind their opposing numbers. This means that they can then provide short crosses or cut backs. Kyle Walker’s assist to Nacer Chadli in Anzhi 0 Spurs 2 on Thursday night was a prime example of this.
Without the highly attack-minded Rose, Kyle Naughton struggled to get forward down the left. He wasn’t aided by Gylfi Sigurdsson playing his usual role of moving inside.
Normally this isn’t a problem as it creates space for Rose to overlap, but here Sigurdsson was moving in to a highly congested area and Naughton was unable to get on the ball above the West Ham penalty area like Rose often does.
A similar pattern was emerging on the other side, where Andros Townsend was also moving in to this congested central area.
Townsend likes to cut inside on to his stronger left foot and shoot, but often ran in to the barrage of defenders in the middle. When he went down the outside, he did create some opportunities and also panic in the West Ham defence – his cross that Defoe flung himself at, but couldn’t connect with, being a prime example.
As on the other side, Townsend was rarely helped by Kyle Walker. Our right back usually has pace to burn, but here he looked like he was carrying an injury or was just tired from a long trip and playing 90 minutes in Russia.
Walker did see more of the ball, but like Naughton, he didn’t get it high enough up the pitch.
Spurs rarely get inside the box
The result of West Ham’s tactics to sit deep, allow no space in-behind, clog the middle with four central midfielders and play 2v2 in wide areas, meant that we rarely got in to the box to shoot. Most of efforts were from outside the penalty area, except from a rare moment when Jermain Defoe snuck in.
In line with how we’ve been creating chances this season, the opportunity arrived from a through ball looking to find a runner in-behind the defence.
In a rare moment, Paulinho was able to get on the ball in between West Ham’s four central midfielders and looked to slide in Defoe who had pulled off his marker.
Defoe was unable to convert as Jussi Jaaskelainen came rushing off his line, but had he done, then this game would have taken on a different complexion.
As it was, this was the only real moment when we opened up their defence, as Defoe was struggling for space to operate by playing so narrow himself.
With his goals in recent matches, Defoe has earned the right to have a shout at the starting spot as our number nine. The problem for him is that he rarely gets involved in the build up play and has a tendency to operate narrow and on the shoulder. In this match, that style played right in to West Ham’s plans to sit deep and clog the middle.
West Ham take advantage on the counter
Sam Allardyce teams are well renowned for packing the six-yard box at corners and they opened the scoring by doing just that.
They not only get men close in, but they also spread them well across this area in order to try and control rebounds if the first effort is saved or parried.
Here, Winston Reid had his header stopped by Nolan, but the positioning of the five players across the six-yard box meant they were first to the loose ball. Jan Vertonghen was pushed in the back by Reid, but he didn’t appeal and the referee chose not to stop the play.
Whilst the game was at 0-0 West Ham rarely troubled on the counter, but after Reid’s strike, the match opened up and they capitalised.
Ricardo Vaz Te made it 2-0 with a fortunate ricochet, but the move started as a result of Paulinho being put under pressure by West Ham’s box in central midfield. As he was challenged the ball broke loose, but Dembele was beaten to it and Mark Noble was able to send Vaz Te scampering free.
The third also arrived on the counter and came after a hopeful ball was chipped towards the West Ham box. Diame pulled down the clearance and laid the ball forward to Ravel Morrison on the run.
With us having heavily over-committed when Morrison received the ball, we only had one man inside our own half. That was Michael Dawson and he was no match for the West Ham man’s speed, neither was he able to keep him going left on to his weaker side and the game was over.
Spurs 0 West Ham 3 conclusions
After the match Andre Villas-Boas said “You can always be vulnerable against teams that defend well, control the spaces well and make it difficult. They look to hit you on the counter and West Ham did that well.”
And that is precisely what West Ham did here. They sat deep to deny space in-behind. Used four central midfielders to congest the centre. Then looked to play on the counter attack using the speed of Ravel Morrison and Ricardo Vaz Te.
To go against this, we really should have tried to exploit the wide areas, but weren’t helped by Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend moving inside. They in turn weren’t aided by our full backs inability to get forward and offer support. Up top Jermain Defoe was playing extremely narrow and a striker with more lateral movement was needed here against a deep lying defence.
After a long trip to Russia, we looked tired and didn’t really move the ball around with any pace and West Ham were able to pick us off once they had taken the lead from a trade mark set piece.
Final score: Spurs 0 West Ham 3.