The compact and aggressive nature of the Hammers’ formation gave no end of problems as it finished West Ham 1-0 Spurs at the London Stadium.
Slow, sloppy and stagnant Spurs ran out of ideas against a resolute West Ham side. Slaven Bilic made his team difficult to play through, but also tenacious in their closing down, as it finished West Ham 1-0 Spurs in our Premier League clash.
West Ham’s 5-4-1
Slaven Bilic set his team up to be immensely difficult to play through. There were a number of keys to his side’s defensive system.
Firstly they kept an extremely compact distance from back to front. Often defending from the halfway line, the back three squeezed up to the midfield, making the team difficult to play through.
Secondly, the four midfielders played very close and tight together. Operating in this fashion, they could gang tackle and swarm around the ball if play pondered in the centre.
Thirdly, The three centre backs and four midfielders moved around in tight-knit groups. Depending on the location of the ball, they shifted to that side. The two wingbacks were thus left free to focus on our full backs.
In the image below, Eric Dier has the ball and is encountered by the four midfielders tight together and the three centre backs close behind. The Wingbacks, Aaron Cresswell and Sam Byram, don’t even have their body positions towards the ball. The pair was firmly focussed on waiting for Kyle Walker and Ben Davies, ready to move should the ball go their way.
The strategy made West Ham tremendously difficult to play through. The Hammers would set up and defend from halfway, but would also press in moments if our centre backs played a loose pass or were caught facing backwards.
West Ham was also clearly targeting the kicking of Hugo Lloris. Any time the Hammers could rush or close down Hugo with the ball at his feet, they would take the opportunity to test him.
Spurs chance creation
Chances were kept to a minimum by West Ham’s tactics. When opportunities did arise, they came from two methods.
Firstly, longer passes to get the ball quickly on to the West Ham back line. West Ham’s four central midfielders were proving a real hurdle to overcome until we went straight over them.
A long ball from Toby Alderweireld looked for the run of Son Heung-Min in-behind. Son’s cushioned header saw shots for Harry Kane, Dele Alli and then Kane once more. Adrian hung out a leg and managed to deflect the ball over the bar.
Our second, and more prevalent method of chance creation method, was the ball down the sides of the back three. We’d looked in the West Ham vs Spurs match preview at how opponents have had success doing this and Spurs were no different.
A trio of good opportunities presented themselves from hitting the channels between the outside centre back and wingback. Son Heung-Min was the first in to this space as he received a pass from Kyle Walker.
Son cut the ball back to Christian Eriksen, but he uncharacteristically snatched at the shot, sensing less time than he really had.
Next it was Son once more. Christian Eriksen returned the favour to put him down the outside of the centre backs.
Son’s cross shot forced a good save from Adrian, but Kyle Walker on the overlap seemed a better option.
Later in the match and Spurs tried the other flank. Sam Byram hauled Son down and received a yellow card to stop the South Korean’s next foray through the inside channels. Dele Alli then exchanged passes with Vincent Janssen to get himself down the outside of the three centre backs.
Alli’s ball back across the box agonisingly missed Harry Kane who couldn’t escape the attentions of the other two centre backs. It was the story of much of the game as West Ham always seemed to have an extra defender.
West Ham attacking our full backs
The Hammers had been very passive-aggressive with our full backs. In the defensive phase they were only looking to track them once they got the ball for fear of getting caught in sprint races. When in possession, the Hammers looked to attack the spaces that Kyle Walker and Ben Davies had vacated.
West Ham operated a quick strike mentality. As soon as the ball was turned over, they looked to hit the spaces our full backs had left. The ploy saw a number of chances. Jonathan Calleri was twice given offside before Manuel Lanzini showed how it should be done.
Lanzini was found by Andre Ayew, but fired wide when it looked easier to cut the ball back for Calleri to tap in.
The diminutive Argentinean was then found by Mark Noble’s through pass, but was thwarted by Hugo Lloris rapidly racing from his line.
West Ham takes the lead
West Ham then took the lead from this tactic of quickly hitting the spaces left by our full backs. We did not help ourselves by making a catalogue of defensive errors.
West Ham won the ball back in midfield and immediately looked to get it wide to Manuel Lanzini. The Argentinean had space on the left and was joined by Aaron Cresswell to create a 2v1 against Kyle Walker. Whilst this was going on, West Ham had two key players, Calleri and Ayew, in offside positions, but not interfering with play. However, they would benefit later in the move.
Lanzini played in Cresswell on the overlap to cross and this is where the errors started. Toby Alderweireld was drawn out to challenge Cresswell, leaving a huge hole in the centre. Son Heung-Min, who was with Lanzini, didn’t track him.
The pair then did defensive opposites. Son stood still. Alderweireld, instead of moving in to pick up Lanzini in the six-yard box, went back on to the goal line.
The cross came back in from Creswell and the earlier offside Ayew and Calleri both became active. Calleri kept the ball in, potentially via a hand that Eric Dier got caught appealing for, and thus losing his man. Ayew was now in a position to be first to the second ball. Ayew’s shot struck Vertonghen and fell perfectly for Lanzini who had the freedom of the six-yard box.
Toby Alderweireld was powerless to stop Lanzini lashing the loose ball home to make it West Ham 1-0 Spurs and put us firmly in a hole.
Tinker happy in previous matches, Mauricio Pochettino strangely didn’t tamper with our setup until forced to.
No space to work in meant the Dier-Wanyama partnership in the pivot was not working. However, Mousa Dembele wasn’t brought on until after West Ham had taken the lead.
Pochettino then introduced Vincent Janssen as we went two up top in a desperate search for a goal. Our formation shifted to a 4-4-2 with Christian Eriksen in central midfield alongside Mousa Dembele. Caution was thrown to the wind and gaps were left that almost saw West Ham add a second rather than us score an equaliser.
We ended up firing long balls that played right in to West Ham’s hands. Jose Fonte Winston Reid and James Collins are tough, hands on defenders that enjoy a physical tussle. Pumping long balls towards Kane and Janssen just saw the three centre backs hoover them up.
Kieran Trippier was introduced to provide some service for Kane and Janssen. The right back swung in a couple of decent crosses, but by this time we were running out of ideas and the Hammers back three were first to them.
Time ran out as West Ham almost broke away and scored with our team caught all over the place chasing an equaliser. The frustration of not being able to break down their ultra compact defensive setup had vested itself in the desperation of our play.
West Ham 1-0 Spurs overall
Credit to West Ham for having a game plan. Slaven Bilic set his side up to swarm the centre of the pitch and counter attack in to the areas our full backs vacated. It worked perfectly.
Mauricio Pochettino has been quick to change formations and personnel recently, but he was slow to do that here. The lack of swifter decision-making ended up costing us dearly, as we were a goal down before any alterations.
The word bottle was thrown around a lot following this game. Always likely to finish in second place in this season’s Premier League, Spurs pushed Chelsea longer than any other team. There was no loss of nerve nor throwing the title away from a leading position, just a failure to win a tenth successive game to make Chelsea wait another week.
This style of game was always going to happen. Spurs need a plan to counter negative set ups rather than always steaming ahead with trying to overpower them. Adopting a counter attack approach to draw them out is one option. Playing a 4-4-2 diamond is another. Plenty of food for thought going forward.
Final score: West Ham 1-0 Spurs.