Prolonging the inevitable. That was the feeling after West Ham United recorded their first win of the Premier League season on Monday night. The Hammers hosted Huddersfield Town, who wasted no time acclimatising to life in the top flight and were undefeated going into the game at the Olympic Stadium.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilić was under intense scrutiny after losing all three of their Premier League matches to kick off the season. And, purposely or not, owner David Sulivan heaped more pressure on the 49-year-old when he revealed the the former centre-back rejected the chance to sign Renato Sanches and Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Both midfielders went on to join rivals – Sanches is now plying his trade at the Liberty Stadium while Krychowiak has filled the Darren Fletcher shaped void at West Brom.
Bilić put all of his eggs in the one basket. He banked on the club bringing William Carvalho to the London. Negotiations with Sporting Lisbon broke down, however, and the Hammers weren’t able to get that deal over the line. There are suggestions they may rekindle their interest in the Portuguese destroyer in January.
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With all of this in mind, it had appeared as though Bilić would be the next manager to be shown the exit door following on from Crystal Palace sacking Frank de Boer.
Perhaps it was a last throw of the dice on Bilić’s part when he switched to a 3-4-3 formation against Huddersfield. Maybe he opted to use it because of the players he had at his disposal. Either way it worked and the Terriers were hammered by the new look shape.
West Ham left it late, with two goals coming in the final 18 minutes, but they were well worth the three points, and on another day, with a bit more fortune, the scoreline would’ve shown just how dominant they were.
The West Ham Shape
Switching to a back-three used to be viewed as a defensive move but over recent seasons it’s evolved so it’s much more of an attacking switch.
The 3-4-3 system suited the Londoners. It allowed wing-backs Aaron Cresswell and Pablo Zabaleta the freedom to support the attack in the knowledge they had three centre-backs behind them.
All three took up central areas, as shown in the graphic below courtesy of whoscored.com, and it was difficult for Huddersfield to keep tabs on them. They were all interchanging and linking up in different areas of the pitch.
It’s strange to think of Hernandez, known to be a poacher, dropping deep to link play and working the channels but that’s exactly what was happening.
West Ham would looked to go long to make use of Carroll’s strength in the air – he won 14 of his 17 aerial duels – and Hernàndez, along with Antonio, was tasked with picking up the second ball.
It worked and Huddersfield, who had appeared to be resolute and defensively solid in their previous matches, were stretched and scrambling to keep West Ham out.
You see the three of them working together in the above three pictures. The ball is played long and Carroll manages to bring it down on his chest and poke it to Hernandez who was in close proximity.
The Mexican moves the ball forward into the path of Antonio, who had drifted into a central advanced area as soon Carroll had received the ball from deep. He then looks to play the ball out wide to the former Liverpool striker who was breaking forward into the space down the right hand side. Yes, that is Carroll acting as a marauding right winger.
While this is going on you see Hernández looking to exploit the space to the left of Antonio. It’s as though it was a rehearsed routine.
The away side manage to intercept Antonio’s pass and stop the attack dead. But it was last gasp defending.
This wasn’t the only example of the trio linking up to cause David Wagner’s men trouble. Make no mistake about it, Hernández, Antonio and Carroll would cause a number of Premier League teams trouble. Their strengths all compliment one another.
The goals may have only arrived after the ex-Manchester United hitman was replaced by Andre Ayew, but the partnership between the attacking players was encouraging and it’s something Bilić should look to build his team around. Marko Arnautović, the club’s record signing, may rue that red card he picked up against Southampton.