Premier League

Pellegrini has tools to bring West Ham Way to London Stadium

 • by James Nalton
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West Ham United go into the new season with a rare optimism, thanks to a number of exciting new signings and a manager who plays the type of football they have been pining for in East London.

The club now have a high-profile manager who has been there and done it, and is one of only three bosses currently working in the Premier League who can claim to have lifted the trophy.

Manuel Pellegrini is a seasoned campaigner, and the 64-year-old is the third oldest manager working in the division this season, behind Roy Hodgson and Neil Warnock.

But unlike the English pair, he has been able to reach the pinnacle in England, as well as Spain, thanks to his tactical acumen and willingness to take risks.

These came to the fore primarily during his time at Villarreal; a relatively small city whose football club have only become a top-tier presence since the turn of the century.

The Chilean boss is responsible for establishing them as a regular force, not just in the top division, but in the top half of the table, as the Castellonense continue to punch above their weight.

The 4-2-2-2 tactics used by Pellegrini during this time helped Villarreal to their best-ever league finishes, reaching third in his first season, and finishing runners-up behind Real Madrid in 2008, which was to be his last season with the club as he was headhunted by Real.

Villarreal also qualified for the Champions League on the back of that third-place finish in 2005, making it as far as the semi-finals where they were eventually knocked out by a solitary goal over two legs against Arsenal.

A 4-3-1-2 formation was also used, and for a short time managed to get the best out of Juan Roman Riquelme, one of the great Argentine playmakers, who flourished under his fellow South American before their relationship turned sour.

A standard 4-2-3-1 also got an outing on occasions when more defensive solidity was needed.

Although the Premier League is a much tougher test, this experience bodes well as Pellegrini takes over a club such as West Ham, who are also trying to establish themselves as a top-half force in a league with a number of contenders for the European places.

The willingness to switch formations will also be useful, and this will be vital if he is to get the best out of the club’s new signings, and the big personalities such as Marko Arnautović, Manuel Lanzini, and Javier Hernández who are already at the club.

As well as the big characters of the type Pellegrini was used to working with at Real and Manchester City, there are plenty of the creative talents on the books at West Ham, and this could see a return to his 4-2-2-2, dropping to 4-4-2 in defence, with a 4-2-3-1 against tougher opposition.

A 4-2-4 also made regular appearances during his time at City, where a Premier League triumph and the stability he brought to the club post-Mancini, cannot be underestimated when charting the club’s rise to their current status. This shape would be another option for West Ham.

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But more important than any tactical considerations could be the change in mindset. The belief that this group of players are good enough to take on anyone, just like his Villarreal side did.

“I think it’s really important when you are trying to instill a big team mentality, going out to attack, that you keep your idea about football,” Pellegrini said recently.

“You can change the system, that doesn’t matter at all. I think the system is the least important thing. The important thing is the players themselves.

“What’s important for me is my idea about football, and not compromising it just because you face a high-quality opponent.

“Of course you have to take the opponent into account as far as the main characteristics of their game are concerned, but if you consider what your opponent does as a priority over your own system, then you’d be changing the team every week.”

It will be a return to the West Ham way, but whether this is enough to navigate the choppy waters of the Premier League remains to be seen.

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The club has faced plenty of uncertainty, and has seen a fair amount of unrest in recent times, with the move to the London stadium looking like a worse decision with each passing month.

If Pellegrini can get the football flowing then the stands may begin to erupt too, but there’s still the feeling that a smaller, more compact arena would have been a better theatre to facilitate a Hammers rise.

The new players will help, though, and the arrivals of the likes of Issa Diop at the back, and Felipe Anderson further forward strengthens the squad in two key areas.

Add these to the star names already at the club, and West Ham could be one of the best sides to watch this season, regardless of which stadium they’re playing at, home or away.

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