Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United welcomed Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea the latest edition of the East vs West London derby. The blues were in fine form having won all their games so far in the season while West Ham had just bucked a losing streak and picked up their first points of the season with the win away at Everton.
So far, Chelsea had lit up the premier league with beautiful attacking football in their base 4 – 3 – 3 formation while West Ham were struggling with compactness issues and only partially solved them vs Everton. For this match, Manuel Pellegrini went for a 4 -1 – 4 – 1 formation when West Ham were defending (which was most of the time) with Declan Rice retaining his place in the #6 position just in front of the defense. Variety is the spice of life and the contrast of styles made for an interesting tactical spectacle.
West Ham (4 – 1 – 4 – 1): Lukasz Fabianski // Pablo Zabaleta – Diop – Balbuena – Masuaku // Rice // Noble – Obiang – Felipe Anderson – Yarmolenko // Mikhail Antonio
Coach: Manuel Pellegrini
Chelsea (4 – 3 – 3): Kepa // Azpilicueta – David Luiz – Rudiger (Cahill) – Alonso // Jorginho – Kante – Mateo Kovacic // Hazard – Willian – Giroud
Coach: Maurizio Sarri
Coming up against the might of a team as good as Chelsea, it was interesting to see ow Manuel Pellegrini would set up his West Ham team. Despite is reputation as an offensive minded coach, the Chilean chose not to go “gung ho” and set up is team in a 4 – 1 – 4 – 1 formation in an extremely low block. The two wingers, Felipe Anderson and last week’s match winner Andriy Yarmolenko would tuck in alongside Noble and Obiang completing the second line of four behind lone centre forward Mikhail Antonio while Declan Rice stayed between the lines to sweep up and nullify the treat of players like Hazard that like to operate in these areas.
Chelsea for thier part set up in Sarri’s normal 4 – 3 – 3 with the only wrinkle in the system being the freedom of Movement that was given to Belgian talisman Eden Hazard. The roles of the full backs varied as Cesar Azpilicueta was used as an extra centre back to control the West Ham counter attacks while Alonso was given more offensive license to attack the width of the pitch, this was down to the contrasting behaviour of Chelsea’s right and left wingers with Hazard operating in a very inverted manner while Willian operated as a more traditional winger – holding the width and trying to put in crosses after winning 1 vs 1 duels out wide.
For about eighty percent of the match, it looked like a training drill of attack vs defense, and the Hammers were resolute in their defense. Antonio rarely tracked back and didn’t even try to to unsettle Jorginho, allowing him to dictate the play for Chelsea throughout the match, perhaps this was a deliberate ploy for the striker to conserve his energy as he was usually the one to provide the out ball for West Ham while being supported by Yarmolenko in the few moments that the Hammers did go forward.
Chelsea were faced with a resolute defense and it was interesting to see the tactical methods tat Maurizio Sarri set in motion to try and help his team come away with the points, Kante and Kovacic were important for Chelsea in their efforts to break down West Ham’s low block as they acted ahead of Jorginho and tried to combine in the few spaces that West Ham did give up. due to Willian’s high and wide positioning, Masuaku would sometimes find himself disconnected from his back line and gaps would open up between him and Diop for Kante to run into. This was the dynamic at work in the two headers that the Frenchman challenged for inside the West Ham box, fortunately, Kante is probably the least offensive player in the Chelsea line up and these half chances remained just that.
In some moments, Chelsea were able to draw West Ham’s midfield line forward and overload Rice in the #10 space, this was usually done situationally as the player – usually either Kante or Willian would be making their way to occupy the aforementioned space between Masuaku and the LCB thereby drawing the attentions of Rice as a he patrolled between the lines; while Rice was thus occupied, Hazard would vacate his position on the left and come all the way over from Rice’s blind side, Rice would then be faced with a decisional crisis and Azpilicueta would then pass diagonally into one of those players. With better execution and quicker play, Chelsea might ave been able to release Alonso who was usually unmarked on the far side, in the event, the event, West Ham’s forward lines would collapse backward and constrict the space, usually at the same time one centre back would step up and engage the ball carrier. In this way, West Ham paired a low block with a very effective offside trap and successfully frustrated the Blues.
This was a fantastic result for West Ham as they showed a steel, resolve and defensive resilience that had not been on show until now. It’s true they didn’t much of the ball but they also could have won if Yarmolenko had kept his header on target; the #6 position as so far been a problem position in the midfield but it seems that Declan Rice will be able to make it his own after two immense displays against Everton and Chelsea.
After just two games, the storm clouds seem to have lifted over Pellegrini as he seems to have found a winning formula for his team, it certainly feels like this West Ham side are more suited to playing on the counter attack with the pace and power that they have got and Pellegrini would do well to hone this further.