The Premier League’s start has been highly discouraging for West Ham, a team that appears still far to have a good understanding of Manuel Pellegrini’s requests. The Hammers looked unbalanced in their 1-2 home loss against Bournemouth and their backline was suspect in conceding the first Callum Wilson’s goal.
Chilean’s reign at the London Stadium started with two losses in the first two league games. It’s not good news for a club that heavily spent in the transfer market to bolster the team. So, it’s time to produce a diagnosis about what Pellegrini has to fix in order to get West Ham back on the road.
First and foremost, West Ham’s troubles last on defence. On Saturday, the backline repeatedly committed mistakes that cost the game. When it comes to Bournemouth’s first goal, it was Wilson running past four players and easily beat centre-backs Fabian Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna.
Callum’s individual has seen the Italian defender particularly guilty. In fact, although he correctly collapsed behind to avoid depth to Callum, the 30-year old centre-back wrongly stay far to Callum’s right. It means that Balbuena had to slide to his left in order to face Bournemouth’s forward. Result was that Callum, with a simple right-to-left shunting, easily beat both men.
To add injury to insult, Ogbonna was culpable in Steve Cook’s winning header too. Sure, Ogbonna and Balbuena are new each other, but this defensive pair has still a lot to learn.
Furthermore, they received little help from the midfielder with central midfielders due of Jack Wilshere and Mark Noble unable to provide a stable wall in front of the backline. In general, the Hammers provided little defensive balance in the middle of the field, showing zero central compactness when out of possession.
Pellegrini pointed out that his side is still recovering from last season and that a sort of bad tactical habits is still inside his players’ minds. It could be true for the old players in the roster but shouldn’t be the case for the many arrivals which came at London Stadium after a busy transfer market.
This week’s changes didn’t work
Following last week trash suffered by Liverpool, Pellegrini made some changes in the starting lineup, dropping Michail Antonio, Ryan Fredericks and Declan Rice, but he still decided to start the game against Bournemouth with two box-to-box central midfielders and with not a true holding midfielder.
With Robert Snodgrass lined up on the right flank with Felipe Anderson on the left, West Ham’s midfield was de facto unarmed against Bournemouth’s offense. That was especially true when it comes to defend against counter-attack, with the Hammers often facing them with just seven players. The fact that Liverpool’s players too ran through West Ham’s midfield in the opener makes things a bit worrying for Pellegrini. The Hammers absolutely need to improve in the middle of the park.
When fit after his World Cup hiatus, summer signing Carlos Sanchez deserves a look at. The Colombian is not the best player in terms of technical skills, but he can provide that kind of defensive effort West Ham’s midfield showed to be needing. Another option relies on Obiang moved in front of the back-four.
Pellegrini’s decision to build from the back in a three-man defence, with the Argentinian Pablo Zabaleta pushing higher up becoming a wing-back on the right whilst left-back Arthur Masuaku retained a narrowed position on le left half-space alongside Ogbonna e Balbuena, was also supposed to provide some rest defence against Bournemouth’s counter-attacking play. However, it didn’t work properly.
Basically, West Ham’s 4-4-2 formation was fluid when in possession, with Felipe Anderson and Zabaleta on the wider areas and with Snodgrass supporting Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic up top.
The offensive display was decent enough with the Hammers producing 1.11 in terms of expected goal (xG) out from 6 shots (4 on target). But Pellegrini’s offensive players lacked accuracy being unable to score.
Felipe Anderson slightly improved his performance, compared to the one he provided against Liverpool, but he’s still far from a good shape. His approach to English football has been troubled as expected. Coming from Serie A, the Brazilian forward showed to need time to get used to Premier League’s fast and furious style of play. Former Lazio’s footballer was particularly ineffective when it came to provide some degree of defensive effort. Felipe Anderson rarely tracked back the players outrunning him.
He was good at dribbling with the ball at his feet (3/4 succeeded) but was a bit inaccurate with his passes (just 80% completed).
Snodgrass, Felipe Anderson’s counter part on the right, was less involved in the play as testified by his 25 passes played (86% accurate). He also was 0/7 in crosses made.
At the end, Pellegrini still has a lot to work. His side showed the deficiencies on both the sides of the ball. He has to restore players’ faith on his work and also has some tactical adjustments to do in order to improve his team’s defensive structure, vertical compactness and to improve up front too.
First and foremost, he needs to address the situation in front of his side’s four-men backline. A three-man midfield could be an option, but it should mean to drop one between Hernandez and Arnautovic or move the Austrian out wide.
Secondly, Pellegrini needs Felipe Anderson quickly claw his shape back. The Brazilian wasn’t cheap as West Ham spent a lot to bring him from Lazio this summer. Felipe Anderson is a very skillful players, as the same Chilean head coach pointed out after his arrival. Now, Pellegrini needs to find the right way to get the best out from him.
Maybe the 64-years old manager could line up the Brazilian up front, as long as he regains a decent shape, or he could employ former Lazio’s player as winger in a five-man midfield, surrounding him with a midfield trio featuring Wilshere, Noble and a holding midfielder as Sanchez or Ogbonna. It could help Felipe Anderson to get more freedom moving up top or from the flank to the near half-space, allowing him also a decent coverage at his back against counter-attacks.