West Ham United welcomed Cardiff City to the London Stadium after their three nil away success at Newcastle at the weekend. Cardiff City themselves were coming off the back of an impressive home win against Wolves and had been gathering some impressive results in recent weeks in their bid to avoid relegation this season. West Ham manager, Manuel Pellegrini made three changes to the side that thrashed Newcastle United at the weekend. Masuaku and Michail Antonio came in for Aaron Cresswell and Pablo Zabaleta in the fullback positions and Angelo Ogbonna came in for Balbuena at the heart of the defence.
WEST HAM (4–4–2): Lukasz Fabianski // Mikhail Antonio – Issa Diop – Angelo Ogbonna – Arthur Masuaku // Declan Rice – Mark Noble – Felipe Anderson – Robert Snodgrass // Javier Hernandez – Marko Arnautovic
Coach: Manuel Pellegrini
CARDIFF CITY (4-5-1): Neil Etheridge // Sol Bamba – Sean Morrisson – Bruno – Joe Benett // Harry Arter – Ralls – Aaron Gunnarson – Hoilett – Victor Camarasa // Callum Patterson
In the game against Newcastle United, Manuel Pellegrini departed from the 4–3–3 formation that had sparked West Ham’s renaissance and served the team so well so far this season and moved to a 4–4–2 formation that incorporated both Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez as the two forwards. The Chilean stuck with the same system against Cardiff and it was able to create several attacking permutations against Cardiff’s man-marking defensive system as West Ham completely dominated proceedings and created the best chances of the game.
In an earlier article, we talked about how Pellegrini generally prefers the use of situational width rather any one player constantly keeping the width and that principle was on display against Cardiff on Tuesday. With Felipe Anderson and Robert Snodgrass manning the wide areas and showing their propensity to play in an inverted way both in and out of possession, West Ham were able to dynamically occupy both the midfield and the wide areas due to the qualities of their players as both Anderson and Snodgrass constantly dropped into midfield to create angles for passing and open up space for both Antonio and Masuaku to overlap which they did very well; this coupled with dropping movements performed by both Chicharito Hernandez and Arnautovic enabled West Ham to overload the Cardiff midfield and have stable possession.
In the first half though, West Ham were able to progress the ball comfortably through the first two thirds and even into the final third but had issues with creating clear-cut chances mainly because both Hernandez and Arnautovic operated in pretty much the same area as they both constantly dropped to help progress the ball and whenever West Ham got the ball into crossing positions both of them held their runs to position themselves for a cut back. Because of this, West Ham had no one attacking the near post or the goal line and so Cardiff were able to defend a mostly one dimensional method of chance creation. This all changed in the second half when Lucas Perez was subbed on for Marko Arnautoic after the Austrian picked up a knock in the first half, as the Spaniard offered a nice contrast to Hernandez dropping into the half spaces by playing on the shoulder of the last defender and constantly threatening to make runs in behind. The change worked a treat as Perez scored two quickfire goals to give West Ham a comfortable lead early in the second half and Mikhail Antonio added a third later from a Snodgrass corner kick to make the points sure.
Cardiff City were thoroughly outclassed throughout the ninety minutes as they couldn’t come to grips with West Ham’s system and constant dropping and interchanging of positions. Due to their man marking systems, there was rarely any clear defensive structure from the Bluebirds as they found themselves dragged around easily by the movement and passing of the West Ham players. However, despite struggling to prevent West Ham from progressing up the pitch, they were able to defend their penalty area very well and they limited the number of chances the Hammers could create – until the second half. In the moments when they attacked, they sought to create chances primarily through one of two methods: 1) Direct wing play, usually through the dribbling ability of Hoilett on the left and crosses into the box and 2) Set pieces. This did pay some dividends as their only goal of the game came from a set piece and their best chance of the first half also came from a set piece when Arnautovic made a clumsy tackle on Hoilett but Fabianski saved a poor penalty by Ralls. They were left to rue that miss as West Ham made a slight tweak to their attacking methods in the second half and before they could come to grips with it, they were already two goals down and with a mountain to climb.
West Ham United were thoroughly dominant against Cardiff and completely deserved their victory though Fabianski will be little disappointed that he didn’t keep a clean sheet as Cardiff managed to score late on. The new system employed by Pellegrini seems to be working so far and might even be more effective with Lucas Perez in the side as he would compliment either Hernandez or Arnautovic better than if both of them played together.
For Cardiff, their abysmal away form continues as they have managed to claim just two points on the road so far scoring just three goals in the process. They are going to have to improve on that if they hope to avoid an early return to the Championship next season.
The win lifts West Ham up into 12th in mid-table while Cardiff still languish in 16th position, just two points above the drop zone.
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