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West Ham scored early and late against Birmingham to edge past a tough Championship team in the third round of the FA Cup. It was Lee Camp’s error which led to Marco Arnautovic to open the scoring. Arnautovic’s 20th-minute replacement, Andy Carroll finished off the plucky Blues in the 90th minute with a classic Andy Carroll goal, finishing from a deep cross to the far post from his head.
It was a difficult game for the Hammers despite their quick start. Gary Monk’s men grew into the game and proved worthy challengers at the London Stadium. Silva’s sharpness inside the box forced a corner in the first minute of the game. This lead to West Ham’s opening goal when goalkeeper Lee Camp flapped at a soft header from Ogbonna, pushing the ball into the middle of the goal and right onto Arnautovic‘s head. It was his ninth goal of the season and made him West Ham’s joint top goalscorer.
The temperamental Austrian and Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini seemed to have a disagreement when the goalscorer was subbed in the 20th minute with a slight back injury. Pellegrini, however, will be buoyed to have the injury-plagued Andy Carroll come through a 70-minute spell on the pitch. The substitute scored his first goal since April in the 90th minute, along with making a goal-line clearance in the first half and hitting the crossbar. He even missed a gilt-edged opportunity when he mis-controlled an attempt to take the ball around the Blues goalkeeper.
It was a 4-3-3 for a West Ham side who lacked leadership at times without Mark Noble and Pablo Zabaleta. Boss Pellegrini will be pleased to see recent arrival Samir Nasri get through almost 60 minutes of competitive action after serving an 18-month doping ban.
Nasri played alongside the impressive young talent of Declan Rice and Pedro Obiang in a midfield three for the Hammers. Twenty-one-year-old Silva and 20-year-old Diangana played out wide, while Arnautovic got through 20 minutes before being replaced by Andy Carroll.
Adrian replaced the impressive former Arsenal keeper Lukasz Fabianski in goal. He was protected by the back four of Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna as central defenders with Antonio and Masuaku right and left-back respectively.
Gary Monk fielded a strong starting XI with hopes of getting one over on the Blues’ former owners David Gold and David Sullivan. With plenty of sour taste left in the mouths of the travelling faithful, it was the away fans who made the atmosphere on the day.
Top scorers Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz led the line for Birmingham in a 4-4-2 formation. The industrious Gary Gardner and Kieftenbeld in central midfield were flanked by the tricky Jacques Maghoma and Connor Mahoney.
Lee Camp was in goal with a back four in front of him of Wes Harding and Maxime Colin right and left-back respectively. The impressive Harlee Dean, who won a huge 88% of his aerial duels whilst containing Arnautovic and Carroll, and Michael Morrison were the two central defenders.
Full-backs the difference
It was Michail Antonio and the ever impressive Arthur Masuaku who made the difference for the Hammers on the day. With the West Ham having over 73% of possession during the game, it was thanks to the high starting positions of Antonio and Masuaku who allowed continuous ball retention by the Hammers.
With both full-backs playing in higher areas of the pitch and the insurance of Declan Rice – who recovered the ball 17 times, more than any other player on the field – West Ham successfully completed 86% of their 604 total passes. Of those, 148 were played forward compared to just 56 of Birmingham’s.
The image above shows how West Ham took advantage of Birmingham’s midfield four. Antonio and Masuaku (circled) provided width, allowing Diangana and Silva to play in half-spaces and force Birmingham to narrow their lines. As a result, West Ham’s full-backs crossed a huge amount, becoming critical to their team’s ball advancement and retention.
With the width provided by Antonio and Masuaku, the Hammers were able to overload Birmingham’s midfield four and stretch them to defend bigger areas than they would have liked. Nasri subsequently completed 96% of his passes in his first game in 18 months, the highest rate of any player.
Declan Rice created 3v2 situations with his central defenders to play against Blues strikers Adams and Jutkiewicz, allowing West Ham to advance the ball through the thirds of the field. Nasri and Obiang were up against the Blues’ central midfield of Gardner and Kieftenbeld, with Antonio and Masuaku playing in the next layer. This allowed Diangana and Silva to invert into inside channels, thus overloading the Birmingham midfield.
With the above rotations and positional play, the Hammers full-backs had the freedom to create almost at will. Consistently finding themselves in dangerous areas, it was Antonio and Masuaku who crossed the ball more than any other players on the field. The pair combined for nine total crosses out of West Ham’s 17.
After 18 months out of the game serving a doping ban, Samir Nasri returned and showed why Pellegrini had pushed hard to bring the Frenchman through the London Stadium doors. With Nasri returning to play through almost 60 minutes for his first appearance with the Hammers, he was the most effective player. Whilst completing 96% of his passes, he also played the most key passes of any player on the field, completing four key passes.
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t the complete performance given how long he’d been absent. However, Pellegrini may well have picked up a player who could make the rest of the season aesthetically pleasing for the Hammers faithful, particularly if paired with the talented Felipe Anderson in weeks to come.
Manuel Pellegrini will be delighted to get through what may have been viewed as a potential banana skin. His side had enough to pass a tricky Birmingham test, applying enough professionalism to keep the Blues at arm’s length.
The Hammers boss will be delighted to have seen Andy Carroll not only get on the score sheet but through 70 minutes of competitive football, along with 60 minutes for free signing Samir Nasri. The Frenchman will no doubt add class and an attacking edge to the West Ham midfield moving forwards.
Gary Monk will be disappointed not to have got more out of the game at the London Stadium. For his team’s fifth game in 14 days he will be happy with their application after a hectic Christmas period.
Both sides have seven days off for the first time in four weeks, before returning to league action. West Ham will be looking to climb into the upper echelons of the Premier League with Birmingham pushing for a playoff spot in the Championship.
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