Manuel Pellegrini has endured a difficult start to life at West Ham – but does he need to change his tactical approach, in order to be a success at the club?
When the Chilean coach joined the Hammers in May, a sudden sense of optimism reverberated around the football club and its loyal fanbase. Pellegrini has had an illustrious managerial career, achieving success just about everywhere he goes. But, after two defeats from his opening two matches, without giving the supporters too much to shout about – could this be the biggest test he has ever faced?
The system Pellegrini is operating with is one that he has used just about everywhere he has coached – a 4-2-3-1 formation, where the players are entrusted with playing out from the back as they look to move the ball up the field at pace. Do West Ham have the capability in the squad to do that on a consistent basis, though? On viewing the performances so far, it doesn’t look that way.
Why is it not working?
The Hammers are playing very open football, and whilst that can be greatly effective and free-flowing when you’re on the attack, you leave yourself wide open at the back. The current defence is not good enough to withstand that pressure, so someone surely has to sit in front of the backline and help them out. Pellegrini opted for just Noble and Wilshere in midfield against Bournemouth – and that is not enough.
On Saturday, it was like watching a knife go through butter at times. The Cherries’ central midfielders had all the time in the world on the ball, which led to Balbuena and Ogbonna pushing forward, leaving a huge gap in behind. Although Callum Wilson and Josh King were making the right runs in behind, they were not found on a regular basis – whereas a better team would have taken advantage. Oh, yeah, Liverpool did.
The Hammers are also not playing to Arnautovic’s strengths. The Austrian has been starved of the ball in both games so far, as Pellegrini’s style is all about building attacks rather than trying to force the ball every so often. Sometimes you need to go long and get the ball in behind, but that is not happening at all. A lot of Arnautovic’s goals come from him playing on the shoulder, using his size and speed to get beyond the opponent’s defenders. It doesn’t have to just be a long, aimless ball, you can be methodical about it.
What alternative could Pellegrini try?
First of all, it has to be said that there is nothing to say that West Ham won’t turn things around this weekend and Pellegrini’s formation could prove to be a success. It’s just, on the basis of the performances so far under the current system, it doesn’t look too good.
A few Hammers fans might not like this after seeing the formation employed over the last couple of seasons, but maybe a 3-5-2 system is the best way to go. It didn’t work under Slaven Bilic and whilst it was a bit better with David Moyes at the helm, the formation never really looked completely right. However, with the new additions to the squad, that setup could be rather fruitful. But why, you ask?
Well, the defence clearly isn’t good enough at the moment. With three centre-backs, there is certainly more stability and it allows the attacking members of the team more freedom. The likes of Wilshere, if he is to play in central midfield, would also have more license to get forward, with the knowledge that he has another defender covering behind him. If that defender was, say Declan Rice, then he would have no qualms in stepping into the midfield at any time as well. The formation allows more flexibility.
It would also be beneficial to the full-backs as well. Once Aaron Cresswell inevitably regains his position in the side, he could form an excellent partnership on the left for the Irons. Then, on the right, Ryan Fredericks’ pace could be a real asset to the team. The right-back was superb at getting forward and joining attacks during his time at Fulham and this system could really play to his strengths.
A 3-5-2 would be a good way to get both Arnautovic and Chicharito into the starting lineup, without having to worry about leaving yourself too open. Anderson could play off the front two, which may be the best way of getting all three players playing in a more comfortable position. The trio linked up well at times on Saturday and it would be good to see more of that. Arnautovic could play on the shoulder and look to get in behind and stretch defences, with Chicharito operating centrally, in his favoured poaching role.
So, where would everyone else fit? This could be the best lineup: Fabianksi; Diop, Rice, Ogbonna; Fredericks, Cresswell; Noble, Wilshere, Anderson; Chicharito, Arnautovic.
Whether or not Pellegrini will change his tactic is so far unknown but, if things do not pick up in the coming weeks, then potentially this could be a formation that West Ham plunge for. You heard it here first.