Last time these two teams met, West Ham were amidst their derailing run of form under Manuel Pellegrini while Sheffield were surging. Can a new-look Hammers team steal some points at Bramall Lane?
David Moyes is now at the helm for the Hammers, and despite their 4-4-1-1 formation deployed against Bournemouth, expect West Ham to come out in a wingback formation to spread the ball wide. This set up, whether it is 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, Moyes’ men will be utilizing the wide wingbacks to attack down the flanks and use as much of the pitch as possible.
We saw this formation used in Moyes’ last stint as manager. Realistically, it looked like an 8-2 formation with Manuel Lanzini sitting just behind Marko Arnautovic as the only attacking players on the pitch. With a deeper and more skilled squad now at his disposal the manager can balance his attack better and lunge forward on the Blades.
The counter to this is Sheffield’s use of the same formation. Under Chris Wilder, Sheffield have used a wingback based formation all season to great success. Much like Wolves under Nuno last season, Sheffield can overload the attack from the wide areas, sink into the midfield to slow down the counterattack, or fully collapse at the back to shore up the backline.
One interesting aspect of this match will be the battle down the flanks and seeing if either team can get a breakthrough because of the similar setups. Sheffield should have the advantage based on familiarity and comfortability in that formation, but the Hammers’ new manager bump still needs to be accounted for.
A source of anxiety for Hammers fans is the use of Pablo Zabaleta as a wingback in this match. Ryan Fredericks pulled up lame against Gillingham and is now out 4-7 weeks with a hamstring injury. Zabaleta came in and scored the opening goal to everyone’s surprise, so he can’t be counted out. Still, the versatility needed for this position could be unattainable for the elder statesman.
On the other side of the pitch, it’s down to a possibly fit Aaron Cresswell, who missed the FA Cup match, and Arthur Masuaku who failed to impress in Cresswell’s absence. Cresswell is likely to start the game based on his pre-injury form, but Masuaku could be deployed as a sub on either wing realistically.