West Ham have a tall task ahead of them in their uphill relegation battle. With new reinforcements here and available, is THIS the best Xi to keep the team afloat this season?
Thirteen matches remain for West Ham to straighten out their system and right the ship. Four of these matches come against top-six opponents. Three more are against Arsenal, Wolves, and Manchester United. Only six matches are against bottom-half teams left this year. To say the Hammers have a tall task in staying up is an understatement.
The secret weapon for the Hammers, however, is their team. On paper (which, I know, counts for exactly nothing in the end) is better than every single team in the bottom half and a few in the top half, too. If David Moyes can simplify his training and get out of his own way, there is no reason why this team cannot keep West Ham up.
Here it is, my best, predicted XI to keep West Ham alive:
Fredericks – Diop – Ogbonna – Cresswell
Snodgrass – Rice – Soucek – Antonio
Bowen – Haller
Bench: Randolph, Balbuena, Zabaleta, Noble, Masuaku, Anderson, Fornals
Extra/rotational players: Martin, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Sanchez
Two 90-minute Men
The heart of this team is in the central midfield duo of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. We know Rice can play non-stop at an elite level, as he’s proved all season long, so there is no reason to sub him off in any circumstance. Likewise, Soucek joins West Ham as a heralded 90-minute-man who runs non-stop. There was no need to sub him off against Brighton, and hopefully, Moyes has learned this lesson. Mark Noble can act as a late-game sub for an attacker or wide midfielder and play either role just fine.
More from Green Street Hammers - West Ham
Fluid Formation Up Top
The 4-4-2 seems to be what the West Ham players are most comfortable with. That being said, this can easily swing to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in the blink of an eye. The Hammers saw early success in a 4-3-3 with Soucek and Noble playing more advanced midfield roles ahead of Rice, and with Robert Snodgrass attacking further up the pitch. The fluidity of this formation is its strength.
Unlike the fallback plan of a five-at-the-back system that the team doesn’t seem to understand, moving from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 is essentially the same positional play, with one of the wingers shuffling to a more direct and central attacking position, while the other drops off to a wide midfield role. Most importantly, the defense stays the same.
New pairing of dreams?
The real question when it comes to this formation is how will new recruit Jarrod Bowen get along with Sebastien Haller? Can Bowen play as a secondary striker more frequently then he has? Should he stay as a wide midfielder? Can you fit him in a system with Antonio too? All of these questions are valid and need answering.
The proposed system and formation sees Michail Antonio starting at leftwing – a position that isn’t naturally his. This is due to his extremely direct play style. Antonio’s speed and physicality will make offense happen for the Hammers, regardless of position. He thrived as a leftwinger against Brighton, simply because when he wanted to, he drifted around the top of the formation as he was so far out front of the rest of the players.
When the team is playing an early attacking, high-pressing game, Antonio and Snodgrass stayed higher to support Haller, who was without a direct striker partner, but both player’s work rate allowed them to come back in defensive coverage, too. It’s a win-win.
The Bowen question is one we won’t have an answer to until we see him play against Premier League opposition. With Anderson out for a few more matches, he’ll likely be deployed against Manchester City and Liverpool and those will be extremely difficult matches to grade his effectiveness in. While not the quickest player, Bowen is a grafter who doesn’t cheat his team with effort, something direly needed in the team.
The players are good enough to get success for Moyes and West Ham. It’s up to their desire, their efforts, and their mental toughness to see out the poor swings and focus on making the most of the situations in front of them. We all know it’s a tough task ahead of the team but nicking a point off of the elite in the league would ease this stretch of games and would boost morale immensely. The team to do it is already assembled.