How West Ham Were Able to Change Formations so Successfully

Following an opening weekend defeat, West Ham manager David Moyes made a drastic change in formation that has already paid dividends and has West Ham poised for a big season.

West Ham began the 2020-2021 season with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Newcastle, the most winnable game in what looked like a disastrous run of fixtures to start the season.

On top of that, the Hammers had won just five of David Moyes’ 19 Premier League games in charge (three against relegated sides), while keeping just two clean sheets (a pair of 4-0 wins over Bournemouth and Norwich).

Everyone acknowledged something needed to change. Many fans were crying out for club-record signing Sebastian Haller, who hasn’t started in the league since March, to partner Michail Antonio in the attack. Others were clamouring for the flair of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko or Manuel Lanzini to come into the team. After all, they had performed well in their EFL Cup appearances.

Instead, David Moyes decided to make a change in shape to five defenders and one change in personnel to accommodate the new formation. The changes have worked wonders for the Hammers, and the seamless transition can be attributed to a few players.

Arthur Masuaku

West Ham's Arthur Masuaku has been in great form this season.

West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku has been in great form this season. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images )

Arthur Masuaku came into the team for the second league game of the season against Arsenal and has been one of West Ham’s most impressive performers ever since with some claiming the formation change may just have saved his West Ham career.

Having been used as a traditional left-back primarily, while also deputizing at left wing on occasion, the Congolese left-back seems to have found his most natural position at LWB, and his performances have revolutionized the team.

He is able to drive the team up the pitch with his ball-carrying ability and looks to take people on with his direct attitude, something West Ham have lacked on the left-wing opposite Jarrod Bowen. The final third is really where he is able to show off his abilities with his magical dribbling and left-footed crosses.

He has also been more than adequate as part of the backline from a defensive standpoint, as referenced by his stats in the Manchester City game.

Aside from Masuaku’s direct impact on the team, he has allowed Aaron Cresswell to push inside and play on the left side of three centre backs, having struggled as a traditional left-back in a back four.

Cresswell no longer has to make lung-busting overlapping runs to join the attack and act as a dynamic fullback on the wing. He has fewer attacking responsibilities, and when he does go forward, he is able to carry the ball out of defence or make underlapping runs to support Masuaku. Cresswell has also defended well with support from Masuaku and Angelo Ogbonna on either side.

West Ham’s Dynamic Midfield Duo

Masuaku’s inclusion in the team meant someone had to make room elsewhere on the pitch. That turned out to be captain Mark Noble, who was actually ailing with a minor injury at the time, making Moyes’ decision rather straightforward.

The switch to just two central midfielders meant more responsibility for both Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, both of whom have stepped up and answered the call.

Rice tends to sit deeper than Soucek in this new formation, cleaning things up from a defensive standpoint and serving as a key cog in launching West Ham’s attacks. Rice has already asserted himself as one of the best deep-lying midfielders in England and has had no trouble coping with one less body supporting his hard work in midfield.

Soucek, on the other hand, has a little more freedom to get around the pitch. His physical presence is vital in midfield without Noble. He is one of the best in the air, having won 36 aerial duels (second only to Sheffield United’s Oli Mcburnie) and covers more ground than just about anyone.

Rice’s position and discipline in midfield allow his partner to make late runs into the box that consistently pose a threat. Antonio often finds himself drifting wide and Soucek’s aerial presence is vital in the box.

He scored goals thanks to his aerial prowess against Chelsea and Newcastle after the restart and has come close this season, harshly having one taken away in favour of an own goal against Wolves.

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The two midfielders, Rice and Soucek, balance each other so well while working together that West Ham have been able to cover the loss of a body in midfield to accommodate the new formation.