TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) shares his breakdown of Sunday's showdown between Manchester City and West Ham.
Manchester City v West Ham | Sunday 9th February 2020, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Manchester City host West Ham at the Etihad on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola’s side look to bounce back from another setback after defeat to Tottenham last weekend.
It was a sense of Deja Vu for the Citizens with profligate finishing proving costly, including an Ilkay Gundogan missed penalty, as Spurs capitalised on an Oleksandr Zinchenko red card.
For the second time this term, Tottenham took disregard for the underlying metrics, as City racked up an Expected Goals (xG) tally of 3.23 to 0.42, but still managed to find a way to lose. However, coming up against a leaky Hammers defence, they will be confident of responding.
The signs are particularly ominous for David Moyes’ side. Without a league win since his first game, the Hammers’ dismal run has included a defeat to Championship outfit West Brom. As attacking injuries mount, the defensive worries haven’t been allayed, with the visitors manufacturing their own downfall to Brighton last time out.
A 5-0 win for City in the reverse fixture could give us a sign of what we’re in for on Sunday, and how Moyes approaches this uphill task awaits to be seen.
Hammers’ aerial approach
In Moyes’ short tenure in charge of the Hammers, there has been a clear plan to try and sit back and soak up pressure, before looking to utilise their target men up top and on the counter. West Ham’s game against Liverpool, in which Jurgen Klopp’s side coasted to a comfortable 2-0 win, gives a strong indication as to the tactics he will look to employ, and how it could be one-way traffic for long periods of the game.
West Ham set up in a 5-4-1 formation, with Aaron Cresswell operating at left centre back and Arthur Masuaku at left wing back, and the idea was similar to that which Newcastle operate under.
With Manuel Lanzini playing ahead of Masuaku, he was expected to move centrally and support target man Sebastien Haller when the long balls were played up to him, and Masuaku moving into the wide space to provide support. With Cresswell setting up as left centre back, he could move into left back and offer cover, but this rarely came to fruition.
Haller struggled up against Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez at the back for Liverpool, winning just two of his 10 aerial duels, and with Jordan Henderson picking up the second balls in typical fashion, West Ham struggled to retain possession for periods of the game.
As a result, Liverpool enjoyed 71% possession, and how Moyes alleviates this issue on Sunday will be crucial to their chances. With Michail Antonio available again after starting against Brighton, he could be moved centrally to offer more of an aerial threat than Haller and a better target man option, and how City deal with the threat of either Antonio or Haller will be crucial to gaining control.
Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho don’t offer the same imperious aerial ability to that of Liverpool’s centre backs, so Moyes will look to target this.
City’s weaknesses out wide
With West Ham’s best hope coming on the counter, the role of City’s holding midfielder to sweep up in front of the backline will be crucial, and this will fall to Rodri to offer control, something he has often impressed in doing so.
However, City’s main weakness does come down the flanks, with the full backs pressed high to support the attackers and provide width, and this was something Spurs looked to target.
The sending off of Zinchenko came as a result of City committing men forward in search of an opener, but without Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko, it is difficult to see quite where this drive is going to come from. Antonio could provide this if out wide, whilst Lanzini is another option, but the defensive vulnerabilities of the Argentine will concern Moyes.
Against Brighton, he opted for a solid midfield trio of Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Mark Noble, and whilst it can mean the Hammers are lacking in creativity as a result, that won’t concern Moyes in a game where they will need defensive resilience and concentration for large periods.
It would mean sticking with the 4-1-4-1 that Moyes started against Brighton, but if it is either this, or a back five selected, it will be similar approach to that at home to Liverpool, where they conceded high volumes of possession, even when trailing, as they looked for damage limitation.
Soucek a positive addition
Soucek is a much-needed addition to West Ham’s midfield, and the Czech midfielder could be tasked with stopping Kevin De Bruyne in City’s midfield. Racking up five tackles against Brighton on debut, the tenacious nature of the newcomer cannot be underestimated, and his energy will be something to look out.
Soucek also poses a threat going forward, and for Sparta Prague this season, he netted six goals in 17 games.
Unsurprisingly, De Buryne topped the chances created chart against Spurs, and with 15 assists this season, he is fundamental to unpicking these defences.
With City potentially having their best luck out wide with West Ham looking to pack out central areas, and they could have a lot of joy down their right flank if West Ham’s injury worries mean either Lanzini, Pablo Fornals or even Masuaku start in this role. All can be found lacking in concentration, and it will offer City an opportunity to target this flank, particularly if De Bruyne is given a free role to drift into these areas.
West Ham also showed a vulnerability to set pieces against Brighton, conceding twice from set plays, and City are well equipped to target this. Their wide play, particularly when chasing or being asked to press on, lends itself to providing City with lots of set piece opportunities, and they have showed themselves to be a threat from corners.
The betting angles
Manchester City games of this nature can at times be hard to find the value in, but with a comprehensive victory expected, I do expect to see City fly out the traps.
With West Ham struggling defensively, City will look to rack up the goals, and it could take a similar shape to the game against Aston Villa a few weeks ago, where City picked off their opponents at ease. Available at 5/4 (Bet365), City to be ahead by more than one goal by half-time stands out.
Trying to find some value in the player markets, the aforementioned Soucek stands out for West Ham for a shot on-target at 4/1 (SkyBet). He will be the most advanced of West Ham’s midfield and be the one providing the link on the counter.
City do allow sides a chance on the break, and Soucek’s statistics in Prague highlighted above show his knack for finding the back of the net, and he averaged over two shots per-game.
Soucek’s debut for West Ham saw him register two, including an on-target attempt, and with the market skinny on City players, searching for the best options from West Ham is more advisable, even with City letting up few high volume opportunities.