West-Ham (H) 06/10/13 – Tactical Opposition Scout Report

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Sunday’s match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United presents one of the biggest clashes in style in this season’s Premier League. Thankfully for people who actually like football, Spurs’ proactive approach is proving successful while Sam Allardyce’s brutalist hoofball is coming up short. The Hammers have not won since the opening day and, finding themselves one place outside the relegation zone, seem unlikely to change that fact at White Hart Lane.

Famously scientific in his methodology, West Ham manager Allardyce has long been of the Reepian school of thought that prioritises positive outcomes – shots on goal, crossing attempts and territorial domination – over conventional possession-based footballing control. The football played by his sides is famously unappealing but even so this season’s showings have been particularly miserable.

Now that Tony Pulis has left Stoke City (hallelujah!), West Ham make the highest proportion of long passes in the Premier League: 17% of passes go long while 6% are crosses – another league high. Centre-backs James Collins and Winston Reid “play” 4.2 and 3.5 long balls per game, completing a paltry 36% and 53% of their punts respectively.

With the ball in the air so often, it is unsurprising that the Irons’ have won the third highest number of aerial duels in the division, but despite their strength in that department they are yet to score a single goal from a set piece this season.

The Irons’ overall pass completion rate of 73.4% is the worst in the Premier League. They average 286 short passes per game, comfortably the division’s lowest total and a minuscule average of just over three short passes per minute. By contrast, Tottenham make 450 short passes per game and complete 84% of their overall tally.

Homegrown midfielder Mark Noble makes 48 short passes per game, far more than any other Hammer, leaving the other ten players with only 238 attempted short passes between them. Therefore, it is an absolute certainty that Spurs will dominate possession during Sunday’s match. Nonetheless, they will find it hard to convert their domination of the ball into shots on goal.

A typical Allardyce side, West Ham have a strong focus on being defensively solid and hard to break down. They are not particularly proactive in the sense that they do not press high up the pitch, making astronomical numbers of tackles and interceptions in the process, but despite regularly conceding territory they do not allow many shots.

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Without the ball, they tend to position themselves fairly deep and protect the penalty area. Centre-backs James Collins and Winston Reid are both in the top eleven clearance-makers in the league, with 11 and 8.9 per game respectively. Their abnormally high totals are skewed by the fact that their side makes 12.8 fouls per game, a relatively high number, which means they have to defend lot of high balls into the box from set pieces.

Having already conceded three goals direct from free-kicks this season, and thrown away six points in the process, the Hammers will look to minimise their number of fouls from now on. Against a team as technical and tricky as Tottenham, however, that seems a forlorn hope. André Villas-Boas will surely instruct Andros Townsend, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurðsson to receive the ball high up the pitch and tempt their opponents into making more fouls around the penalty area.

Due to their reactive setup, West Ham do not find it easy to convert defence into attack. They are reliant on long, hopeful out-balls to their lone striker and ball-carrying surges from their wingers and Mohamed Diamé, the Premier League’s foremost Yaya Touré impersonator. The Irons make 9.2 dribbles per game: an extremely high number for a side that does not dominate possession. Indeed, only five Premier League sides make more.

With many of their dribbles likely to start in deep areas at transitions, Spurs should be aiming to press and win the ball from Diamé as he begins one of his epic charges up the field. It is easier said than done, admittedly, but if the ball can be nicked away then a clear-cut scoring opportunity will likely present itself.

Thankfully for Tottenham, Allardyce’s system is not functioning in an attacking sense at all. West Ham’s figure of 11.2 shots per game is certainly on the low side, while their average of 2.3 on target is by far the lowest tally of any Premier League side. Their wide players have been notably wasteful in their efforts, too: they attempt 22 crosses per game but consistently create fewer than 5 headed attempts on goal.

Starting striker Modibo Maïga has become something of a fans’ scapegoat, playing in every match so far and failing to score. It is unfortunate for the Malian that West Ham’s attacking system is so obviously geared towards getting the best out of Andy Carroll, but his struggles are Spurs’ succour. With only the unfit Mladen Petrić to call on as an alternative, Maïga will continue up front.

On paper, then, AVB and company do not have much to worry about. Nonetheless, this is the sort of game in which Spurs have regularly slipped up in the past and it will be a measure of their progress if they come through it without encountering problems on the way.

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