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Talking Tactics

Rice and Fornals can lead West Ham to Anfield shock

Adrian Clarke 29 Oct 2020
Rice and Fornals, West Ham

Adrian Clarke says the midfield duo have been key to the Hammers' four-match unbeaten run

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points in Matchweek 7. 

In-form West Ham United will not fear their visit to Anfield on Saturday. 

They are playing with a new sense of spirit and adventure in their counter-attacking 5-4-1 formation.

Manager David Moyes has found a formula that suits his players, who will have taken great heart from recent performances.  

Since narrowly losing at Arsenal in Matchweek 2, West Ham have claimed two wins and two draws against sides who finished in the top seven last term.  

So even though Michail Antonio is ruled out with a hamstring injury, West Ham will retain belief they can pick up a positive result against an under-strength Liverpool side.  

Rice growing in stature 

Still only 21, Declan Rice has put together a series of accomplished displays and his influence will be of vital importance against the champions.  

He has risen to the challenge of taming high-quality opposition, with the defensive midfielder's ability to break up play consistently on show.

Patrolling the middle third alongside the equally industrious Tomas Soucek, the West Ham pair have protected the defence extremely well. 

It is largely because of them that only one Premier League side, Brighton & Hove Albion, have faced fewer shots on target than the Hammers. 

Fewest shots on target faced
2020/21 Per 90
Brighton 3.00
Southampton 3.33
West Ham 3.33
Arsenal 3.66
Chelsea 3.66
Spurs 3.66

Committing only three fouls so far this season, Rice's positional intelligence continues to improve.

The England international has made 15 interceptions, second only to N'Golo Kante among Premier League midfielders.

And Rice's confidence on the ball is growing, too.

He boasts a pass accuracy of 86.3 per cent and has tellingly also completed 10 successful dribbles from his deep-lying position.

From one such run he almost scored an incredible solo goal in the 3-0 win at Leicester City.

Only Tanguy Ndombele, with 10 completed dribbles, and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who has 20, can match Rice for successful take-ons among central midfielders.

How Rice compares to top midfielders
Metric Total Central midfield rank
Interceptions 15 2nd
Successful dribbles 10 Joint-2nd
Pass accuracy % 86.3 Joint-4th*

*Central midfielders to start six matches

There is no question that Rice’s poise and defensive nous are going to be critical to West Ham's prospects on Merseyside.

If he plays well, another surprise result could be on the cards.

Spaniard deserves praise 

In and out of possession Rice and Soucek are well supported by left-sided midfielder Pablo Fornals.

The former Villarreal star is a hardworking player who tucks in to good effect when West Ham get men behind the ball.

His selfless work rate has played a key role in his team's ability to keep rival sides at bay.

New signing Said Benrahma will no doubt put the pressure on for a starting berth on the left flank, but for now Moyes knows he can trust Fornals to carry out his tactical instructions.

Benrahma must study the role and adapt his own game to make the starting XI.

West Ham running stats 
Distance covered per 90 (km) Sprints per 90
Soucek 12.3 Coufal 16.7
Fornals 12.1 Antonio 15.8
Rice 11.4 Bowen 15.8
Coufal 11.3 Fornals 15.4

Fornals, 24, has also chipped in with one goal and two assists this season.

His precise through-ball for Jarrod Bowen at King Power Stadium highlighted the midfielder's creativity.

If Fornals can sneak into the space between full-backs and midfielders on Saturday, he possesses the quality to cause Liverpool’s depleted back four problems.

Fornals goal and assist v Leicester 

Antonio deserves to be known as West Ham's main man at the moment, for he has been in talismanic form.

But Rice and Fornals are not too far behind in terms of their importance to Moyes’ improving side.

Also in this series

Part 1: Aubameyang must lead attack to bring down Man Utd
Part 2: Neto can fill Jota void to be Jimenez's wing man
Part 4: Krovinovic and Gallagher central to West Brom revival

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