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Talking Tactics

Coufal and Cresswell providing balance to West Ham

Adrian Clarke 28 Jan 2021
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Adrian Clarke says the full-backs' contributions at both ends have been key to West Ham's progress

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points in Matchweek 21.

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West Ham United’s full-backs have played a huge part in the team's progress this season.  

Aaron Cresswell has enjoyed a new lease of life on the left since the start of 2020/21, playing arguably the best football of his career.  

On the right, Vladimir Coufal, who was bought from Slavia Prague in the summer, has been a consistently influential performer.  

Both have been outstanding since David Moyes reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the pair also excelled in the 5-4-1 system used by the Scot earlier this season.  

Cresswell was superb as a left-sided central defender while Coufal shone as an attacking wing-back in that shape.  

Making valuable contributions on and off the ball, it is hard to think of too many full-back pairings that have been more dependable.  

Cresswell statistics
2020/21 Total PL defender rank
Chances created from set plays 17 1st
Passes into final third 213 1st
Assists 5 1st=
Successful crosses/corners 35 2nd
Chances created 30 2nd
Possession won 122 2nd

Cresswell’s left foot has been a great asset in recent months. He has made five assists, with three stemming from set-pieces.  

Cresswell's assists v Leicester

In fact, the only Premier League players to create more opportunities from corners and wide free-kicks than Cresswell's 17 are Mason Mount (28) and James Ward-Prowse (19).  

In general play, Moyes likes to use narrow wingers, so when Pablo Fornals or Said Benrahma float inside, Cresswell naturally overlaps to good effect.  

The 31-year-old boasts all-round quality as a terrific ball-winner and also a full-back happy to make progressive passes.

Bargain buy

Coufal has quickly established himself as Moyes’ first-choice right-back.  

Establishing a strong relationship with Jarrod Bowen, the attack-minded Czech has exceeded expectations at London Stadium.  

The 28-year-old's three assists have all been at home, where he likes to fly forward and deliver quality balls into the box. 

Andrew Robertson and Reece James are the only top-flight full-backs to produce more successful crosses in open play. 

Coufal statistics
2020/21 Total PL defender rank
Successful open-play crosses 17 3rd
Chances created from open play 20 4th
Chances created 23 6th
Assists 3 5th=
Tackles 45 6th
Finding the right balance

Cresswell and Coufal will need to strike the right balance against a Liverpool side who will feel buoyant after an impressive 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur.  

Their attacking forays are a key component in West Ham’s more adventurous style of play this term.  

However, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will likely keep them occupied inside their own half for large spells of the contest.  

Selecting the right moments to attack and knowing when to sit tight and form a solid back-four unit will be crucial to West Ham's prospects of success.  

Look out for Cresswell and Coufal also sliding into central midfield to allow Tomas Soucek the freedom to attack crosses sent into the penalty area.

When the opposite full-back is delivering a cross, the other regularly tucks in alongside Declan Rice to form that crucial defensive double-pivot.  

This will be of critical importance against a Liverpool side deadly on counter-attacks.  

Also in this series

Part 1: Arsenal changes bringing best out of Saka

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