Talking Tactics

How West Ham trio have filled Rice void

15 Sep 2023
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Adrian Clarke says form of Alvarez, Ward-Prowse and Lucas Paqueta means Rice's departure has not been felt

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 5.

West Ham United

West Ham’s brand-new central midfield axis has got off to the perfect start.

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It was almost impossible for them to replace Declan Rice with one midfielder, but the two players brought in by David Moyes have quickly combined with Lucas Paqueta to great effect, giving the Hammers a dream start to the season

While snap judgements should be avoided until a sample size of only 175 minutes together on the pitch grows, Edson Alvarez, James Ward-Prowse and Lucas Pacqueta have undeniably clicked as a unit.

In a 3-1 success at Brighton & Hove Albion, they showcased their defensive responsibilities quite brilliantly throughout, performing with discipline and determination.

And last time out in a 2-1 win at Luton Town, a match where West Ham had over 61 per cent of possession, their combined quality on the ball came to the fore.

It is a well-balanced trio with athleticism, bite, and high levels of technical skill.

Ready for City

West Ham produced a top-class counter attacking display against a Brighton side who led the pass count 749-208 at Amex Stadium.

Working exceptionally hard to protect their goalkeeper, West Ham enjoyed ideal preparation for a match at home to reigning champions Manchester City.

Tactically you would expect Moyes to back his players to repeat that collective effort and he now knows he can trust a midfield of Alvarez, Ward-Prowse and Lucas Paqueta in this type of encounter.

As shown on their combined defensive chalkboard from the match, they did an outstanding job from deep inside their own half.

If they frustrate City early on at London Stadium, belief will grow that they can hold firm before springing dangerous breaks of their own.

Tackles won, recoveries, interceptions, blocks & clearances v Brighton
West Ham midfield image Talking Tactics

Brazilian star Lucas Paqueta has been in scintillating form.

His gorgeous left-footed cross for Jarrod Bowen at Kenilworth Road was one of the best assists of the season so far - and his general play has been brimming with enthusiasm and class.

Lucas Paqueta's assist v Luton

Playing to the left of centre, at times mirroring the position Rice occupied, he is doing his best to make sure their former captain’s presence is not missed.

Effectively doubling the number of successful ball recoveries Lucas Paqueta makes per 90 minutes compared to last season, the 26-year-old is working exceptionally hard to show he is a reliable team player.

He leads the way for regains and tackles won in the Premier League so far this season.

Lucas Paqueta tackles/recoveries per 90 2023/24
  Per 90 Premier League rank
Ball recoveries 10.96 1st
Tackles won 3.82 1st
Duels won 8.67 6th
Settling in

Ward-Prowse has taken no time at all to settle into his new surroundings at West Ham following his move from Southampton.

He has supplied three assists and a goal already and is always looking to get onto the ball.

Averaging 42.4 passes per match, Ward-Prowse is taking a lot of responsibility whenever they have possession and his goal at Brighton in Matchweek 3 typified his all-round qualities.

Initially Ward-Prowse made a fine interception inside his own half (shown below) before picking out Michail Antonio with a long pass to spring a turnover attack.

Ward-Prowse interception v Brighton

And just seconds later, making a lung-busting run to support his striker, Ward-Prowse (circled below) broke into the box to score from Antonio’s square pass.

Ward-Prowse goal v Brighton
Ward-Prowse's goal v Brighton

Alvarez has added experience and aggression to the base of West Ham's midfield.

The Mexico international is excellent at screening the back four, and is not afraid to step in and make challenges.

When West Ham have been put under pressure the 25-year-old has also acted as an auxiliary central defender to good effect.

Dropping back like team-mate Tomas Soucek does, Alvarez has repelled a lot of early-season attacks.

No Premier League midfielder has made more clearances per 90 minutes.

Clearances by midfielders per 90
Player Total
Edson Alvarez 6.39
Tomas Soucek 5.34
Casemiro 3.25
Ryan Yates 2.78
Ben Osborn 2.78

*Min 180 minutes played

It is early days, and the might of Man City will greatly test West Ham’s new midfield this weekend, but the early signs are positive.

An area many supporters feared would be weakened by Rice’s departure has actually become stronger.

Also in this series

Part 2: Why Iraola's positive approach will soon pay off for Bournemouth
Part 3: Can Branthwaite maintain his early impact by tackling Arsenal?
Part 4: How O'Neil has transformed Wolves' attack

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