Talking Tactics

What West Ham need to do to deny Man City the title

By Adrian Clarke 19 May 2024
West Ham Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke looks at how the Hammers will have to set up to cause an upset and give Arsenal hope in the title race

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Team analysis - West Ham United

David Moyes joked this week that, “it would be difficult to stop Manchester City’s Under-14s winning the title”, but you can be sure West Ham's departing manager will have a plan in place to try and cause an upset in his final match in charge of the club.

Moyes promised a “professional performance” from his players, but that alone will not be enough.

To deny Pep Guardiola’s side a ninth successive Premier League win, and a record fourth consecutive league title, he knows an outstanding, near-perfect collective effort is required if the Hammers are to get anything at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Disrupt City's flow

There is no failsafe way to trip the champions up, but several key ingredients are required if you want to stand a chance.

Part of the reason why Arsenal stopped Man City from scoring at Etihad Stadium was by making the match ugly.

They made 20 tackles and 20 fouls in a encounter which became rather disjointed.

Chelsea, who impressively drew 1-1 at City, made 28 tackles on their visit as well.

West Ham, who may line-up in a robust 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 shape, will need to show aggression at the right times in a bid to disrupt City’s rhythm on the ball.

Two of their best attackers also happen to be expert ball winners, which could play to their advantage.

So, look out for Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paqueta taking possession back, before moving the ball upfield at pace.

West Ham players with most possession won 23/24
Player Poss. won per 90 mins
Mohammed Kudus 7.75
Lucas Paqueta 6.78
Edson Alvarez 6.24
Carrying a counter-attacking threat

Creating turnover situations from hostile play is vital against a side like City who can suffocate you with their pressure football.

It is something Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur did particularly well in their respective draws there.

City will push their back four up to the halfway line or even beyond, so from transitions there is often space for quick forwards to run into.

Raheem Sterling’s goal began when the Blues repelled an attack inside their own box. Chelsea then made just four passes down the right channel before Nicolas Jackson raced through to square for his team-mate to score.

Below is how City’s defensive line can be exposed to direct attacks of this nature.

Streling goal v MCI
Sterling goal v MCI-2

West Ham's top scorer, Jarrod Bowen, found the back of the net from fast breaks against Newcastle United, Brentford, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brighton & Hove Albion, while Kudus netted twice from counter-attacks at home to Wolves.

They are two individuals with the pace and skill to hurt Man City from those situations.

Paqueta and James Ward-Prowse are also good enough to find the right through-balls.

It is perhaps no coincidence that no one has scored more goals from fast breaks than West Ham.

Teams with most fast break goals 23/24
Team Goals from fast breaks
West Ham 9
Nott'm Forest 9
Newcastle 8
Arsenal 7
Aston Villa 7
Defending their area

To stand any chance of avoiding defeat, West Ham know they will also have to protect their own 18-yard box as if their lives depend on it.

Each member of Moyes’ starting XI will need to make physical sacrifices and prioritise defensive support.

Arsenal asked their wide forwards to effectively occupy full-back roles at the Etihad, with a tight back-four strung along the middle, supplemented by Declan Rice and Jorginho dropping in to fill the spaces.

Blocking those holes down the side of central defenders is of critical importance.

So many Man City goals come from situations like we saw at Spurs in midweek, where a runner (on this occasion Kevin De Bruyne) is slipped in from a 2v1 to send a cross along the face of goal.

One missed clearance from Cristian Romero was enough to leave Spurs stretched; a reminder to West Ham that mistakes are usually punished by the leaders.

Man City goal v Spurs

These scenarios (above) must be avoided at all costs.

West Ham will pack their defensive third with enough players to ensure overloads are hard to find, slowing down City’s attacks, forcing them sideways or backwards.

Reference point

West Ham's fantastic 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium in December can provide them with hope ahead of their final day challenge.

In a season that has seen them concede three or more goals in 10 of 18 away matches, it may have been the anomaly, but it shows they do have the capability to shut out even the very best elite teams.

They made 10 blocks in that success while also producing 24 tackles, 38 clearances and eight interceptions and a repeat is likely to be a necessity on Sunday.

That night Moyes’ side showed incredible resistance, and a great desire to defend.

West Ham defensive actions v Arsenal away

The downside of retreating into a low block like this is that it can make it easier for City to float crosses towards Erling Haaland’s head.

Getting tight enough to stop the cross is key, but when that is not possible, West Ham will need to double up on the Norwegian and disrupt his ability to attack the ball with a clear run.

Repeat performance

Man City are overwhelming favourites, but if West Ham can frustrate them, do not write off the possibility of a shock result.

On home turf, breakaways and long balls clipped in beyond their high defensive line have caused them issues in 2023/24.

A repeat of their defensive display at Arsenal would make them tough to beat on Sunday.

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