I am by no means a footballing purist. I enjoy defensive football. I actually revel in occasions when an underdog sets up with a deep-block and frustrates the hell out of their opposition. Setting up to defend deep, allowing your opposition great deals of possession but remaining stoic irrespectively is an art-form – albeit a vilified kind of poetry. The defensive game will always have its place in football but I would argue that it should have no place in this weekend’s game, as West Ham United take on Southampton at the London Stadium.
We come into this one with just three points from our last five fixtures (courtesy of a 2-0 win over Watford on February 10th) and a fairly convincing win over Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly during the international break. Suffice to say that our form isn’t exactly blistering. Our visitors, on the other hand, will arrive at the London Stadium having averaged a point from their last five games (thanks to a win over bottom club West Brom and draws against Burnley and Stoke). Suffice to say that their form isn’t exactly blistering either.
At the start of the season few of us would have earmarked Southampton at home as a must-win, relegation six-pointer; that is the situation we find ourselves in, as defeat would see the Saints leapfrog us – plunging us into the relegation zone with seven games left to play. But that is the reality of our situation, and the one that we need to find a way out of.
The prevailing expectation, and by that I’m referring to the media and other fans, seems to be that Moyes will – once again – select the same faces and the same formation. I expect us to line-up in some kind of 5 at the back formation, Noble and Kouyate will probably operate as a double-pivot in the midfield and Arnoutovic will lead the line. Alex Young, of the London Evening Standard, has predicted that we will line-up as follows:
West Ham starting XI: Adrian; Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Zabaleta, Kouyate, Noble, Antonio; Joao, Arnautovic, Lanzini
Although there are obvious concerns regarding the fitness of James Collins and Manuel Lanzini, the above line-up doesn’t seem to be a wildly far-fetched piece of guesswork. I do believe that this is how Moyes will set out his stall and that worries me tremendously.
Only Stoke City have conceded fewer goals than us this term. We have leaked 58 goals in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.9 per game, and although it would be unfair to place the blame for that solely at the door of David Moyes it is not as though he has transformed our defence since his arrival in November. At this stage of the season I think it is pretty clear to us all that we simply cannot defend well. We don’t have the work ethic, organisation nor discipline to set-up in an effective low-block. We cannot gift Southampton time on the ball because they have the ability to punish us. Lemina, Tadic, Gabbiadini and Long are capable of scaring most Premier League defences on their day.
So, what is the winning formula?
For me – and I say this as a lowly goalkeeping coach, referee and somewhat scared West Ham – we just need to attack them. I’ve spoken about players that Southampton have that could cause us issues, but they haven’t exactly been free-scoring this year. Across the season, we’ve scored seven more goals than them; I’d argue that our attacking players are a shining lights, and we should unshackle them so they can burn as brightly as possible. If we can find a way of getting Antonio, Lanzini, Arnoutovic, Hernandez and Mario on the pitch we would be giving Mark Hughes a world of worries.
I don’t expect us to pass Southampton off of the park. I don’t expect us to play brilliant, fluid football. But I do really hope that David Moyes is able to find the courage to put our cat among Southampton’s proverbial pigeons.
This is a season defining fixture. If you’re not nervous, you probably should be…
My Line-Up: Adrian, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Collins (Rice, subject to Ginge’s fitness), Cresswell, Noble, Mario, Antonio, Lanzini, Arnoutovic, Hernadez – 4-2-3-1
– Luke James | @LukeJames_32