West Ham vs Chelsea Tactical Preview:

- Possible WHU lineup and strengths
- Weaknesses and structural flaws

Disclaimer: All footage used is for educational purposes only. Copyrights belong to the Premier League and Hotstar.
I'll be honest, this is a very tricky game for many reasons. West Ham have won 4 of their last 6, are adept at playing a back 4 and back 3, and are individually and structurally more compact than Wolves. To win, we will have to banish the demons of our Wolves loss comprehensively
WHU line up? I predict it'll be 3-4-2-1 they used vs United, where they should've been 4-0 up by 60'. Masuaku is out, meaning they're likely to start with: Fabianski, Coufal, Balbuena, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Fornals, Bowen, Haller (Behnrama/Lanzini might start)
WHU are well organized under Moyes. Unlike Wolves, where Semedo was the glaring weakness, here there is no individual weakness to exploit. The way to win here is to overwhelm their system, like we did vs Leeds. The fulcrum of this team is the six-lunged Soucek-Rice partnership.
That double engine in midfield is key to West Ham. Both run themselves to the ground (Rice ran the most in the PL last season; Soucek has the most distance covered for WHU in a game.) They often work in sync to win the ball and get WHU's wide men on the ball as soon as possible.
Here is that partnership in defensive phase. Note Souçek is higher, and Rice has dropped in front of the defence as a screen. He pounces on the loose pass to Van de Beek and immediately uses the wide outlet (Masuaku/WB) and then goes high to offer a counter press.
Souçek is vulnerable on counters as can be seen here. Against Timo or Pulisic's pace, he could be found wanting on the break, allowing our wide men to directly attack the defense. But even when this happens, Rice's phenomenal defensive skills can bail him out if we take time.
Now watch how their organization is in transition. Souçek is less agile of the two, so when the ball is lost and a quick press is needed, it is Rice who is high and Souçek drops in front of the defence. This helps West Ham get a numerical advantage (winger + wingback + Rice)
Now you're probably thinking, wait a second – if Rice is high in a 2 man midfield (3-4-2-1) then isn't Souçek all alone in the center? Moyes has found a fix to that as well. When either one of Rice/Souçek is high, Balbuena steps up from the 5 man defence to make it two again.
Here's the move in real time. When United build, Haller presses the CBs and the 3 behind (Fornals, Souçek, Bowen) mark United's passing options (Pogba, Telles, McTominay). As McTominay's ball passes Souçek, Balbuena immediately steps up to mark Pogba, before rejoining his defence
Here's another example of how Balbuena ventures to cover Rice/Souçek. When United win the ball back and Pogba is on it, he is about to pass the ball past Souçek to Martial. Balbuena is in the attacking third from CB to prevent the pass. (Souçek stays in attack to use his height.)
In attack, Souçek stays ahead. This allows Bowen, Fornals, Cresswell/Masuaku, Coufal, to cross at two tall forwards – Haller/Souçek (both great in the air.) WHU also use Souçek for his ability to win the first ball in dangerous areas, allowing other players to attack the 2nd ball
Apart from Rice-Souçek, Bowen as the inside forward on the right will cause the same problems Neto/Podence did. He is tricky, very agile and also has a great shot and delivery on him. Here he takes out United's whole left side by himself. Fornals misses (was atrocious all game)
He is arguably the quickest attacker up front. Here Balbuena again steps up from defence to win the ball high, and passes it to Coufal, who plays a ball in behind. Bowen scores, but was offside by a whisker. We have to be alert to this, Chilwell and Silva specially.
This is a near carbon copy of the situation from which Wolves scored against us in the 95th minute. Bowen is crucial to this; his pace isnt as searing as Neto's but he is a much better finisher in those positions. Wan-Bissaka's stupendous 1v1 defending skills save United here.
His movement is clever too. Knowing that it is near impossible to beat Wan-Bissaka in a 1v1, he tries to bamboozle him a different way. As Maguire and AWB get sucked into the middle from Coufal arriving from the right, Bowen slips away from AWB's attention and almost scores.
So where are the weaknesses? Ironically, their strongest individual pairing offers their biggest structural flaw. United's insistence to play through the middle was thwarted time and again by Rice. So 2nd half, they tried to pressure the flanks to open up the central spaces.
In real time: AWB and Greenwood play quickly around Masuaku and Fornals, allowing Greenwood to run at the LCB (Cresswell). When this happens, Rice moves wide to cover, leaving the center open. Balbuena can't step into midfield because of Cavani. Martial finds space in the middle.
Here's Martial and Telles doing the same on the right. This time, Souçek gets dragged out from the center to the right, and Martial is able to find space in the box for a shot. Werner and Chilwell need to play very quickly around the box and make space for Werner/Pulisic/Mount.
Remember how Rice steps up and Balbuena covers? This is how it unsettles West Ham's back line:
Pic1: Maguire wins ball back
Pic2: Rice presses high
Pic 3: Rice retreats; Balbuena has already stepped up to midfield
Pic 4: Cavani attacks space Balbuena's vacant CB space
This is the move in real time. If Balbuena doesn't step up here, the central space is free for Mount/Kai/Ziyech/Pulisic to take the ball in. If he does step up, our LW (Pulisic/Werner) can attack the space in behind and cause great problems.
Thiago Silva will also be crucial. More often than not, his long balls are diagonal, but he has the ability to play through balls too. Here, as WHU switch from a back 5 to 4, Maguire is able to spot a pass to Rashford. Souçek is dragged out, leaving the center free for Mctominay.
This is world class from Fernandes. You can see that Rice and Soucek are both bypassed by Maguire's first pass. The through ball is astounding, and Rashford should've scored. All signs point to WHU being vulnerable through the middle. We need someone to unlock the door from here.
The third goal also comes through the middle. This is the same space Jorginho likes to occupy when progressing, and if Rice and Souçek cover Kante and Mount/Kova/Kai, then this could be a great way to set off Timo/Tammy. Giroud not so much. Tammy could/should be starting.
Jorginho has an eye for passes through the center and could be a surprise addition to the line up. Yes, he's slow and is pressed easily, but a Mount-Kante-Jorgi midfield would be a 3-2 vs Rice-Soucek, and the extra man could help protect him from errors.
To sum up:
- West Ham likely to test us by going 3 atb 3-4-2-1. 4-2-3-1 possible but unlikely.
- Rice-Souçek partnership crucial. Has to be disrupted as frequently as possible to gain supremacy in the middle of the park.
- exploit the center by using quick passes on the flanks.
- Go over the top to put Werner/Pulisic in directly vs their CBs.
- Jorgi could be a good option, unless Ziyech/Kai are at peak fitness. Kante- Kova-Mount with Mount further up and Kova as the deeper CM could also work
- Pull Rice-Souçek out wide to create space in central zones
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