The tactics behind West Ham’s recent success

West Ham beat Manchester City yesterday and are currently sitting in fourth position in the Barclay’s Premier League, one point behind the title holders.

On top of this, they have completely changed the manner in which they attack. Having played nine games, they look like a force to be reckoned with and it looks like no team is ever going to get an easy three points off ‘The Hammers’ this season. By deploying a 4-4-2 diamond formation – which can be described as a 4-1-2-1-2 – they have made the most of what is available to them.

West Ham’s team is built from back to front. This is definitely one of West Ham’s strong points. Despite impressing their own fans on an offensive front, West Ham’s priority has always been defence. So, who better to start with than Adrián?


The Spanish goalkeeper has excellent shot stopping skills that are enhanced by his excellent reflexes. He is also equally as comfortable saving long shots, a most recent example is of the excellent save that he pulled off against a terrific shot from Stefan Jovetic. West Ham need a keeper that is comfortable with long shots because they defend by keeping the opposition out of the penalty box and opposing teams will shoot from range if they struggle to find an opening. Manchester City took 10 shots outside of the box when they played West Ham, so having a keeper that can cope with long shots is vital.

West Ham’s centre backs are physical. Sam Allardyce loves his set-pieces and having physically dominant centre backs like James Collins and Winston Reid – both of whom are above 188cm in height – gives West Ham a double-edged sword with set pieces. Having tall defenders means that West Ham can feel confident in defending set pieces and equally posing an attacking threat.

Collins and Reid, however, are not particularly fast and so would be at risk if they left a lot of space behind them. As such, West Ham defend deep – on the edge of their 18 yard box – meaning that Collins’ and Reid’s lack of pace is not a problem as they do not leave too much space behind them. The full backs and midfield players track the runners off the ball to help.

The full backs, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell are good at both crossing and dribbling, so their duty is to overlap and act as auxiliary wingers when they attack. Their crosses are meant for the aerial dominance of Enner Valenica and Diafra Sakho – the latter scoring a header against Manchester City assisted by Cresswell, which is a perfect example of the role Cresswell and Jenkinson have. They are key to West Ham for when they break and during sustained periods of pressure. They will be the players that look to get behind the defensive line and create something or swing a deep cross for Enner Valencia or Diafra Sakho to attack.

West Ham employ a midfield diamond that usually consists of Alex Song, Morgan Amalfitano, Stewart Downing and Mark Noble. Alex Song has a very interesting role. He is the key player, he makes West Ham tick. He acts as an anchorman but also as a box-to-box midfielder that dictates the tempo of West Ham counter-attacks with short quick passes when he drives forward. His physicality, experience and interceptions make him the excellent anchor man. When West Ham break he drives forward with pace offering himself as another passing option. This is also the job of the two men on the sides of the diamond.

Mark Noble and Morgan Amalfitano aren’t really wingers, they are more like wide midfielders. They shuttle up and down with the direction of play and tuck into the midfield so that the full backs can overlap. By tucking into midfield they offer support for pressing in the centre and also offer themselves as another passing option, helping West Ham keep the ball.

Stewart Downing plays at the top of the diamond. He is allowed to drift and find space in order to work his magic. When West Ham play through him, the results can be devastating. He created three chances against Liverpool and his heat map was dotted all over the final third showing that he plays with a freedom to drift and move into spaces. In a sense he is what the Germans term a raumdeuter, or ‘space investigator’.


To finish off, we have the deadly duo of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho. They have eight goals in nine games between them, the latter has 6 goals in 6 starts. Their strengths are their headed attempts. Collectively they have a total of 62 attempts at heading the ball. Their aerial enthusiasm is fuelled by the teasing and constant crosses that Jenkinson and, in particular, Cresswell provide. The aerial prowess means that they act as target men too and can hold the ball up. This gives West Ham time to push players forwards in support or push them onwards into space behind.

Diafra Sakho is seems to be employed as a wide forward. His heat maps show that he likes to hug the right touchline and he plays more on the right side of the pitch. This can have two effects – it can draw centre backs out of position to come and mark him, leaving space in behind for midfielders Noble and Amalifitano to attack, and it also overloads the opposition left-back who will have to deal with Sakho and Jenkinson. Playing Sakho in this wider role means he can offer more pace and power out wide and it also means he can act as an enganche, a hook between the midfield and attack. This helps make transitions quicker and a quick transition is vital when counter-attacking.

Every single player is important and has a pivotal role in the functioning of the team. Sam Allardyce has been clever in the transfer market, purchasing Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho who are vital in this new look West Ham. His pragmatism and resourcefulness is obviously the reason behind West Ham’s brilliant vein of form. If all his players stay fit and this form and tactic continues, West Ham fans have no reason to not be hopeful for a top half finish.

The Author

Ayo Anibaba

I am a 17 year old, unbiased, armchair analyser. I just so happen to be a Chelsea fan and an aspiring journalist. I like to think that I am a realist. Attempting to get a wider view of what is going on in the world of football.

2 thoughts on “The tactics behind West Ham’s recent success

  1. Very interesting analysis as a West Ham fan gave me some additional insight into why we are playing so well. Thanks for that.

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