West Ham surprised us as they managed to beat Manchester City at City’s Etihad Stadium. Some said it was down to luck on Slaven Bilic’s side, as they saw City dominated the midfield and created a lot of promising chances. But, to some extent, to say it was all about luck would be unfair to West Ham. Especially in the first half, Bilic’s players performed some nice defensive actions with moments of individual brilliance. Let’s take a closer look at them.
City lined up with a 4-2-3-1. An offensive formation, as many expected them to. Bacary Sagna & Alexandar Kolarov flanked the central defensive duo, Nicolas Otamendi & Eliaquim Mangala. Yaya Toure, the heart of City’s play, was paired with Fernandinho as the double-pivot at six; with Yaya, as ever, more adventurous than the Brazillian. Jesus Navas, Kevin de Bruyne, & Raheem Sterling were the attacking midfielders three behind the 9, Sergio Aguero.
West Ham defensive-based strategy was based around a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 basic formation. It was an assymetric approach, as Dimitri Payet and Victor Moses’ playing manner was different, with the former attacking the half-space and the wing, both deeper and upper field, and the latter was more of a wide forward who defended the right flank but attacked more centrally.
West Ham out of possession
Bilic did not opt to press with high intensity, instead opting to form a deep block, inviting City to come and attack them. It was vital that West Ham remained tight & narrow in this deep block, something they achieved well. They waited for City to get into the middle third before raising the pressing intensity by creating valuable overloads across their own half.
Especially throughout the first half, West Ham pressed effectively and limited City’s penetration. For the most part, it was a case of West Ham’s good level of spatial compactness between the second line pressing and the cover behind it. One thing that made West Ham’s defensive play more interesting was that their zonal-marking was man-oriented.
The first key was their ball-oriented shifting and the devoted six, Pedro Obiang. The positioning of Payet and Moses, on the left and right hand side respectively, was the first barrier for any City wide attack which enabled West Ham to create the first wave of wide-defensive-blockade. This effort of pushing City wide was triggered by the defensive-positioning of Sakho, as he was found occupying the area where City’s sixes were. From there, Sakho looked to be trying to nullify the working-space of any City’s sixes. The centre of West Ham defensive formation was also supported by their eight, who covered the half-space between the winger and the full back.
In their man-oriented assignment, the wingers were oriented to City’s full back and the full-backs were oriented to City’s wingers, with the eights and six oriented to any City’s central players. These were the normal approaches in a man-oriented system. The upside of this approach was that West Ham were still able to maintain their compact defense, as they managed to interchange properly when necessary and kept the spare-man present.
Pedro Obiang was the main who allowed their constant positional interchange. He secured the vertical six space, acted as the cover for the wide-area pressing, and filled the horizontal space between the wide men and the centrally ones. Obiang moved across the defense which in many occasions had helped West Ham to maintain their spare-man-plan within the man-oriented system.
A pass from Yaya Toure reached de Bruyne on West Ham’s left half-space. De Bruyne made a short pass-combination with Sagna before the ball was passed to Navas. As the City’s right back moved centrally, Obiang took the duty of man-marking him. This positioning from Obiang assured West Ham to keep the stabilization of their defensive-compaction. Because it didn’t only cover the vacant space of Cresswell man-marking on Navas, but it also allowed Cresswell to maintain his tight marking on his assigned opponent.
The other good side of this defensive scheme is that Cresswell’s man marking was supported by the smart cover from Payet and Lanzini, as they let de Bruyne unmarked on the half-space but still able to put de Bruyne behind their cover shadow. When Obiang man-marked Sagna, West Ham created a numerical superiority shape which giving them better defensive access.
Unfortunately, this 3v1 pressing on Navas ended up with a foul-call as Cresswell fouled Navas.
As discussed earlier, West Ham defended in a 4-1-4-1 basic formation. This shape allowed Obiang (as the six) to secure the vertical space between West Ham’s back and middle line. As the central player in this 4-1-4-1, Obiang on many occasions positioned himself well, as he blocked any possible diagonal pass which stopped City from progressing.
Here is the sequence. In the 27th minute, along with Sakho, Obiang positioning allowed him to block Toure’s central passing lane that force the captain to play it square to Fernandinho (1). Fernandinho then found Navas on the right half-space (2). Under a man-mark of Cresswell, Navas moved to zone 5. Obiang position (4) blocked Navas passing lane to Aguero, which latter forced the Spanish to play it back (3) to Yaya Toure.
Such scene occurred many times and made it very hard for City to make the ball progression they were hoping for.
Dimitri Payet and half-space occupation
From his central position, Obiang was also able to shift from one half-space to the other half-space, either to make a pressing-cover or became the main-presser if necessary. Overall, West Ham players managed to occupy both half-spaces. This half-space occupation, in turn, not only had helped them to squeeze the space and establish compact defensive-shape, but it also gave them good access for a smooth counter-attack. Dimitri Payet was the player who often seen to be profiting from such strategically-benefit of half-space in regards of flexible attacking transition.
The first West Ham’s goal was the perfect example. In the 04 : 15 minute, in the central area of zone 8, Obiang and Lanzini pressed Toure and forced Toure to missed his pass. The ball was recovered by Reid who passed it to Payet on the left half-space. Payet passed it back to Obiang who made a short-pass combination with Lanzini on the half-space. As the ball was circulated to the right side then back to the left half-space, Lanzini passed it forward to upper left half-space to Payet before the play maker made a pass leading to the Victor Moses’ goal.
In the first half, you can find Payet occupied the half-spaces in many many occasions which helped him trigger many attacking situations. In the first half, Manchester City allowed too much space for Payet. This provided many good chances for Payet to shift between both half-spaces. The moment from 41st minute illustrated this well. Payet moved far to the West Ham’s right half-space in City’s defensive third. He occupied the half-space as he needed to create a triangle shape helping Jenkinson and Moses to make saver ball circulation. From here, Payet moved centrally, received the pass from Obiang before finally releasing a perfect through ball to Sakho.
West Ham’s second goal was also started by a Payet ball-recovery, as he intercepted Otamendi’s clearance. 23 seconds from Payet’s interception West Ham made a float cross, resulted a corner-kick which lead to the Sakho’s goal. Man. City 0-2 West Ham.
Several changes were made by Man City in the second-half. The obvious adjustment was observed in their back-line set-up as Martin Demichelis came in replacing Equalim Mangala. The other adjustment of City, in the second half, was the outcome of Manuel Pellegrini decision as he realized he gave too much space for Payet. He instructed his central defender duo to man-mark both Sakho and Payet tighter than they had applied in the first half. Demichelis would come closer to man-mark Payet whenever the 10 got into City’s middle third.
The other adjustment was the attacking movement. First on Yaya Toure, who Pellegrini asked to take a more aggressive approach. The captain was pushed further forward and occupied the 10 zone more than he did in the first half. The second, was the movement of Man City’s duo of wide-men. Navas and Sterling were shifting more to the central area throughout the second-half. By doing this, they tried to create valuable central overloads.
This impacted positively to Man City’s chances creation. Man City created more promising chances that was reflected in their expected goals (xG) stat, as shown by Michael Caley. The freedom of attack given to Yaya Toure became the key factor of this. For the people who said Man City were so much unlucky, the second-half situation seemed to support their argument.
Defensively, West Ham managed to play the football they had planned before. Slaven Bilic’s boys established a plan that Manchester City found difficult to break down. They played their man-oriented zonal-marking properly as they didn’t lose the space easily. With their positional structure, West Ham could still “create” the spare-man within their man-oriented system.
As the first half was a hard round for Man City, Manuel Pellegrini made some changes in the second-half which in turn, gave them better attacking access. City were more aggressive in terms of attacking positioning and created some promising chances.
From west Ham, they deserve the credit for their resilient defensive play. If asked to mention who to be the man of the match, Pedro Obiang, Dimitri Payet, Yaya Toure, or Kevin de Bruyne deserve the recognition.