Football

West Ham's perfect team balance yields long-awaited results

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As West Ham look over the Premier League from a lofty position of third place - dizzy heights indeed for the Hammers and their faithful following - now presents a perfect opportunity to take an in depth look at what has changed since Slaven Bilic took control in June.

The current style of play bears no resemblance to that so favoured by the previous incumbent of the managerial seat at Upton Park. Incoming ball players Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini have grabbed the reigns of pace, trickery and creativity, lifting West Ham to totally new heights.

It was always the real lack of creative and intelligent players that plagued the Sam Allardyce sides of the recent past.

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Defensive solidarity and strength are admittedly great characteristics of any team, but unless this is allied to an attacking, offensive element, then dull and unimaginative football is the end result.

The current balance of both team and squad is as good as it has been for a long time - the squad has strength in depth, injuries of real note are yet to hit, and all elements of the side from back to front are both functional and solid.

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The excellent Adrian and defence in front have been largely solid, with three centre-halves all capable of doing the dirty work when needed and interchanging seamlessly.

The James Tomkins/Winston Reid/James Collins triumvirate are a dependable unit, shown clearly last week when Chelsea's much lauded striker Diego Costa wasn't given a sniff throughout. The Spaniard was more flight than fight and this nullified much of what the Blues had to offer going forward.

In full-backs Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson, the side have an energy and youth that has added greatly to the West Ham armoury. Bilic has clearly taken the shackles off both players, giving them licence to add width and additional numbers in attack.

Recent goals for Jenkinson in consecutive weeks are testament to his new found freedom. There will be, and indeed have been, gaps at the back caused by these positional forays forward, but the manager clearly feels the trade off is one that will yield dividends.

It makes for great watching, and surely that's what we pay our hard earned cash for.

Holding midfielders, skipper Mark Noble and Chekhou Kouyate, combine all that is good about the modern deep-lying player. Noble keeps the ball for fun - his possession rate stats are only exceeded by his mileage covered figures.

For those who still give the lad a hard time, remember this: if you run the furthest and pass the most, it's a given that some balls will go astray. Be thankful for the boy's heart and soul that goes into every performance and forgive the odd error. 

His partner, Kouyate, combines work rate with, well, more work rate. Noble's lack of pace is complemented by his team-mate's ability to close down players at lightning speed and for the full term of the match.

In front of an already well drilled back four, this pair limit the degree and danger of oncoming traffic, closing space, limiting options, and almost demanding the return of the ball.

If the situation allows, it's Noble who pushes on 20 yards to link with the front men, or to feed the flanks for delivery into the box. Noble feeds Payet; Payet delivers a banquet.

The players who should be wearing magician hats and capes, Payet and Lanzini, roam with purpose and intent. Both possess the great ability to slip and slide; dart and drop; give and go.

The previous Hammers midfield plodded and huffed, checked back and started again, often thirty yards back from where they started. The crowd sighed, murmered and looked at their watches.

In those days, the frustrated Noble, head up searching and nay begging for options, was often forced to check back and start again; the movement around him was slow and laboured, often lacking will and thought.

How things have changed. In possession, the team shows a communal will and desire with runs being made to good purpose, and not just for the sake of it. Space is created, support is plentiful and defensive positions are prudently abandoned to ensure the attacking phase of play is abundantly manned.

On Saturday last, Bilic could be seen waving Collins, his rear-most defender, up to the half way line, arms flapping like a demented conductor, ensuring play was compacted tightly to give West Ham every chance of winning the ball back in advanced and dangerous positions.

The Croatian is a thinker. Nothing is left to chance.

It's no coincidence that the Hammers' 22 goals are second best in the league, seven more than Manchester United and four more than Arsenal. Throw into the mix attackers Victor Moses, Andy Carroll, Mario Zarate, Enner Valencia and Nikita Jelavic, and the Irons' available firepower is off the scale.

The current bench options in attack look stronger than previous first choice line ups, that's how far things have moved.

Third in the table, playing with confidence and ability, defending and attacking in numbers, blessed with skill and pace, and looking every bit as impressive as the current league placing suggests, this West Ham side look the real deal.

The old joke was that they always came down with the Christmas decorations; with December looming we shall soon see if the Hammers are genuine European place contenders or pretenders.

If Bilic manages to maintain the balance and the confidence, it could well be the former.

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Topics:
West Ham United
Premier League
Football

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