West Ham came agonisingly close to a famous victory over Manchester United on Sunday but for a last-minute goal which denied them a result their efforts deserved.
The Hammers took the lead early on in the second period through a sublime piece of skill from stand-in centre-back Cheikhou Kouyate.
It looked as if Sam Allardyce’s men were on the verge of claiming a first victory over the Red Devils since 2007, but in the 93rd minute a Carl Jenkinson header fell kindly to Daley Blind who volley home from 16 yards.
Here we take a look at five things we learned from the match.
1. DIAMOND DELIGHT
It’s amazing how much better the Irons play when set up in a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation. Injuries perhaps forced Allardyce’s hand in returning to this system but despite the absentees the performance from the team was superb.
The attacking prowess on display throughout was brilliant, with the team able to play a much more fluent, penetrating game which caused the visitors an abundance of problems.
Allardyce must continue with this system going forward as it utilises the best players in the side and allows them to play the more aesthetically pleasing football that was on show in the early-season.
2. SAKHO AND VALENCIA THE WAY FORWARD
Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia demonstrated why they need to be the Hammers front pairing on a weekly basis with an absolutely scintillating display that ran United defenders ragged.
They worked the channels, chased down every ball, hassled, harried, showed great technical ability and speed, defended from the front and set the tone for the entire game with their tenacious attitude.
Andy Carroll was not missed, to put it bluntly. While his presence may have been useful attacking and defending set pieces, particularly after the introduction of Marouane Fellaini, it wouldn’t have been during open play.
When Carroll returns from injury he should be used from the bench or sporadically as it’s clear to see that the side are much more threatening in this system.
3. KOUYATE’S TOP QUALITY
Kouyate put in arguably his best performance in a West Ham shirt on Sunday, filling in a centre-back and deservedly getting the man of the match award.
Not only did he score a stunning goal – juggling the ball with his back to goal before powering a swivel-struck volley into the net – he also put in a defensive display of pure class.
Kouyate contributed with three tackles, one interception and a whopping 13 effective clearances – the most by any player on the pitch. In possession he was incredibly reliable, too, taking 40 touches and making 18 accurate passes with an overall completion rate of 90% - also the most by any player on the pitch.
The Senegal international can certainly be relied upon to fill in at the back which is a major boost given the Hammers current injury crisis.
4. NOLAN STILL CAPABLE
The Hammers captain had one of his best games for a while and it couldn’t have come at a better time with a fan rumoured to be staging a Nolan hate-fuelled walk-out.
It was good to see him play in the diamond instead of Allardyce changing the system to accommodate him and he looked solid throughout. He completed 18/26 passes, won possession nine times, won six/eight aerial duels and made thee clearances.
He also covered for Alex Song on numerous occasions in the first-half when the Cameroonian was guilty of giving the ball away.
5. NEED TO BE MORE RUTHLESS
While the match did draw more positives than negatives, it did again show the Hammers inability to kill games off and get a crucial second goal.
Mark Noble had a brilliant opportunity to score a second late on but hit his shot straight at David de Gea, if that goes in it’s game over, but it didn’t and they were (again) punished for not being more ruthless.
They will definitely need to ensure they’re more clinical in their next match away at Southampton as the Saints are very solid defensively so few chances may be on offer.
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