Can anyone remember Sam Allardyce’s smug post-match interview after West Ham beat Tottenham 3-0 in early October? Having been the victim of scrutiny for fielding a team without a striker ahead of the clash, Allardyce seized the opportunity to apply his slickest ‘told-you-so’ expression, and claimed that his tactical knowledge would have gained more recognition had his name been ‘Allardici’. He even stated that he loved it when “a plan comes together”, only lacking a cigar to complete an impeccable Hannibal from the A-Team impression.
Fast forward eight weeks, and the Hammers have yet to record a win since. Big Sam only has two points from scoreless draws with Swansea and Aston Villa to show for his strategic mastermind. West Ham are repeatedly playing without a conventional striker, and in the absence of Andy Carroll they tend to look toothless and lost for ideas. Again this weekend Chelsea claimed a comfortable 3-0 win at Upton Park, and only after going two goals down did Allardyce throw on striker Madibo Maiga, to jeers of “you don’t know what you’re doing” from the home fans.
Does Mr Allardici know what he’s doing?
Although the public opinion of him leaves little credit to his ability, Sam Allardyce is a good manager. In his time at Bolton he took a mid-table Championship side to the UEFA Cup, and established the Wanderers as a solid premiership team. Don’t forget that he was even considered for the England job after Sven Göran Eriksson left in 2006.
However, despite his alleged motivations of leaving Bolton to win silverware, things have gone slow for Allardyce since, and the 2011-12 promotion with West Ham puts him at a status quo. One of his issues is his opinion of himself. In an interview with Sky last season, he listed the managers that has better CV’s then him. He only came up with Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and, “probably”, Rafa Benitez. The reporter was merciful enough to not throw the rest of the horde of trophy winning managers back in Sam’s face, but the man is remarkably big-headed, both literally and metaphorically.
He’s simply not doing himself any favors by promoting his ego this way, especially when spells like the one West Ham are currently enduring clearly expose some major shortcomings in his tactical distribution.
The formation Sam was using against Spurs, and that he has deployed several times since, can be described as a 4-6-0, or possibly a 4-3-3-0. I have heard been spoken about as a false-9 approach, that this formation call for a team to dominate the match, whereas West Ham are yielding control on the pitch. The Idea of sitting back and letting your opposition attack you is perfectly legitimate, and most teams have done this at some point. It brought a brilliant result against Spurs at White Hart Lane, and Big Sam should not permanently discard this approach, but neither should he use it as a default method.
Attacking against a team that defends with a deep line can make you vulnerable on the counter, unless you are happy to be patient. Right now, West Ham are predictable, and although Allardyce deploy both Joe Cole and Stewart Dowing – two classical crossing wingers – on the flanks, he refrains from putting a target man up top. Granted Andy Carroll will take that role when he returns from injury, but shouldn’t Carlton Cole, despite all his deficiencies, be given the nod to provide a focal point in attack? If nothing else works, at least he will be able to occupy the centre-halves.
In his Bolton heyday, Allardyce made a trademark out of playing simple football that was exploiting his teams strengths and hiding its weaknesses. Although he dislikes the ‘typical English’ tag being placed on his teams, his approach back then required Bolton to play the ball long and early in to the dangerous areas around the opposition’s penalty box. I can’t see why this wouldn’t benefit the Hammers. Right now, the closest thing they have to a spearhead is Kevin Nolan, and he is a poacher of goals rather than a creator.
Right now it seems to me like Big Sam succeeded with his tactics in an isolated game and then expects it to work on a weekly basis. Problem is, he used a classic example of a strategy that works once. Regardless of who you are, home teams are expected to attack in the Premier League. Allardyce’s reluctance to play a striker is at the risk of frustrate the board and his fans.
As Jamie Rednapp said this weekend, Andy Carroll is looking more and more crucial to this West Ham side, and his return will hopefully set things straight.
Sorry Sam, you need foreign roots or a genuine claim to genius in order to assign your own, Italian-esque nickname. Right now, you have neither.
Is Allardyce right to stick with his strike less tactics?
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