Each week totalfootballanalysis.com provide you with a tactical preview of the ‘Fixture in Focus’ chosen by FootballFanCast. This week, Stuart Reid takes a look at West Ham vs Chelsea.
It’s fair to say that West Ham haven’t had the best of starts to this season, but with a new manager and plenty of new first-team signings it was always likely to take some time to gel.
There are certainly positives with Pellegrini’s side taking advantage of the defensive frailties and injuries of Marco Silva’s Everton, with a resounding 3-1 victory last weekend to address some concerns following four straight league losses.
The Hammers, however, face a tough test on Sunday, coming up against Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea who are unbeaten in the Premier League, winning all five of their opening fixtures. So what should we expect from each side, and how should we expect the game to play out?
With Wilshere out injured for at least six weeks there will need to be a replacement and Pedro Obiang or youngster Declan Rice – the latter of which impressed against Everton – are likely to be the main contenders. Both Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic are doubts, although it looks likely that Arnautovic will be fit to play. Lucas Perez or one of Felipe Anderson or Andriy Yarmolenko could be in line to replace Hernandez.
Chelsea will most likely continue to line-up in the 4-3-3 that has served them so well so far. Chelsea have no major injuries but will have late fitness tests for Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek and Kovacic – all are expected to return in time for the game.
It’s highly impressive what Sarri has managed to do with this Chelsea team in such a short space of time, but the biggest change in their play from their time under Conte is the way they use the ball in possession.
If we compare the key possession statistics from last season to the stats so far this term, we can already see the differences between them. Last season Chelsea ranked 5th in the league (behind Man City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool) in terms of average possession per game (55%), compared to a massive 71% per game so far this season, ranking them 1st in the division,
During the 17/18 season, an average of 56% of Chelsea’s passes took place in the opposition half (17th best in the league) with an average of 173 passes per game, taking place in the final third (5th best).
This season has seen a considerable increase with Sarri overseeing a 7% increase to 63% of passes taking place in the opposition half (5th best in the league) and a huge jump to 238 passes per game taking place in the final third.
So not only are Chelsea keeping the ball for longer, they’re doing more with it. This is demonstrated further in looking at the xG stats for the front three of Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard and Pedro, who last season had a xG90 rating of 0.60, 0.30 and 0.21 respectively.
This season Morata has seen a large dip, dropping to 0.19 xG90, whilst both Hazard and Pedro have seen large increases, rising to 0.75 and 0.38. Although all of these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt as we’re still very early on in the season, these could change quite rapidly.
We’ve seen teams try various different tactical ploys against Chelsea so far this season, Huddersfield employed a 5-3-2 low-block in an attempt to stifle Chelsea’s build-up play and make themselves difficult to break down – they ended up conceding three goals.
Interestingly, the team that came closest to getting a result against Chelsea was Newcastle, who conceded from a penalty and own-goal to lose 2-1. Benitez deployed a 5-4-1 system, sacrificing a striker to bolster numbers in midfield, and I feel a similar system could possibly be the way to go for West Ham.
However, the key to Chelsea’s possession lies with one player – Jorginho. Jorginho ranks first in the league for number of touches of the ball, successful passes made, number of passes made in the opposition half and second in the league for the number of passes taken in the final third. Stopping Jorginho would go some way towards disrupting Chelsea’s style of play but may prove a challenge with a two-man central midfield.
Instead, if I were in Pellegrini’s shoes, I’d learn from Benitez’s idea but add the extra player into central midfield rather than in defence, lining up in a 4-3-2-1 formation.
This would, hopefully, have the effect of swarming Jorginho and the added bonus of causing overloads in central midfield in West Ham’s favour. This would likely force play wide to Chelsea’s full-backs to double up with Pedro and Hazard, although the extra players in midfield could help cover in this scenario.
The duo of Anderson and Yarmolenko behind Arnautovic would mean that the team isn’t starved of creativity and flair and could certainly lead to chances being created – particularly if they manage to catch Jorginho in possession.
It’s definitely not going to be an easy game for West Ham, and whilst Chelsea have had the inconvenience of a trip to Greece in the Europa League, which may give the Hammers a slight advantage, I still think Chelsea will be too much for the West Ham midfield to deal with.
Therefore, I’m going for Chelsea to win 3-1.
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