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The resurgence of West Ham and Everton

After underwhelming starts to the Premier League season for both The Toffees as well as The Hammers, a change in management has been successful in bringing about a turnaround in their fortunes. David Moyes at West Ham and Sam Allardyce at Everton have brought around a remarkable change in the football being played at the two clubs.

Everton under Ronald Koeman looks devoid of ideas in the final third, as if it was completely uncharted territory for them. There was minimal creativity, if at all, and the strikers kept drawing blanks, owing to a lack of service from the creative players. Rooney had lost his pace and therefore couldn’t drive at the opposition defenders, Calvert Lewin was young and inexperienced, playing in a system out of position, and Sigurdsson looked completely lost at LW, having never deviated from the centre of the park in previous seasons. As regards the defensive unit, no one was sure what the first choice back line was, and whether or not it was a back 3, or a back 4.

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Secondly, as it was regularly shuffled around, the players were unable to develop the chemistry and the cohesion that is so required whilst defending. With the attack faltering, and the defence in chaos, there was little the goalkeeper and the midfield alone could accomplish.

West Ham under Slaven Bilic showed a similar case. Bilic too, was unable to find his team’s correct formation, regularly experimenting with a 4-3-2-1, a 3-4-3 and a 3-4-2-1 et all. Part of the reason Slaven got nearly every permutation incorrect was that his players didn’t seem to want to play. Whether they stopped responding to him, or just lost all motivation to play is something that we can only speculate about. Marko Arnautovic, I recall, was putting in no off-the-ball effort, which continually left West Ham exposed on his flank.

Now Arnautovic is a great player, with a very good winning attitude. If you’d offered him around, several clubs would have liked to have him. However, in that form he was in with the lack of work ethic, no one would’ve wanted to take him aboard for free. The other problem was the lack of organisation in defence. The point about not knowing who you’ll be lining up with in the heart of defence stands here too. In addition, West Ham played with attacking full backs in Zabaleta and Cresswell, leaving plenty of space in behind to exploit on the turn of possession.

Both Koeman and Bilic were trying to build something iconic. They were trying to play a certain style that was a first for their club after several seasons of mid table finishes. Leicester City’s triumph had a ripple effect in terms of setting the bar, and playing a particular brand of football. However, that very approach led to Everton’s downfall, and the success with said style for West Ham under Slaven Bilic’s first season in charge dug the grave for his sacking.

A shift back to reality was dealt with both clubs spending time in the relegation zone, and shockwaves were sent to the owners, for a change in approach. 2 seasoned Premier League managers were brought in for the survival battle, and they took the clubs back to the very basics. It’s quite a simple philosophy really – If you don’t concede, you won’t lose. The perpetually leaking defence of both clubs was sorted out at a high priority. From what I’ve heard past players and current pundits discuss, both Moyes and Allardyce value defensive organisation over everything else. Both would devise several drills involving defensive attributes, and try and hone their players’ skills in them. They would practice defending crosses and set plays so often that clearing the ball from danger would become the easiest and most obvious thing in the world.

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Next, both managers knew the task at hand. Whilst their predecessors were brought in to establish ‘beautiful football’ and deliver trophies, David and Same were not. Their prime and only target was to steer the sinking ship to safety. As a result, we saw West Ham line up with 8 defensive minded players in the recent few matches, and Everton start a back 4 with 2 out and out defensive midfielders protecting them. And both tactics worked. Everton are undefeated since Big Sam took over, and only Manchester City were able to dig deep and deprive West Ham of any points since the change in the dugout.

Every point against the ‘Big 6’ counts as a bonus, and West Ham took 4 of them in 3 games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal, shutting out the latter 2. Everton showed up only to defend in the Merseyside Derby, and with a little luck, came away with a point. They now face Chelsea, in what is sure to be the sternest challenge of Allardyce’s side till now.
Having plugged the leak at the back, the attention could then be diverted up front. In Everton’s case, Calvert Lewin got his preferred position as striker, Sigurdsson started in the left of a 3 CAM formation, and Rooney was restored to where he plays best, the number 10 role.

Aaron Lennon was brought in to add pace and directness to the attack, one of few who had the same skill set as the outgoing Gerard Deulofeu. West Ham started Antonio up top, which gave them a huge physical presence up top to hold up play. Lanzini and Arnautovic started either side of him in a slightly deeper role. The plan was simple, but highly effective. Both sides soaked up pressure, and waited for the opposition to commit men forward.

Once possession was won back, they broke. West Ham went directly to Michail Antonio, who either fed the late runners in Lanzini and Arnautovic, or ran at the centre halves himself (As the full backs had been committed forward). All three attackers were given complete freedom in possession. Everton tried to build through Rooney, with Lennon and Sigurdsson supplying the width. Cut backs in towards runners from midfield proved to be quite fruitful in terms of goals.

By detaching the defensive and the attacking units from one another, and the pair functioning symbiotically, yet nearly independently, both sides have been resurrected, and look on course for a mid-table finish at the least. In the January transfer window, if the groundwork is laid for the two units to be integrated into 1 steadfast team, then 2 safety guaranteeing managers may well be the ones who develop the attractive brand of football.

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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