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Talking Tactics: West Ham United v SAFC

More late heartbreak for Sunderland in a game where they tried to protect a point too early. Here’s our analysis from the first visit to The London Stadium.

Khazri For Jones - Why? Just, Why?

Well if having three right backs, none of whom seem good enough, but only playing one at a time doesn’t work - why not try playing two? That’s right, with Sunderland actually looking capable of hurting West Ham going forward David Moyes thought it would be a good idea to swap a creative, dangerous player for Billy Jones.

Fair enough, Khazri may have needed to have been replaced, but for a defender? This wasn’t a change in system either, it was two right backs playing in front of each other. I’m still struggling to come to terms with that actually happening. Options may be limited for Moyes at the moment but Jones wasn’t his only option. If he wanted, he could have brought on Victor Anichebe, which would have at least given us an outlet when playing out of defence. I’m not suggesting Anichebe would have won us the game but given the team was sitting deeper and punting the ball up field, Anichebe would have challenged for those long passes and his hold up play would have given us a chance to attempt a counter attack. It would have demonstrated something resembling positivity and showed that, while being cautious, we still had our eye on trying to nick all three points. Jermain Defoe would have been supported and the West Ham defence would have to worry about a different, more physical, threat.

Instead, Moyes opted for helms deep - throw on another defender and hope for the best, a tactic that would be understandable if we were away to a side riding high at the top of the league, but we were playing a team who had only won once at home all season.

Why Did We Sit Deep For So Long?

This links to the Jones/Khazri substitution but I can’t understand why David Moyes instructed his players to play so deep so early in the game. West Ham looked genuinely worried when we attacked them early in the second half and Wahbi Khazri should have put us ahead when a defensive mix up allowed him to go through 1 on 1 with Adrian.

The opening 15 minutes of the second period was Sunderland’s best spell by far. We had 5 shots to West Ham’s two, a couple of corners and possession was fairly even with the home side only seeing 3.2% more of the ball. Technically, The Lads were displaying just as much as a team with far more technically gifted players than them, as pass completion was even on 86%. Even physically, Moyes’ men were commanding, winning more tackles, an equal amount of aerial battles and dispossessing the Hammers on three occasions. This was exactly how Sunderland should continued the game. Yes, they may not have been able to play at such a high intensity for so long but pressing higher up, trying to dominate the ball and forcing chances was rattling West Ham.

It’s a totally different story when you look at the final 20 minutes, plus stoppage time. West Ham got back in control through gaining far more possession, a huge 75.9%, as Sunderland sat deeper to protect a point. The pass success from Sunderland plummeted to 55%, as playing our way up the pitch had to be replaced with long punts up to Jermain Defoe, such was his isolation. Cheikhou Kouyate was mopping up everything in the air as West Ham kept the ball on the ground to avoid the aerial strengths of O’Shea and Kone.

We weren’t even making the most of our time on the ball here either, being dispossessed four times despite barely being in possession. Meanwhile, West Ham weren’t making those mistakes as they kept up an impressive percentage of 86%. They were also making more tackles, something that you wouldn’t usually see for a team dominating possession so much, since more possession usually means they just don’t have to make as many challenges. All of this is naturally going to mean the opposition have more chances as well and that’s exactly what happened. West Ham had three shots to Sunderland’s zero in the closing stages, ending in the heartbreaking late winner.

Say what you like about players making mistakes because you’ll probably be right. If this is their instruction though, what chance do they have? A manager who has so little belief he tells them to stop doing what’s working, which is positive and threatening and instead tells them to go backs to the wall. “Stop attacking them, it’s not going to work, just protect what you’ve got.” There was absolutely no need for us to retreat so far back, so early on. That’s poor management and it’s cost us the game.

Kone & O’Shea Restore Some Strength To The Defence

Here’s my weekly attempt at wringing a positive out of another afternoon of disappointment. It should be noted without any cynicism that John O’Shea and Lamine Kone put in possibly the best performance we’ve seen from a centre half pairing this season. Despite failings in other areas of the field, they and Jordan Pickford did enough to earn a clean sheet at The London Stadium.

It was another game where we allowed the opposition too many shots (twenty in total) but only three were on target, with eight being blocked, half of which were accounted for by O’Shea and Kone. With Simone Zaza playing as West Ham’s centre forward, he would be the one dealt with the closest by our central defenders as Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini operated slightly deeper, often drifting out wide. It was a credit to both centre halves as Zaza was limited to only 22 touches, the vast majority of which were outside the penalty area. Their positioning was good, hence O’Shea’s three interceptions to add to the blocks and Kone’s two aerial duels won, was equal to Zaza’s. Even though there were storms to weather at various periods of the game, both men never looked out of control and dealt with most challenges that came their way.

If both defenders continue like that, with a confident goalkeeper behind them, then the team still has a feint hope of grinding out results. Improvements elsewhere would just be a bonus at this stage.

Starting Games Terribly & Not Ending Them Much Better

In the opening 25 minutes, West Ham managed 10 shots on goal and had almost 70% possession. Sunderland couldn’t have complained had the game been beyond them early on, as their midfield lacked organisation and drive to keep the Hammers at bay. We weren’t creating opportunities ourselves either, having no shots on goal during the opening period. As previously pointed out, the final 20 minutes of the game were shocking from a Sunderland perspective, ending in the late winner for West Ham, and it’s been a theme that’s ran throughout our season.

On the opening day, Manchester City were ahead after less than 5 minutes and won the game late on. Middlesbrough had put us out of sight before half time, despite us showing some attacking intent. A week later, Southampton equalised late in the match. Spurs pummeled us at White Hart Lane with 15 shots in 30 minutes. Last week, Stoke City went ahead after 8 minutes and had the game wrapped up by half time. It can’t be a coincidence that this keeps happening.

Opposition teams know our confidence is fragile and that they can hurt us early on. By the same token, they know our concentration will drop late in the game; that we’ll stop believing and start to fall back. More experienced players coming back to full fitness will of course help causes such as this but the manager instilling some confidence, positivity and belief will go just as far. Even that sounds like a pipe dream at the moment though.

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