The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer looks at West Ham’s Evolving Style.
There is no doubt that Pellegrini has a vision for West Ham. This evolving vision is only in its infancy.
Yet there is early evidence that he is adapting West Ham to compete with a functioning style. Against Chelsea he freely admitted that West Ham had to adopt what he described as a “practical” mode. The result was that Hazard, arguably the best player in the world at the moment was largely nullified. This was in sharp contrast to his subsequent impact in 2 games against Liverpool. Here he scored spectacular goals. It annoyed me that commentators described Hazard’s performance against West Ham as evidence of his inconsistency. This view gave no credit to West Ham and rendered their management of him invisible.
Slightly more credit was attributed to Rice and Noble for their neutralisation of Mattic and Pogba. Even here more column inches were focussed on Pogba et al’s failings rather than West Ham cancelling of multiple world class midfielders in the space of 6 days.
There is a legal phrase to guide disputes over ownership. Possession is nine tenths of the law. Possession can also shape the destiny of football games. The comparative possession statistics against Chelsea and Man United were revealing. . Against Chelsea West Ham achieved only 28.2% possession. This reflected typical previous possession statistics against top six sides.
This is not that surprising. Not just Hazard but Chelsea’s World Cup winning French midfielder N’Golo Kanté are current shoe in for midfield berths in a Fantasy World 11. Winning with such possession performance is possible but unlikely.
Pellegrini argues that this practical approach of lesser possession is not his preferred style. He commented that it is not enough to defend deeply against the top six . He argued that we must, if possible, take these teams on to win.
This approach was vindicated against Manchester United. A squad, increasing in confidence saw their possession leap from 28% to 49%. . West Ham fought toe to toe, high up the pitch.
Possession is not in itself the Holy Grail. West Ham “enjoyed” 52% possession against Wolves but lost in one of our more disjointed performances.
Nevertheless possession, by itself, does count for something. Our respectable 44.1 % possession against Everton set the backdrop for a potentially season defining win.
It is often remarked that it is more draining to chase and cover without the ball than to play with it. Late goals against teams starved of possession are common.
Indubitably, retaining possession prevents teams scoring against us. If we have the ball they cannot score. Brendan Rogers in his successful spell as Swansea manager drilled this philosophy into his squad. The successful adoption of this strategy meant that Swansea were not only easy on the eye but punched way above their weight .
So Pellegrini is slowly revealing his philosophy. Where necessary he will adopt the “practical” approach but as a preference he wants a team which competes high up the pitch and fights for possession.
If this is to be the style of the future then bring it on.