A tactically astute and energetic team performance secured maximum points at St Mary’s for the first time in the clubs history.
The players executed their manager’s instructions with precision and discipline, moving with purpose and fluidity as they fought their way to victory. In Slaven’s own words “The key was everything, we played a fantastic game. We had our plan and the players executed it brilliantly.”
The whole team performed admirably but I wanted to pick out a few for praise, starting with Snodgrass.
His energy, closing down, organisation, discipline and technique are superb. Held the ball well, chased and closed the opposition from the front and tracked his man every time. He made the most high-intensity sprints of any player on the pitch with 81 and was a constant thorn in the side of the opposition.
He also covered more ground in the match than every player except for Noble, who covered 12.09km with Snodgrass a close second with 11.79km.
One of his best assets is his intelligence on and off the ball. His runs are calculated and his positional awareness is exemplary. He constantly communicates with his teammates, orchestrating defensive and attacking movements down his flank. He works incredibly hard and covers his full back well, this time partnering with Cresswell to great effect.
Obiang was back to his best and although his goal grabbed the headlines, it was his dominant performance in midfield that earned him man of the match. He completed 39/49 passes (79.6%), scored one goal, created one chance, one assist, one take-on, seven ball recoveries, 3/4 tackles, three interceptions and 2/2 aerial duels. He was imperious.
Randolph was again solid in the sticks. He displayed excellent shot stopping ability and held onto several shots that lesser keepers would have been forced to parry. He appeared to command his area well and his distribution was varied and accurate.
Carroll again led the line superbly. Strong, agile and his movement appears to be improving by the day. His movement for the goal was excellent and he showed great composure with the finish It’s frightening to think of what he’ll be capable of if he remains fit and injury free.
Kouyate was nothing short of heroic at right back. His athleticism, power and understated technique give him a versatility afforded to very few players. He was outstanding.
Noble deserves a mention too. He was brilliant throughout the match, providing the engine in midfield along with Obiang, as well as chipping in with some excellent passes and a well deserved (and correctly awarded) goal.
He was deployed in a slightly deeper role and this allowed him to cover the defence more effectively and utilise his range of passing. He completed 44/51 passes (86.3%) and made 11 ball recoveries.
Our captain has come in for a lot of criticism this season, with myself included, but he led by example and fought for every inch of ground he covered. Well played Nobes!
This man has been tested on every level this season. His honesty, integrity and belief in playing attacking, expansive football are commendable and he does not always receive the praise he deserves. Southampton are a top side and Bilic set the team up perfectly to exploit their weaknesses.
As I covered in my last piece, he’s not the finished article, but he’s got all the ingredients to become one of the best managers in the league. He can be a little naïve or stick to seemingly lost causes at times, but it’s all part of his make-up and I admire his character.
For any remaining doubters out there please find the following information courtesy of our official website:
“For Bilic, Saturday was his 25th league win as West Ham United boss – no manager has reached this feat quicker than the Croatian in the club’s 122 year history.”
He’s earned our admiration and respect and if the club are serious about their vision to improve, then retaining Bilic is key.
Bilic was bold and started with a 4-4-2. Antonio partnered Carroll up front and Snodgrass came in for Lanzini on the left wing. The work-rate and intelligence of Snodgrass aided the team in retaining their shape and prevented us becoming overloaded in midfield. Antonio and Carroll both put in tremendous shifts defending from the front, pressing Southampton’s midfield relentlessly and forcing errors.
Kouyate was excellent filling in at right back and Cresswell showed great improvement, helped along by his new wing partner Snodgrass.
Reid and Fonte looked more comfortable playing together and put in a dominant defensive display. Fonte’s passing range is superb and his composure on the ball is a huge asset to the team.
After the Manchester City defeat on Wednesday, Fonte revealed that the players felt responsible for the nature of the defeat as they failed to follow the manager’s tactics. This was not the case against Southampton as previous mistakes were rectified.
From front to back the team attacked and defended as a unit. This was a display that encapsulated Bilic’s style of play, high-energy tactical pressing, with fast fluid attacking movement. Although so far this season we’ve only enjoyed glimpses of this coming together for 90 minutes, this was as complete a performance as we’ve seen this season.
Looking ahead to West Brom
The players will take confidence into their game with West Brom and I’d be surprised if Bilic changed the formation. We may see a change in personnel if Byram is fit and chosen to play, but that would leave a tough call on Kouyate with his inclusion necessitating the withdrawal of Noble or Obiang, neither of whom deserve to be dropped.
At least this is a good problem for Bilic to have and it’s good to see competition for places, even in such an unorthodox manner.
Tony Pulis is a better tactician than people think and he’s created a strong and resolute squad of players that will be very tough to break down. They will match our physicality and not many teams in the league can boast that. They are a potent threat from set plays and will pose more of an aerial threat than any of the teams we’ve faced recently.
They will look to keep things tight and restrict the space between their lines. Snodgrass, Antonio, Carroll and Feghouli/Lanzini will need guile to create space in which to operate and transitioning quickly will be key.
The added energy, technique and composure of Snodgrass will again be a welcome addition in a match that could be defined by the finest of margins or moment of brilliance.
The team seems united, invigorated and hungry and I feel renewed confidence, rather than trepidation, going into our matches once again.
Super Slav has got his mojo back and the team looks like it’s ready to forge ahead in its new chapter and keep the momentum going, starting with West Brom.