Tactical Watch: Beware West Ham's aerial prowess


Sam Tighe highlights West Ham's set-piece threat as a key area for Southampton to combat ahead of Sunday's Premier League meeting at St Mary's.

A game every 3.5 days – that’s the taxing reality of life for those who qualify for European competition – and in this truncated half-season ahead of the World Cup, clubs like West Ham are being put through the mill.

They arrive at St Mary’s off the back of a battle with Anderlecht, their sixth European game of the campaign so far, and that has clearly had an effect on their Premier League form; just three wins from nine represents a slow start from David Moyes’s men.

That said, they’ve won their last two in the league and seem to be finding their groove following a glut of summer signings, several of whom arrived very late in the window.

Moyes brought in around eight first-team signings over the summer, with the most notable two being Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paquetá. The former is a towering striker with exquisite technique, the latter a playmaker who boasts drive and creativity.

Despite not long playing together, they’ve formed a connection on the field, with Paquetá frequently picking Scamacca out with crosses or clever passes. He’s strong in the air and brilliant at taking the ball down and shooting – one of Southampton’s primary jobs here is to ensure Scamacca never gets a second to find his balance and strike.

Paquetá is difficult to shut down due to the variety of his positioning; he can drift between the lines to receive or drop deep to grab the ball and carry it forward. He also boasts a physicality in line with the rest of this team.

West Ham typically top the charts (or come close to doing so) in set-piece goals, but this season their returns from this area have dipped – they’ve scored just one from these situations. Given they remain such a tall and physically imposing side, though, that tally is sure to rise soon.

Paquetá’s playmaking has given the midfield a glossy sheen, but under it Declan Rice’s ability to cover an immense amount of ground and drive forward with the ball remains key.

Finally, Scamacca may be the pick to start Premier League games up front right now, but Michail Antonio can still be extremely effective as a finisher. His dynamic and brutish runs are even tougher to deal with if he’s fresh onto the pitch and you’re already 75 minutes in.

Whether it’s by design or not is unclear, but teams don’t tend to have too much trouble progressing up the pitch and into West Ham’s territory; the problems begin when you reach their box.

When backed up in their own third they defend like trojans, removing all the gaps around the “D” and plugging up the centre with big bodies. This generally forces teams wide and into crossing positions, but with Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Tomáš Souček and Rice all in there to defend, it’s tough to get the better of them.

Getting the better of West Ham when you allow them to settle into a deeper block is hard and requires eye-of-the-needle stuff in congested areas. Ideally you strike fast in transition and don’t let them settle – even if that means taking a few quicker or more speculative shots when the space is there.

There’s also scope for Saints to outwork and out-hustle West Ham. With a week between games they’ll be fresher, while Rice has already admitted the schedule has left him “knackered” (and he won’t be the only one). Intensity in midfield, pressing the ever-present Rice and Souček, could lead to dangerous turnovers Saints can use to their advantage.

Fabiański; Kehrer, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Souček; Bowen, Paquetá, Fornals; Scamacca.

-Scamacca has tended to start Premier League games while Antonio handles European duties – but these roles could be swapped at any time

-Left-back Emerson joined in the summer but Cresswell remains crucial to this side. He’ll attack, while Kehrer balances things out on the right

-Moyes has options at left wing but often picks Fornals for his tremendous work rate, which helps cover any gaps Cresswell leaves when he goes forward

-Bowen has two in two and is starting to spark into form from the right flank