Tactical Watch: Expect the unexpected

By SFC Media time Thu 02 May West Ham v Saints
Photo by Getty Images

Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, tries to make sense of West Ham United's inconsistency ahead of Southampton's visit to the London Stadium...

A quick glance at the Premier League table tells you Southampton’s fixture with West Ham this weekend means very little in real terms.

Both sides are safe, a top-half finish is beyond Saints and probably beyond the Irons, and both might well have an eye on next season – or, more realistically, the summer.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not in for a potential spectacle at the London Stadium; no, if you’ve watched anything Southampton or West Ham have served up this season, you’d be mad to expect otherwise.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 27:  Michail Antonio of West Ham United celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on April 27, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Michail Antonio celebrates his winner as West Ham triumphed at Spurs' new stadium

Fluctuating fortunes

Southampton, fun but flawed, never fail to offer up 90 dramatic minutes, complete with incisive attacks, last-ditch blocks and late drama. 

West Ham take that even further; they’re easily the most unpredictable side in the division, seemingly just as capable of beating Arsenal 3-0 as losing by the same scoreline to Fulham, offer the perfect opponent in many ways.

You could forgive fans who frequent the London Stadium for being utterly confused as to what kind of a team, a squad, a unit they have on their hands. 

So inconsistent they are – not just from game to game but from half to half – that matches involving them are impossible to call.

in terms of serving up a thrilling game of football, in which you simply cannot predict the next turn of events, they're top of the league.

sam tighe
on west ham

Inconsistency in selection

A litany of injuries has dogged manager Manuel Pellegrini all season, forcing him to chop and change his XI on a regular basis. 

The only players you can pretty much guarantee will start are goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, midfield sentinel Declan Rice and tricky winger Felipe Anderson. 

The sole other player to register 30+ starts in the league is Issa Diop, who has spent short spells out of the side at times.

It places a gigantic question mark over West Ham’s week-to-week performances, progression and expectations – with regard to results, at least. 

In terms of serving up a thrilling game of football, in which you simply cannot predict the next turn of events, they’re top of the league.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Felipe Anderson of West Ham United runs with the ball past Tommy Smith and Juninho Bacuna of Huddersfield Town during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Huddersfield Town at London Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Felipe Anderson, brilliant at St Mary's in December, often drifts in and out of games

Individual ups and downs

With the pressure off both sides, we could well see both indulge themselves on the field. 

We could see their finest qualities and their biggest weaknesses in the full glare of the 3pm sunshine. In particular, the sentiment applies to the Hammers.

It’s Anderson’s ability to place a full-back on strings for 20 minutes, then completely disappear for the next half an hour. 

It’s Ryan Fredericks’ simultaneous propensity to make a sublime goal-saving tackle or give away a penalty for a badly-timed challenge.

It’s Michail Antonio’s equal chances of scoring a belter or missing three gilt-edged chances. 

It’s all aboard the Iron rollercoaster this weekend, with no telling which direction the track goes, as the footballing version of Forrest Gump’s favourite phrase play their final home game of the season.

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