So, West Ham, sliding into the bottom three, no decent fit strikers, lost games against Stoke and Hull, the sort that need winning to make the top half. Not scored away from home. Spurs, preening themselves in the top four, having bought some classy players, especially midfield maestro, Christian Erikson from Ajax.
An absolute home banker for Spurs last Sunday. Even though they’d had a Europa League game in Russia on Thursday….
Tottenham Hotspur 0, West Ham United 3
Truly amazing. I was preparing the dinner on Sunday – the game wasn’t on TV live – and even on the radio, the featured game was West Brom v Arsenal. Update in second half, a goal at White Hart Lane. Oh no, I groaned. Then, oh yes! Winston Reid, one-nil to the Irons. That’s OK then, we might get away with a draw…. shortly after, more news from the Lane, here we go, 1-1… No! 2-0 to West Ham. Vaz Te. Surely now, we’ll definitely get a draw at least. Then, a few minutes later, another goal. 3-0! A brilliant solo run from Ravel Morrison. I punch the air in the kitchen. 3-0!
It stays that way. Another wacky Premier League result. How did it happen?
Well, of course the analysis started with why Spurs were so bad. It’s always about the top teams. And playing in the Europa League on Thursday seemed to be the main reason, even though only four of Spurs’ players started in that game.
But eventually some credit started to be given to West Ham. First up, it was all about the third, wonder goal. Ravel Morrison, the immensely talented bad boy, who was so badly behaved that Man Utd gave up on him. Even Fergie admitted defeat. West Ham bought him a couple of years ago for a mere £650,000. Shipped him out on loan to Birmingham last year. Now he’s back, 20 years old, more mature and starting to show what he can do. High hopes.
But it wasn’t all about Ravel Morrison. It was about the team and their tactics. Big Sam finally gave up on non-goal-scoring striker Maiga, and played a Barcelona/ Spain-style 4-3-3, or 4-6-0. A buzzing midfield with no focal point up front. Just lots of mobility and players taking turns to be the false nine. I love that phrase. It’s so redolent of Spanish excellence: Messi, Pedro, David Villa, Silva. Not something you would associate with Big Sam’s long ball West Ham. The team with the worst pass completion rate in the Premier League and the most fouls. (I weep inwardly at this, with West Ham’s tradition as the home of good football).
But no, yes, it was West Ham on Sunday who got all sophisticated, had Morrison and Diame as alternating false nines, absorbed Spurs’ pressure and hit them in the second half with three goals. Maybe the absorption and quick breaking was more Mourinho than pressing Guardiola, but the flexibility up front was pure Pep.
Big Sam did once claim he could be a successful manager of Real Madrid, given the chance. He was roundly mocked. But who knows?
I had a look at the Opta Index stats, courtesy of the 4-4-2 magazine website.
West Ham successfully completed 239 passes, from 321 attempts. 74%. Spurs completed 418 from 512. 82%.
Spurs had 60.8% of the possession, West Ham 39.2%.
In the attacking third of the field, Spurs had 141 passes, West Ham 85.
But West ham had 16 shots to Spurs’ 14 and won the game 3-0.
So Spurs faffed around and West Ham, for once, were clinical.
Four out of five of Spurs’ top passing combinations were one defender to another. Messing around at the back. That’s not what Barcelona do. So many of their passes go forward. Then back and occasionally sideways, but mostly forward. Spurs went nowhere, occasionally lost it, and in the second half, West Ham pounced.
I still like the way Spurs play at the moment over West Ham’s style. But just this once, Big Sam’s team played with real sophistication and reaped the reward.
Andy Carroll should be back in a few weeks and then it will be long balls up to the Big Man. But in the mean time, it will be interesting to see how the Irons go on from what was an astounding win, which has the potential to turn the season around.
Only problem: next game is against Man City!