Sportsthoughts (84) – Is Big Sam the new Guardiola?

imagesimages                                                         Pep                                                           Sam

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!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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15 Responses to Sportsthoughts (84) – Is Big Sam the new Guardiola?

  1. Dood says:

    Yep, and I’m the new Harry Stiles.

    All credit to Medium-Sized Sam (as we always joke, Wenger towers over him, but nobody calls him Big Arsene). He thought the tactics through superbly to stifle the Spurs midfield and throttle the centre of the pitch. (Cracking goal by Morrison, too, though horrible defending.) I was, as an age-old Spurs hater (their fans made me cry at White Hart Lane when I was eight – but that’s a story for my shrink), delighted that the cockerels were knocked off their perch, just at a moment when they were beginning to look like they would win every game, for ever.

    As you say, who’d have thunk it? Spurs had scored twenty-sex and conceded two in all competitions – West Ham didn’t know where the goal was. But as Mourinho is always reminding us, that’s the joy of the top division.

    But back to Sam, and you have to laugh. After this one solitary, freakish performance, he was banging on again about being underappreciated for his tactical genius. If you’d lost at the weekend you’d have been in the bottom three! I really do think he has to start winning games on a regular basis, before Barca order the red carpet. My revised tip for the Irons season is…….17th.

  2. Dood says:

    Sorry, me again. That’s twenty-six goals above, not twenty-sex. Looks like I need to get out more.

  3. DyingNote says:

    I like the way this season’s shaping up. Of course, for me, it has a lot to do with Arsenal 🙂

  4. Dood says:

    Hear hear, Dying Note! They have to be evey neutral’s favourite, and just I’m loving the way they’re playing. Far too early to wonder about the final outcome – will Chelsea, or even Liverpool, bizarrely enough, threaten? – but it’s fun while it lasts.

    And John – yes, looks like a Freudian slip in that earlier note. Not that this signified anything – this year’s away fixture definitely ended scoreless.

  5. I laughed when you punched the air. I am amazed I still enjoy your excellent sports writing, after all sports is not my main thing. I think I have become a fan of you being a fan!
    I just want to be here when one of your teams wins the big one!

    • John S says:

      Glad if I’m getting you more interested in sport! Sadly, I don’t think either of my teams – West Ham and Harlequins – are poised to win the big ones. Still love it though. And my second football team, Arsenal, might just do something special.

      • Okay, West Ham, Harlequins (Quins….right?) and Arsenal are who I root for in England and Europe.
        So, in Canada… The Blue Jays excite me. I won’t explain who they are unless you ask because I think you probably already know and I don’t want to insult you and embarrass myself.
        “lol”

      • John S says:

        Actually, I don’t know too much about the Blue Jays, so feel free to educate me!

      • Really!!
        I’m so excited that you ask!!
        The Blue Jays are Toronto’s baseball team which is in the Eastern Division of the American League which plays off against the National League for the Pennant in the World Series every year.
        Somehow, Canada has 2 teams in the MLB (an American institution) http://mlb.mlb.com/home
        We have the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos.
        In 1992 and 1993 Toronto won the World Series. Wow, Joe carter’s home run. in the end of the ninth… no words…
        In 1994 there was a baseball strike and then there was no World Series making the Jays are the only team to hold onto the Pennant for 3 years in a row.
        They’ve been %$#@? since, but the fans here loyally support.

        http://mlb.mlb.com/home

      • John S says:

        So you are a sports fan! If I was American or Canadian I would undoubtedly be a baseball and American football fan. Probably basket ball too. I’ve watched a fair bit of US football on British TV, but not so much the others. So the Blue Jays sound like a team with a great past and whose time will come again. Liverpool fans in our football (soccer ) dream of the same. And even Arsenal, who haven’t won a trophy for 8 years. West Ham are different – they haven’t won a top trophy for 33 years!

      • 33 years!!! West Ham is more than due!!

      • I do love the thrills a team can generate for their fans!
        My sin is I tend to jump on the bandwagon when they have a good chance of winning and don’t hang in through the hard times…. except for the Jays!
        I think I’m a fair weather fan. You are an all weather fan.

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