Five lessons from West Ham 2-0 Swansea: '21st century defending' does the business
West Ham’s wide boys didn’t let Swansea settle from the off
That Michael Laudrup’s pass masters enjoyed 65% of the possession in the lunchtime kick-off will come as a surprise to no one. However, their problem often this season has been actually doing something with it, and the visitors struggled to get into a rhythm early on in east London.
Swansea predictably racked up the passes in the opening quarter of an hour, yet the home side looked more threatening as they pressed on either flank. By the 15 minute mark, the Hammers had attempted more than double the number of attacking third passes than their Welsh opponents as Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis pushed forward, and popped 9 crosses into the box as their intention to target the head of Andy Carroll became increasingly apparent.
No amount of planning could contain Carroll…
In his post-match press conference, Laudrup admitted his “disappointment” at Swansea’s abject failure to deal with the Geordie front-man, who set up both goals for Kevin Nolan.
“We knew with the return of Carroll the game would be direct," he said. “The first goal came from a situation we had analysed and talked about a lot before the game.”
The 25-year-old may only have been on the pitch for 59 minutes but he still dominated the aerial battle, winning 10 of his 13 duels, 7 more than any other player who lasted the full 90. Indeed, the entire Swansea team only won 5 balls in the air out of an attempted 30.
It wasn’t just aerially that Carroll caused problems, though. The striker didn’t give Swansea’s defence a moment’s peace in an imperious first half display, and his harassing of a dithering Ashley Williams forced the corner that produced the second goal on the stroke of half-time.
…until Chico brought out his party piece
When the Spanish centre-half went down clutching his face following a challenge with Carlton Cole at the Liberty Stadium back in October, all he got in return was a laughing Sam Allardyce.
But Big Sam wasn’t so amused when the former Almeria defender tried his luck again after clashing with Carroll, resulting in a harsh red card for the contest’s star performer.
"That was him squealing and centre-halves aren't supposed to squeal are they?" Allardyce queried. “Chico Flores is over-exaggerating, which is generally the norm for him unfortunately.”
You knew what was coming. With West Ham’s focal point gone, Swansea took over. In the 10 minutes that proceeded Carroll’s dismissal, City completed 31 passes in the attacking third, compared to the Hammers’ 3.
Swans all huff and puff without end product
One of the reasons Swansea are just two points above the relegation zone is their inability to make their most of their monopolisation of matches. Laudrup’s side have scored just 8 goals on their travels this season (only Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Hull have managed fewer) and on Saturday’s second half showing you can see why.
With a numerical advantage for more than half an hour, City completed 209 passes (to West Ham’s 39) but failed to hit the target with any of their 10 attempts on goal.
Time and again Swansea worked the ball into dangerous areas but opted for an extra pass as opposed to pulling the trigger. And when they repeatedly worked the ball wide to Wayne Routledge, the winger failed to produce a telling final ball or was let down by a lack of movement.
Hammers keeper Adrian has now kept successive clean sheets despite facing 59 efforts from Chelsea and Swansea, with 0 of City’s attempts on target. He never really looked like conceding, with Wilfried Bony half-volleying his best opportunity high up into the Bobby Moore Stand.
'21st century defending' does the business
West Ham may park the bus, but they park it well.
It may have been “football from the 19th century”, according to some at Stamford Bridge, but it was eclipsed on Saturday as Big Sam was quick to hail his side’s heroic defending from a different era. "It [the sending off] hasn't cost us anything by the actions and the brilliant 21st century defending by the players," he quipped.
West Ham made a mighty 52 clearances to keep Chelsea at bay last Wednesday, and a similar amount of resilience was required after Carroll left the field earlier than anticipated – there’s a reason why they’ve now kept 11 Premier League clean sheets in 2013/14.
The home side made 30 clearances while down to 10 men, with James Collins named man of the match having made more than any other player on the pitch (12). He was ably assisted by central defensive partner James Tomkins (11), whose superb last-ditch tackle on Bony in the first half snuffed out Swansea’s one moment of genuine threat on Adrian’s goal. Matthew Taylor once again led the way for blocks (4) to add to the 6 he racked up in midweek at Stamford Bridge, while the ever-industrious Mark Noble made a game-high 12 ball recoveries.