The final 2-1 scoreline for David Moyes’ team was well deserved. The Hammers relied on and took advantage of their strengths such as counter-attack and set pieces, crashing the Peacocks that despite scoring the opening goal they have been shy and conceded too many opportunities.
Doing a quick comparison from last year, West Ham after twelve games played totalised already more than half of the points obtained, and almost half of the goals scored. The improvements made, and the efficiency of their key players could help the Hammers in doing quite a positive and tranquil season.
Bielsa on the other hand, after an absolutely stunning start, is now facing a hard time with only one win in the last six games played.
In this tactical analysis, we will break down the tactics of West Ham, in both phases and how Marcelo Bielsa tried to adjust his tactics after the first half. In this analysis, we will also highlight the weakness in Leeds’ defence that brought West Ham to score.
Bielsa started with his more usual strategy, 4-1-4-1, and with only one change from the previous game against Chelsea due to the injury of Robin Koch.
Meslier defending the goal. Dallas as right back with Alioski on the other side. Ayling with Cooper played as centre-backs. Phillips was the defensive midfielder. Raphinha and Harrison wide on the midfield, with Klich and Rodrigo in the middle supporting the only forward, Bamford.
As well David Moyes made only one change from the previous game, also due to an injury (out Masuaku). Fabiański between sticks. Coufal played as right back, with Cresswell as left-back. Ogbonna and Balbuena were the centre-backs. Rice and Souček as defensive midfielders. Pablo Fornals, Benrahma, and Bowen supporting Haller, the only striker as Michail Antonio was not available yet.
Leeds’ opening goal and building style
The Hammers had a shocking start. In fact, it only took a few minutes for Bamford to gain the penalty scored by Klich.
The transition from the Peacocks was quick and lethal. As we can see from the below footage, while trying to come out, Haller did not control properly the ball, giving the opportunity to Ayling to anticipate and steal it.
We can also appreciate the sense of awareness from Bamford as he had eyes on the ball and focus on what could have happened.
After a good recovery by Ayling, Bamford immediately attacked the inside channel between Ogbonna and Balbuena and faced a 1v1 situation against Fabiański. The quick breakthrough brought the Polish goalkeeper in a desperate coming out which lacked in timing, committing a clear foul and being punished with a yellow card and a penalty.
Once received the pass, Phillips would open wide for Alioski. Harrison occupied the wide left channel too, while Dallas made a diagonal run to shorten the distance from the ball.
We can highlight how far were Rodrigo and Klich in this scenario between themselves.
The red area shows instead how West Ham dominated the centre of the pitch, outnumbering Leeds players, which had almost no presence in the middle unit while building up.
Not surprisingly, some of the most dangerous offensive transitions from West Ham started from there.
West Ham’s transitions
Down one after five minutes, the Hammers produced a strong reaction giving already an idea of the type of game that they had prepared.
Moreover, the goal motivated David Moyes’ team while having a completely opposite effect on the Peacocks, which began to be predictable and slow with several mistakes in both phases.
As previously mentioned, the below footage shows an example of the offensive transition prepared by West Ham.
The Hammers patiently waited for possible mistakes in the core of the pitch, which was also the area where the pressing was triggered.
Once again in red, we can see how West Ham dominated the centre. Cooper’s pass was not an accurate choice, even more considering the distance between him and Rodrigo, who could not reach the ball.
Souček and Rice started a quick dangerous counter-attack. While Haller attacked the inside channel, supported by Benrahma, Bowen attacked the right wide channel with absolute freedom.
Alioski’s position, while in possession of the ball, (as he dropped almost on the midfield line) created a disadvantage to the same player finding himself unprepared and too far away to recover the distance, with Phillips not able to close the passing lane either.
The Peacocks suffered in transition and West Ham seemed to be dangerous every time they were counter-attacking. A clear tactic smartly implemented by Moyes, taking by surprise Leeds’ players unable to provide coverage once lost the ball.
Souček, yet again!
Exactly as per their last game, West Ham found their first goal from a corner kick, and yet again it was Souček who found the net.
Breaking down the whole sequence we can analyse some main points of Leeds’ defending strategy.
Leeds defence is a man-marking and zonal mix, with only a few players using zonal marking, while the majority had a direct man to mark.
Magnifying the below footage, it was possible to highlight how Dallas had only eyes on his man, while the corner kick was taken from the opposite side. Dallas had no clue about what was happening behind him.
In fact, he was not just taken by surprise by Souček, but at the same time, he did not see when the corner kick was taken, creating a lack of awareness irreparable.
The below footage helps to understand the type of marking applied by Leeds, and the run made by Souček that brought him to made a perfect header for the temporary draw.
The poor body positioning and marking skills showed in this situation by Dallas, with an additional downside of almost 10cm of difference between him and Souček made that game level.
Bielsa’s changes and West Ham defending
The second half started with two changes made by Bielsa. Hélder Costa and Jamie Shackleton replaced respectively Harrison and Alioski.
While the building tactic did not change, as is possible to see from the below footage, while attacking the Peacocks tried to put more bodies over the halfway line.
Dallas moved to play on the left side, with Shackleton covering the role as right-back. Once again we can see that while Leeds preferred to keep their players wide open, West Ham preferred to stay back and wait.
Even though increasing their number of players while attacking, Leeds could not find the right space thanks to the organisation showed by the Hammers.
West Ham kept their defending tactic with a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 depending mostly on Benrahma’s position, but what was astonishing during the game was the overall sacrifice and effort made defensively by everyone, with Souček and Rice often dropping back following and marking their own penalty box when necessary.
The below footage shows how the Hammers kept nine men defending right outside the penalty box, and the intensity and concentration in closing any possible passing lanes, creating a density that Leeds could not overcome.
This is another serious improvement from last season as West Ham had one of the weakest defences.
Set pieces, what an issue!
The equilibrium of the second half was broken again from a set piece. The delivery of Cresswell was direct inside the penalty box, finding the header of Ogbonna.
We can notice how the defending style is very similar to the previous event described. In this case, we had a situation of 5 v 5 right around the penalty spot.
Focusing mainly on the players highlighted, we can see that Cooper was too far away from Ogbonna who made the run. Cooper did not face any type of block or obstacle, and his body orientation was correct, keeping eyes on the ball too. However, the distance between him and the Italian player was not quite accurate, giving the time and space for the West Ham centre-back to find the back of the net with a perfect header.
Instead, if we would have an overall analysis of the above footage is possible to affirm that not just the positioning of the Peacocks does not feel quite right, but at the same time the five marking men in the box are not tight with their direct man giving too much space and freedom.
Moyes could not be happier with his overall team performance in this game and in the league so far. Finally, seems that he was able to transmit his ideas and type of football to his team, with a good organisation defensively and taking advantage when they can of their strongest qualities. While Souček and Rice seem to be giving the balance that the team was seeking, the attack relies on the creativeness of their players. Bielsa on the other hand, including this game, saw for the seventh time this season conceding goals from set-pieces. A weakness that must be healed in order to not compromise a season that started positively.