- The Premier League this season has been full of action, goals and entertainment. The Premier League this season has witnessed many nail-biting matches, drama, VAR controversies and much more. The fixture at London Stadium between West Ham United and Aston Villa was nothing short of this. The game had two early goals in the first quarter, a goal and a missed penalty in the second half and VAR controversy in the additional time of 90, ruling out a Goal for an Offside. West Ham United escaped with all three points by narrowly beating Aston Villa. Aston Villa was the dominating side, Jack Grealish was again at the top of his game and the best player on the pitch, yet Aston Villa struggled to find an equaliser. The Lions were the better team for large parts of the game, but Hammers caught them cold with goals at the start of each half. Those were Hammers’ only shots on target all night. Let’s get into the tactical analysis of this game, to better understand the performances and tactics of both teams. The analysis here covers the gameplay, defence tactics and throws light on some crucial events from the match.
West Ham United buildup
West Ham United hardly managed to create chances from an open play with a patient buildup but they were good at counter-attacking football. They tried attacking quickly on winning the possession. Hence, they managed to score early in each half. David Moyes started with 3-4-2-1 formation in the first half but switched to 4-4-2 in the second half as it didn’t work out. West Ham United struggled to keep possession in the first half against compact and pressing Aston Villa defence. This forced David Moyes to switch tactics and roles for the second changes but that didn’t work out as well in terms of dominating the possession. They struggled to extend their lead even after changed tactics and substitutes.
Here, West Ham United is playing in a 3-5-2 formation with Angelo Ogbonna, Fabián Balbuena and Aaron Cresswell forming three at the back. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek playing the midfield with either of them dropping as a pivot and allowing wingbacks, Arthur Masuaku and Vladimir Coufal advance higher up the pitch. This allows wingers, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen to make inward runs and support the lone striker Antonio.
With half time changes, David Moyes switched tactics and attacked in a 4-3-3 shape. Striker Antonio is replaced by Haller and Benrahma is another attacker that replaces wingback, Masuaku. So Cresswell and Coufal formed the two full-backs that stretched the play wide on the left and right flanks respectively. Fornals dropping and forming midfield three with Soucek and Rice. Benrahma, Haller and Bowen formed the front three.
Scoring early in both halves
Hammers scored in the second minute of the first half and in thirty seconds after the start of the second half. Both goals were scored by the head. Let’s look at the analysis of these two West Ham United’s goals.
Here, Aston Villa while defending a corner is using the zonal plus man-marking tactics to defend the corner. Three prospective player going for the header are marked by three Aston Villa players. Ogbonna, Soucek and Balbuena all are marked by Aston Villa defenders. Mings is guarding center, Watkins is guarding near post and Targett is guarding the far post. This is a good setup to defend a corner, all danger zones are marked and players are man marked too. Let’s see how West Ham United managed to unlock.
As the ball is delivered, Balbuena and Soucek make a run towards the far post. These two take all the three Aston Villa defenders along with them. McGinn who was marking Ogbonna makes an error and leaves him to run towards the far post. This allows Ogbonna to make a run from the edge of the box to the far post and rise above Targett, who is marking that zone to head the ball back of the net. Ogbonna gets that space to run and jump above Targett after getting free from McGinn. The analysis highlights the tactics of West Ham United to beat a well-structured defence during the corner.
During the second goal, Bowen gives a ball to substitute, Benrahma who receives wide in free space on the left flank. Here, Benrahma is completely free and has time to hold, deliver a dangerous ball or cut inside the box. Bowen doesn’t stop and makes a run after passing with an intention to receive in return.
Benrahma waits and teases on the left side and loops it to meet the run of Bowen. Bowen heads the ball back of the net after a wonderful run and a link-up with Benrahma. Just two West Ham United players breaking through the defence of Aston Villa. It is evident during this attack, Villa’s defence was out of position and struggled to cope with a quick counter-attack by Hammers.
West Ham United Solid Defence
West Ham United defended with “5 at the back” in the first half. But an offensive change for a wingback at Half time, switched West Ham United defence tactics to “4 at the back”. Benrahma comes in for Masuaku, which shifted Cresswell to left-back from left center-back. Ogbonna, Balbuena and Cresswell formed the three center-backs in the first half supported by two wingbacks wide. Let’s understand both West Ham United’s defence tactics with the following example.
This shows David Moyes’s side solid 5-4-1 defending structure in the first half. Wingbacks, Masuaku and Coufal dropped to support the three center-backs forming “5 at the back” for Hammers. Bowen and Fornals dropped to midfield during defending to prevent Aston Villa’s attack from the middle.
David Moyes switched to a 4-4-2 defence structure in the second half. Cresswell was moved to the role of left-back from left center-back. They looked to strengthen the attack by compromising a defender with these switched tactics. They were vulnerable and beaten at times in the second half but managed to hold on to the lead.
Aston Villa’s gameplay and movement
With Ross Barkley absent in this game, Aston Villa struggled for creativity. Grealish continued in fine form and had an impact on Aston Villa’s attack and buildup. He was involved in the switching position, dropping, movements and creating space and other tactics during Villa’s buildup. Douglas Luiz usually dropped as a pivot to support the center-backs during the buildup. This allowed full-backs to get higher up the pitch and in wide areas. This helped in stretching opponents’ defence structure and create space in the middle. At times, Grealish or Hourihane dropped deep in order to create that space in the attacking half with help of movements in order to move the defenders marking them away.
Dean Smith’s side attacked in 4-2-3-1 shape. Two center-backs, Mings and Konsa were at the center of the play during the buildup. Here, Mings is on the ball. Grealish drops to the middle and later, drops even deeper to create space at his initial position. Grealish takes marker, Rice along with him. Hourihane gets in Grealish’s position which is free and receives the ball from Mings. These tactics and movement trap Rice and Mings gets a transitional pass to move Aston Villa’s attack from defensive half to attacking half. This analysis shows how Villa’s off the ball movement helped them to advance during their play.
This shows Aston Villa’s usual structure of 4-2-3-1. Grealish on the left, McGinn center and Trézéguet on the right forming the attacking three midfield behind striker Watkins. Luiz played the role of anchoring the midfield and Hourihane supported him in the center.
Aston Villa failed to convert the penalty with Watkins missing it in the 74th minute. Again, Watkins’s goal was ruled out by VAR for a tight offside in the additional minute of 90. Apart from this, Aston Villa had two big chances to equalise from an open play. They dominated the game and created chances but failed to convert them. Following were two big chances where Dean Smith’s side failed to equalise.
Here, West Ham United’s defence is caught out of position by Grealish who delivers a wonderful ball to switch flank and in free space towards the far end to Watkins. Watkins on the left flank is free and in space to create a genuine goal-scoring opportunity. Trézéguet makes a parallel run in the center as soon as the ball is delivered on the other side.
Watkins receives the ball in the penalty box and delivers a pass across to Trézéguet on his third touch. Balbuena makes the recovery run but Watkins manages to beat him with the pass and sets Trézéguet. Trézéguet makes a mess of it with just goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski to beat. The touch on the ball was poor and he missed the opportunity to equalise. Grealish and Watkins both combining during this attack but Trézéguet’s touch disappoints.
Another event where Grelish creates a goal-scoring opportunity but again the attackers lacked finishing. Grealish shows flair and skills to dribble past West Ham United players to put in a cross from the left flank. A chance for Watkins to head but his header is high and wide. The cross was in a dangerous area but Aston Villa’s effort hardly threatened or troubled the goalkeeper with this attack. Grealish’s effort was exceptional but wasn’t supported by the finishing of Watkins.
Aston Villa’s Defence structure
Aston Villa defended in the usual 4-4-2 structure throughout the match. They sat deep whenever West Ham United entered their attacking half. The defence looked shaky, out of position and was struggling at times. They struggled to cope with counter-attacks. Also, struggled to defend a set-piece at the start of the first half. Mings and Konsa played as two center-back supported by fullbacks, Targett and Cash. Luiz, Hourihane, McGinn would be dropping to mark the center zone and prevent through balls or any attack from the center. Grealish and Trézéguet dropped to stop the attack from wings.
The highlights, Dean Smith’s side defence tactics in the first half. They played a high line and in 4-4-2 defence shape. They looked well organised defence unit covering length and width of their defensive half. Also, covering the dangerous zones to prevent and intercepts threatening balls from the center.
Here, Aston Villa defending deep when West Ham United have advanced in their final third. Again, in the second half, Villa is defending in 4-4-2 shape. They looked well-organised again with back four in the box and midfield four defending outside the box in order to prevent any reaction from clearance and not give space in front of the box to shoot. Also, at the same time to look for counter-attacking opportunities with two players staying up to punish on the counter.
A lot has changed since West Ham and Aston Villa last met. Their 1-1 draw on the final day of the season was enough to keep Villa up, by the skin of their teeth, and ensured that West Ham United would finish a place above them in 16th. Aston Villa and West Ham United were the worst of the rest. Four months on, this was like a mid-table clash. Both teams have made impressive starts to the season. A win moved West Ham United to 5th place in the table. Both teams were in form and this looked like a tight contest. Aston Villa was the better side but West Ham United grabbed the goals and the result. In spite of scoring two, there is a need for Hammers to improve on their attacking tactics and strength to open up opponents’ defence. However, Aston Villa needs to find consistency and convert their chances. Stability and improvement in defence are also needed for Aston Villa.