Friday night football returns as Sheffield United host West Ham United in David Moyes’ second league game in charge of the Hammers, and he will be hoping to build upon back to back victories, after a 2-0 success over Gillingham followed up a 4-0 thumping of Bournemouth.
It is important not to get carried away by West Ham’s comprehensive victory on New Year’s Day against Bournemouth, where they were the benefactors of both some woeful Cherries defence, as well as a stroke of luck for their opener, and they’ll be coming up against a much tougher defensive unit in the Blades, who will be well suited against the Hammers main attacking threats.
Sheffield United responded to a tricky Christmas period by beating non-league AFC Fylde 2-1 in the FA Cup, as Chris Wilder was able to rotate his side and rest a number of key players, as he looks to build upon their promising first half of the season which has left his side sat 8th in the Premier League.
The first meeting between these sides finished 1-1, as Sheffield United were unlucky not to come away with three points, and returning back to Bramall Lane, the Blades will be confident of bringing Moyes’ side back down to earth.
Analysing the tactics employed by Moyes in his first two games, he has had to setup his side in different ways due to the nature of the opposition faced, and how he chooses to set the side up against Sheffield United awaits to be seen.
In the 4-0 win over Bournemouth, he set his side up to defend deep and counter, in the 4-4-1-1 formation that has served the Hammers throughout the season, allowing his defence to keep Callum Wilson in front of the back four and stop runs in behind, whilst Mark Noble and Declan Rice covered the space in front of the back four, stopping Harry Wilson from causing too many problems, as well as stifling the onrushing threat from Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook.
However, Moyes then changed the shape for the trip to Gillingham, opting for a 3-5-2, with Felipe Anderson joining Sebastien Haller up front, as his side looked to dominate possession against League One opposition, as well as add extra steel at the back against the direct Gillingham threat, and it opens up an interesting tactical point as to whether Moyes continues with the three against Sheffield United, given their willingness to go long if need be, especially if West Ham are going to sit deep. Adding defensive solidity will be high on Moyes’ agenda, with his side leaking 32 goals at an expected goals of 38.70, and it should see a tight affair play out on Friday night.
Coming up against Sheffield United’s 3-5-2, Moyes is most likely to continue with his own 3-5-2, as the selection of three centre backs will help keep the Hammers back line competitive against the direct nature of Sheffield United’s front two, especially if target men David McGoldrick and Oli McBurnie are selected. This would give West Ham a spare man at the back and make it hard for Sheffield United to break them down centrally, whilst in front of the back line, the added defensive aerial presence of Declan Rice will also help against this threat.
Although Sheffield United do like to move the ball long, they are happy to get the ball down and play, and a key role will fall to the deep-lying midfielder Oliver Norwood, who has been in excellent form for the Blades this season. With West Ham expected to sit off, he, along with the centre halves, will have plenty of time and space on the ball, and this could see a less direct approach than normal from Wilder’s side, and as a result see Norwood, along with the centre backs, rack up the passes as they look to control possession and dominate the Hammers backline.
The role of Sheffield United’s overlapping centre backs will be key to providing overloads out wide, and Ryan Fredericks will be a huge miss for West Ham, both from an attacking and defensive point of view. He shone against Bournemouth as West Ham targeted the right flank where an out of position Dominic Solanke struggled to cope defensively, but without the English full back, the energy to get up and down the flank will be missing.
Experienced Pablo Zabaleta is expected to come in and start for Moyes’ side, and this could be an area which Sheffield United look to target, regardless of whether it’s a back four or five for West Ham. Whilst Arthur Masuaku’s defending is at times suspect, he possesses the pace to atone for many of his errors and offers a useful counter attacking outlet on the flank. However, by creating overloads with Enda Stevens and the overlapping centre back Jack O’Connell, West Ham could be targeted, particularly if it is a back five for West Ham. This would either force Rice across to cover, which he is adept at doing so, or allow Sheffield United to bombard the West Ham backline with crosses, an area that Sheffield United are particularly strong from, especially if McBurnie starts up front.
West Ham’s main attacking danger will be on the counter attack as they hit the spaces in behind, much like they were able to against Bournemouth’s backline for the fourth goal through Felipe Anderson. As a result, the hold-up play of Haller, as well as movement in behind of Anderson will be crucial. With three centre backs to occupy, it is a tough task for Haller, but if they operate the high line expected, it does leave space in behind for the pacier attackers, although it is only Anderson who possesses this obvious threat from West Ham’s options, and they risk becoming one-dimensional, and this risk can be alleviated by one of the three centre backs dropping much deeper as the others challenge Haller. As a result, this could see long periods of play without the ball and increased pressure on the West Ham backline from Sheffield United, and see the possession statistics racked up.
It is set up to be an interesting affair, especially given this is only Moyes’ second game in charge.
High on David Moyes’ agenda is shoring up the leaky Hammers defence, and the opening two games under the Scot have seen clean sheets achieved in both. The Sheffield United attack is much more potent than that of an injury stricken Bournemouth side and League One Gillingham, however I do expect the deep, defensive line of West Ham to be hard to break down. Their xGa is very worrying, but Sheffield United’s attacking and defensive output is also on the low side, whilst themselves are well equipped to alleviate the West Ham threat. As a tight encounter is expected, I’d be opposing goals in this game, and happy to take Under 2.5 goals at 1.83 (Betfair).
Given Sheffield United will look to dominate, as well as target the wide areas of West Ham, I’d expect the Blades to accumulate a vast amount of corners in the game. Particularly targeting the right side of West Ham’s defence, where Pablo Zabaleta will be left vulnerable, Enda Stevens will be able to get in behind, and these game situations, coupled with the expected pressure from Sheffield United, should contribute towards this. West Ham themselves will be looking to use the channels to target the Sheffield United backline, and with Anderson among those happy to run at defences, and Moyes teams happy to play for set pieces, this should contribute towards corners. With many not priced at the time of writing, 1.82 (Unibet) is the best price for over 10.5, however closer to the match a more competitive price may be available.