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Intensity of training methods
As several former and present West Ham players have admitted, the intensity of Slaven Bilic's training regime was half-hearted. Reece Oxford once pointed out how training at his previous loan club Reading was far more vigorous; Enner Valencia made similar comments on loan at Everton; whilst Simone Zaza criticised the relaxed nature of training at Rush Green after the Italian international signed for Valencia.
Rumours circulated of Bilic letting players off for being late to training or even skipping an entire session, whilst fan's frustrations grew as videos were plastered all over social media of players lazily shooting at an open net day after day, with signs of Premier League standard training scarce.
Disappointing results were not the only evidence of insufficient training, as Sky Sports revealed that the Hammers were 20th in the league for distance covered and number of sprints this season prior to Bilic's dismissal, further proving the lethargy of the players.
In early November David Moyes was appointed as the new West Ham United manager, on a six-month contract with an option to extend. Immediately fans depicted videos of Rush Green training which demonstrated structure, intensity and passion.
Nevertheless high fitness levels and positive mindsets of the players were not aims that could be completed overnight, and it took three weeks for David Moyes to raise the team to their expected standard.
The entrenched mentalities which Slaven Bilic had implemented into the players cost Moyes and his backroom staff early on, suffering November defeats against Watford and Everton. However Moyes persisted with his training methods, trusting that the high intensity would pay off over time.
With two convincing performances in a row against league leaders Manchester City and Premier League champions Chelsea, it seems that David Moyes has got his players to the appropriate levels of fitness, confidence, and composure over a challenging four-week period. The Hammers demonstrated a clear structure against both these sides - rather than panicking and chasing after the ball and leaving vulnerable gaps in midfield and defence, Moyes' side got behind the ball, remained sensibly positioned throughout, and every tackle was appropriate and strategic.
The Scotsman will be hoping that his East London side can maintain their impressive performances for the rest of the season, and return to their tremendous form displayed in the final season at Upton Park.
Adjustment in formation
Whilst four at the back is a comfortable and familiar defensive shape for many Premier League teams, there are two problems with this for West Ham.
Firstly, neither Arthur Masuaku or Aaron Cresswell have been comfortable playing in the left-back position for the previous two seasons. Both fullbacks are not particularly natural tacklers, and playing either one of them in a four-man defence has led to constant individual errors.
Another issue with playing four at the back is that West Ham's two fit centre-backs Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna have always struggled playing as a centre-back pair, as the two internationals are constantly on different wavelengths. They constantly find themselves in imbalanced positions on the pitch and cannot rely on each other for cover. This leaves West Ham in a difficult position considering the transfer window is shut, but David Moyes managed to solve both these issues by switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation.
By using this shape, the fullbacks are pushed further up the pitch, reducing the pressure on them to defend in the box and face one-on-one defensive situations. The left-wing-back position suits Arthur Masuaku perfectly, as the former Olympiacos player can use his immaculate dribbling and pace to support West Ham's forwards, without worrying about significantly exposing the left hand side.
On Saturday, Masuaku set a new Premier league record for the season for the most dribbles in a single match, completing 11 against Chelsea, confirming his attacking competence in his new role.
Pablo Zabaleta seems to have no problem in the full-back position either, as he was one of the most dynamic players in West Ham's weekend win. Instead of dismissing the underperforming Aaron Cresswell in this new formation, David Moyes has given the defender a fresh start by repositioning him as the left-centre-back of the solid back three.
This transformation of left-back to centre-back was likely to be inspired by Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta, who underwent an identical alteration in position several years ago, which maximised his potential on the field.
The extra centre-back on the pitch also provides Reid and Ogbonna with additional support, and the three-man defence certainly appears to resolve the difficulties in communication and composure that were vigilant before David Moyes' arrival.
Dropping 'big-name' players
West Ham United chairman David Sullivan decided to pursue Joe Hart on loan in the summer, believing that a 'big name' would impress the fans ahead of the new season. However after keeping just three clean sheets in eleven games, the England goalkeeper has struggled with confidence issues ever since being pushed out of the country to play for Torino after Pep Guardiola's arrival at Manchester City.
Some West Ham fans continued to believe in Hart right up until the 4-0 loss at Goodison Park, when he conceded a 59-yard goal from former international teammate Wayne Rooney.
The following game was an away trip to the Etihad Stadium, in which Joe Hart was ineligible to play against his parent club. This led to David Moyes reintroducing Adrian San Miguel to the starting line-up, with this game perhaps being the most difficult to be thrown straight into.
However Adrian performed spectacularly, only conceding two of Manchester City's twenty-four shots at goal. Each save was extremely difficult, tipping thunderbolts over the bar and palming away deflections off his own teammates. The Spaniard's efforts were extremely close to being rewarded with a point away at the league leaders, but David Silva's 83rd minute winner diminished all hope.
Following this excellent goalkeeping display, David Moyes faced a selection headache ahead of the Chelsea game. There is no doubt that Moyes would have faced peer pressure from the board not to drop Joe Hart, and it was always going to be a big call for a manager, who has only been given six months to make an impression,to bench England's number one. However David Moyes trusted his instinct and started Adrian in goal against Chelsea, who repaid his manger with a clean sheet.
Adrian's five clean sheets in six league games will hopefully be a sign of long-term form for West Ham's new number-one.
West Ham have won four of the five matches that Adrian has started this season, with their only defeat coming courtesy of David Silva's late winner for league leaders Man City. pic.twitter.com/iVwvlBbhNN
- WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 9, 2017
During Slaven Bilic's reign in the 2017/18 season, the Croatian consistently picked a three-man midfield of Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate. This trio never seemed to play fluidly together, yet Bilic never made a bold decision in dropping one of them.
Cheikhou Kouyate had been blasted over the summer for stating his desire to search for a new team, giving the impression to fans that he was better than the club. However Kouyate's recent performances have not matched up with his statements. The Senegalese midfielder would always leave colossal gaps in the middle of the park as he was prone to rampaging up the pitch every time the Hammers regained possession, leaving his team vulnerable to counter-attacks, which cost his side on multiple occasions.
Kouyate's lack of discipline played a large factor in West Ham conceding more goals than any other Premier League side prior to Bilic's sacking. Since his injury after the Everton game, David Moyes has played a defensive midfield partnership of Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang, which has worked perfectly so far. Both midfielders are playing with composure, not racing forward too often and are confident with their challenges.
Whilst no one can be certain that David Moyes would have pursued this partnership without the injury of Cheikhou Kouyate, the manager has certainly found a perfect balance in midfield which Slaven Bilic could never unearth during his era.
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