For me, Sam Allardyce’s reputation as a soccer “cave man” has been created in large measure by a media that has looked for lazy words to describe managers and needed a tag-line to explain Bolton’s mid 2000’s success. But Allardyce has always been an innovator in his own right, from his rigid scouting methods, to his communications tools and to his training methods. His success is due to hard work and modernism.
The British press seemed stunned by Allardyce’s ability to tactically shift into a 4-6-0 formation for West Ham’s London Derby showdown with a high-flying Spurs side two weeks ago. But Big Sam has shifted tactics regularly through his management career when in tough spots despite the ridiculous description that he is a long-ball merchant.
Tomorrow, coming off a great managerial triumph in the 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane, West Ham United takes on Manchester City who have failed to win away from home this season in the league. Manchester City’s performances away from Eastlands have been characterized by tactical naivety, defensive mistakes and a four-man midfield that at a certain point in each match has been overrun.
Pep Guardiola used a 4-6-0 formation to great effect against Manchester City’s outgunned four man midfield at Eastlands in Champions League football two weeks ago. Bayern’s movement and runs from wide positions ripped through City’s defense and midfield. This is very similar to how West Ham employed the 4-6-0 versus Spurs. The movement of Ricardo Vaz Te and Stewart Downing on the wings combined with the interchange play of Ravel Morrison, Kevin Nolan and Mohamed Diame. Mark Noble in central midfield was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the Spurs victory. A similar tactic if Manchester City insists on playing a four man midfield will likely rip the Blues to pieces.
How can City cope with the West Ham tactic? Manuel Pellegrini must deploy an additional midfielder centrally, either Jack Rodwell who has played just once this season, or James Milner who has started the previous two Premier League matches playing on the right flank. If Milner is moved to central midfield, Jesus Navas can return to the starting XI in a wide area and this will also allow Yaya Toure to go forward with more regularity.
If City do not adjust their setup, West Ham will likely capture all three points tomorrow. Allardyce has figured out an effective way to play without a striker and use his enormous midfield depth and talent to an advantage. Allardyce has throughout his career figured out ways to get results against top sides at home and use the talent at his disposal to gain maximum impact.
Manuel Pellegrini’s rough start to Manchester City will likely get rougher Saturday at Upton Park against West Ham United unless he makes major changes to the way he sets up the Blues side. It is not hopeless for City, but if a major tactical adjustment is not made, West Ham is almost certain to gain all three points.