Talking Tactics: Rock-solid backline can bring West Ham Euro glory
West Ham enjoyed their best season in over 20 years last term — and the Irons have kept the good times rolling this time around.
David Moyes’ outfit sit fourth in the Premier League table after last Sunday’s 4-1 victory at Aston Villa.
And their Europa League performances have been just as eye-catching — the Hammers have won all three of three Group H games so far without conceding a single goal.
As the side from East London bid to keep that run going at Genk this evening, we take a look at West Ham’s impressive defensive record and what it says about their prospects of European glory.
Consistency amid rotation
Top-tier football’s hectic schedule means that rotation in the Europa League has long been a given — and West Ham are no different in that regard, naming much-changed line-ups for their continental fixtures.
But the presence of Aaron Cresswell at left-back and Declan Rice helping to shield the back four have been constants in the starting XI.
Moyes has also named the same defence for each of the team’s last two games in the competition.
The Hammers beat Rapid Vienna 2-0 and Genk 3-0 in those matches, with Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop and Ben Johnson making up their rearguard.
Having something to hold
West Ham have been 1-0 up at half-time in all three group matches, so there has always been a lead to defend in the second period.
They have increased that advantage on every occasion too, building confidence throughout the team and alleviating any pressure on the Hammers’ backline.
With spirits high and the Irons’ opponents beaten into submission, it is perhaps no surprise that the team’s defence has been able to doggedly hold on for three consecutive clean sheets.
Not giving them a sniff
West Ham have restricted their opponents to a mere three shots on target in total, the fewest of any team in the Europa League.
Dinamo Zagreb, who they comfortably beat 2-0 away from home in their Group H opener, did not manage a single one.
Only six sides in the competition have faced fewer shots overall than West Ham’s 28, at an average of 9.34 per 90 minutes.
The Hammers even saw Rapid Vienna have a penalty overturned by VAR on Matchday 2 — there really does seem to be no way through their imperious defence.
Moyes can hardly have any complaints about his side’s displays so far.
Speaking after the previous victory over Genk, he said: "I’m thrilled with the performance and with the result because it’s another win in Europe for us and we’re doing a good job and the players know they’re doing a good job.
"We’re going into the games and we’re not trying to sit back. It’s just something I think the players have embraced.
"As I’ve said before, we want to make sure we’ve got European football after Christmas if we can do, but it would be even better if we could win the group.
"I’m delighted with the position we’re in and long may it continue."
European success tends to be built on rock-solid foundations, something which West Ham quite evidently have.
Should their watertight defensive performances continue, the Scottish manager, his troops and the Hammers faithful may begin to look well beyond Christmas — towards May's showpiece in Seville.