Guy Demel says West Ham United's recent defensive improvements have not come about by chance.
The Hammers have conceded just four goals in their last five Barclays Premier League fixtures, helping Sam Allardyce's team to collect eight points in the process. Playing away at Stoke City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Southampton and at home to West Bromwich Albion in recent weeks, the Hammers have got tight to their men and not allowed their opponents space in front or behind the back four.
Former Ivory Coast international Demel has started all five matches, and the 31-year-old says West Ham's stingy defence has been the result of both homework.and hard work
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"We work really hard during the week looking at the system of the other team," the right-back confirmed to West Ham TV
, "and as long as we are defending as a team well, it is easier for the defence to keep tight and [individuals to] defend well themselves.
"If the offensive players are given too much space, you can be the best defender in the world, but you are going to be in trouble
"We are in a really important phase now and we know the concentration has to be at the top. I think we have had some great games this season, and other games where we have conceded many goals, but as long as we defend well as a team, it is easier for the defence to have a good game."
On Saturday, Demel and his colleagues produced another resilient performance to draw 1-1 at in-form Southampton. Even the goal West Ham did concede owed a huge amount to luck as Gaston Ramirez's shot was blocked by James Tomkins, only for the ball to fall perfectly for the Uruguay international.
"We had a good game defensive-wise," Demel confirmed, "but unfortunately we conceded a goal, though it was a quite lucky goal, but we are quite happy with the point. I think it was important to leave this game with at least one point and so I think we did a good job."
While he is quick to emphasise the importance of the collective, Demel's own form has been good all season long. After missing much of last term with a succession of injuries, the former Hamburger SV man has featured in 25 of West Ham's 32 Barclays Premier League matches so far during the current campaign.
Demel's form was rewarded with a new contract until 2015, which he signed in January.
"Last season I was injured for a couple of months," he recalled. "Of course, this is my first complete season, though we still have a couple of games before the end. I am quite happy, it is not finished, I think I still have many things to achieve with West Ham.
"First of all we are going to try and finish in a better position and I will work during the holiday to be a better player next season."
On Wednesday, Demel and his team-mates face the biggest challenge of all, with runaway leaders Manchester United visting the Boleyn Ground.
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The Ivorian was part of the side that pushed Sir Alex Ferguson's men close in both the reverse Barclays Premier League fixture and the FA Cup with Budweiser third round earlier this season, and he is confident the Hammers can do so again.
"It is a home game and we play against the top of the league team who are confident with good players, but we still have to keep in mind the most important thing is to pick up points," said the positive No20. "It is going to be difficult, but we did that against Manchester City [and drew 0-0] and we beat Chelsea [3-1] at home so we will try and get a point out of the game.
"We are in a good position, but we can't afford to lose points even against Manchester United so we are going to try to get a good result."