Analysis: A performance with Pellegrini's imprint
Manuel Pellegrini has talked often about wanting to imprint his own style on West Ham United and, slowly but steadily, it appears to be happening before our very eyes.
After securing a deserved 3-0 victory at Newcastle United on Saturday with a game based on counter-attacking and getting numbers forward quickly at every opportunity, Pellegrini used a slightly different approach to defeat Cardiff City 3-1 at London Stadium on Tuesday evening.
While observers will rightly point to Lukasz Fabianski’s penalty save from Joe Ralls ten minutes before half-time as a major turning point, the truth is that West Ham dominated for at least three-quarters of the game.
Adopting the same attacking 4-4-2 formation which served them so well at St James’ Park, the Irons were camped in the Cardiff half for most of the opening 25 minutes or so.
For whatever reason, the hosts slowed up for the 20 minutes before half-time and could easily have fallen behind had Fabianski not saved his third Premier League penalty in succession, diving to his right to gather Ralls’ tame effort from 12 yards.
However, despite also losing Marko Arnautovic to a hamstring injury, the Hammers took Pellegrini’s half-time team talk on board and assumed total control for virtually the entire second half.
The Chilean had changed three of his back four from the win at Newcastle, but Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku offered athleticism and positivity from the full-back positions and Angelo Ogbonna did not look like a man who had not started since Halloween at left centre-back.
With Fabianski at his secure best – save a last-gasp aberration that allowed Josh Murphy to head home from a yard out – and Issa Diop shackling the determined Callum Paterson, West Ham largely restricted the Bluebirds to hopeful pot shots from range.
At the other end, with the front four flowing forward at every opportunity, ably supported by central midfielders Mark Noble and Declan Rice, the Irons created shooting chance after shooting chance inside the Cardiff penalty area.
Amazingly, West Ham’s first 16 shots all came from within 18 yards of Neil Etheridge’s goal, before the returning Andy Carroll lamped a right-footer high and wide late on.
Despite replacing the injured Arnautovic, Chicharito and Robert Snodgrass with Lucas Perez, Carroll and the lively Grady Diangana, the Hammers did not skip a beat in attack, repeatedly tearing the Cardiff defence apart.
Felipe Anderson picked up where he had left off in Newcastle, too, running with purpose, pace and no little strength.
The moment of the match, Fabianski’s penalty save aside, came nine minutes after half-time, when West Ham scored the best team they have scored for many a month.
Over the course of 47 seconds, the Irons shifted the ball from one penalty area to the other, from right to left, with no fewer than seven different players – Fabianski, Diop, Noble, Ogbonna, Felipe Anderson, Masuaku and Lucas Perez – involved in a sweeping move that involved 12 passes, climaxing with an inch-perfect through ball from the left-back and a low accurate finish from the Spaniard.
In less than a minute, Manuel Pellegrini’s imprint on West Ham United was there for all to see.