On This Day: Sam Allardyce's 4-6-0 stuns Spurs
Sam Allardyce’s revolutionary formation helped West Ham United shock Tottenham Hotspur on this day in October 2013, presented by Heineken...
It was November 2012 that Sam Allardyce claimed that were he Italian and his name ‘Allardici’, he would be given the chance to manage a top-four club.
Big Sam’s newly-promoted West Ham United were about to welcome Manchester City – managed by a real-life Italian in Roberto Mancini – to the Boleyn Ground in the Premier League.
“I won’t ever be going to a top-four club because I’m not called Allardici, just Allardyce,” he half-joked in his pre-match press conference, before adding quickly: “That was tongue in cheek.”
“I don’t ever comment on that anymore because other people will jump on the back of it and cause all sorts of columns going here, there and everywhere.
“I understand what I can do, I understand my ability as a manager and I just do my job to the best of my ability wherever I work.”
Well, nine years on, he has been proved right, as here is another column based on those comments!
Allardyce had guided the Hammers back to the top-flight at the first time of asking the previous season, with a dramatic Championship Play-Off final victory over Blackpool at Wembley Stadium taking West Ham ‘back where we belong’.
The Irons had made a decent start to life back in the Premier League, too, defeating Aston Villa, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton in the opening weeks to go into the City game ninth in the table.
As it turned out, Allardici’s Hammers and Mancini’s Citizens played out a goalless draw. West Ham would finish the season in a respectable tenth, while Manchester City finished second, eleven points behind rivals Manchester United in what was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at Old Trafford.
A year on from his claim, Big Sam had another opportunity to test his managerial talents against one of the top teams in the country.
Tottenham Hotspur had finished the 2012/13 season in fifth, missing out on a UEFA Champions League place by a single point to their north London neighbours Arsenal.
The 2013/14 campaign had started fairly well for Spurs, with four wins and a draw with Chelsea in their opening six matches.
The seventh saw West Ham visit White Hart Lane. In contrast to their hosts, the Irons were struggling, with three defeats and just five points from their opening six games.
A trip to Hull City the previous weekend had brought a 1-0 defeat, with forwards Modibo Maïga and Mladen Petrić unable to make their mark against the Tigers.
With his strikers not striking and Andy Carroll out injured, Big Sam decided something needed to be done to arrest the slide, and to slow a Tottenham team featuring former Hammers striker Jermain Defoe, Denmark star Christian Eriksen, Belgium midfielder Mousa Dembélé and flying England full-back Kyle Walker.
And so, when the teamsheets were handed an hour ahead of kick-off, West Ham’s did not have a recognised centre-forward in the starting XI.
Instead, Allardyce opted to field a revolutionary 4-6-0 formation, with Mohamed Diamé, Ricardo Vaz Tê, Ravel Morrison, Stewart Downing and Kevin Nolan rotating into what would now be called the furthest advanced ‘false nine’ position.
In full, the team was the experienced Finn Jussi Jääskeläinen in goal, Ivorian Guy Demel and Romanian Răzvan Raț at full-back, with Winston Reid and James Tomkins partnered in central defence.
Mark Noble anchored the midfield, with Diamé wide right, Downing wide left, then Morrison, Nolan and Vaz Tê in the centre.
The result was a unique 90 minutes of football, with the midfield area clogged with so many players on both teams that it became almost impossible for Tottenham to play their trademark passing football.
Spurs enjoyed 60.8% possession, but were kept at bay by the massed ranks of Hammers, who lined up with a bank of five across the halfway line, with Noble and a back four behind them.
Following Allardyce’s careful defensive planning and positioning, West Ham players made a total of 16 interceptions, with Reid and captain Nolan leading the way with five and three respectively.
When they did have the ball, West Ham played on the break, stealing possession and springing out quickly from their own half into the space behind the Tottenham midfield and putting pressure on the home defence comprised of Walker, Kyle Naughton, Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen.
As was so often the case during his managerial career, both with West Ham and elsewhere, Allardyce also put a heavy emphasis on set-pieces and getting the ball into a position of maximum opportunity (POMO) as often as possible.
As a result, nine of West Ham’s 16 goal attempts came from set-pieces, while just three of Spurs’ 14 attempts came from similar situations.
And, after both teams had missed decent chances to open the scoring before half-time, it was from a set play that West Ham’s first goal arrived on 66 minutes. Downing’s corner was headed down powerfully by Reid, only for Nolan to inadvertently block the ball on the goal-line. No matter, it dropped invitingly for the New Zealand defender, who swept home gleefully from six yards.
There was also a slice of good fortune about the second six minutes later, as Vaz Tê latched onto a through ball and saw his initial left-foot shot blocked by Hugo Lloris, only for the ball to ricochet off the Portuguese, loop past the goalkeeper and bounce into the net.
If those two goals had elated the travelling Claret and Blue Army, the third, on 79 minutes, sent them into a state of stunned ecstasy.
There appeared little on when Morrison collected a short pass from Diamé ten yards inside his own half, but the 20-year-old had only one thing in his mind, racing away from Verthongen, dribbling past Dawson and coolly clipping the ball over Lloris and into the bottom corner.
It was a sensational goal, and one which put an exclamation mark of individual flair and talent on Allardyce’s tactical masterclass.
Speaking afterwards, the manager could hardly contain his delight.
“It’s fantastic when a plan comes together and you ask your players to take up a different role in the team in a different system and I think that, because we showed the lads just how Tottenham are and how they set up as a team, we felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.
“We know were a very good defensive side away from home. We know we don’t concede many goals and in fact in our previous three games away from home we’d only conceded one goal off a very dubious penalty.
“We knew we could do that bit right, but as our normal frontmen have never really looked threatening, we thought we’d break from deep positions and run into areas behind the full-backs, who like to push on here.
“The centre-halves can be uncomfortable with nobody to mark, and it paid-off quite well even in the first half, but we didn’t use the ball well enough in the final third, but certainly in the second half it paid massive dividends.
“Everyone knows the value of set-plays, both for and against, and then we broke out because Tottenham got desperate. There was a bit of good fortune with Ricardo’s goal, but then you’ve seen the Goal of the Season probably, Ravel Morrison running through, committing two Tottenham defenders from his own half, running straight at them, making them make a decision, skipping around them and through them, then finally dinking the ‘keeper.
“You can’t ask for any more than that.”
It was arguably Allardyce’s finest hour-and-a-half at West Ham United, and one which proved that, no matter what his name was, he was a top-class football manager.