Irons toughen up as five at the back delivers instant rewards

The new system has made West Ham much tougher to break down recently

Defensive crisis? What defensive crisis? Consecutive clean sheets against Champions League hopefuls Wolves and Leicester, new right-back Vladimir Coufal playing like Cafu and Tomas Repka’s love-child and David Moyes being the best ‘work-from-homer’ in the UK.

What is there to worry about? That is certainly the rhetoric I expect from David Sullivan now after we failed to add any more defenders to the ranks before the transfer window slammed shut.

But it’s worth remembering we conceded the fifth most goals in the Premier League last season — 62.

And heading into this campaign there was not much to suggest that was going to change.

However, after a simple yet vital tactical change, West Ham suddenly look as solid at the back as AC Milan of the early 90s.

Not one to brag (I am actually), but I was crying out for Moyes to switch to five at the back before the season started.

If you listen to the We Are West Ham podcast I host with fellow Bubbles writer James Jones you’ll have already heard me bleating on about it — and then showing off when it was implemented and worked like a charm.

It just seemed like the obvious stone to pick when trying to kill two birds.

Bird one being our defensively inept full-backs and bird two being our defensively inept centre-backs.

Ryan Fredericks just hasn’t cut it since his move from Fulham and while he is good going forward, far too many goals came from out wide last season.

Aaron Cresswell on the other flank is equally culpable.

His pace has gone and he just hasn’t got the legs or defensive ability to do everything asked of a modern day full-back in a back-four.

And for all of King Arthur Masuaku’s silky skills he is equally fallible when trying to prevent crosses from the right.

In the middle, Issa Diop is a shadow of the player who was close to joining Man Utd for £50million 18 months ago.

Fabian Balbuena paid back his £4m fee in his outstanding first season and is decent enough as a backup.

And despite Angelo Ogbonna’s plaudits last season, he is still not good enough to cover for his under-par defensive partners in a two centre-back system.

Unsurprisingly, switching to five at the back has gone swimmingly.

It worked wonders for Moyes during his first spell in charge and saw King Arthur play the best football of his Hammers career.

And it was the first and only time since West Ham left Upton Park I felt reasonably confident in their ability to defend.

The recent changes have allowed Masuaku and Fredericks — now Coufal — to shed their defensive responsibilities and back-up the attackers to devastating effect.

And the simple fact of having three centre-backs in the middle means there is always someone to sweep up if one or two of the others make a mistake.

The switch has also invited teams onto us which has left them open to counter-attacks and Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio have exploited them with aplomb.

Anyone looking at West Ham’s squad with two eyes in their head and no alternative agenda can see the club need to invest in a centre-back.

But for now, credit to Moyes (or Alan Irvine) for doing the best with what he’s got and that is all fans can ask of the boss. Long may it continue. 

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