Olympique Lyonnais – West Ham United: Demolition Job Relieves Moyes Off His European Shackles (0-3)
David Moyes had never progressed past the quarter-finals of European competition: but a brutal bashing of a disjointed Olympique Lyonnais has put West Ham United into a European semi-final for the first time in forty-six years.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
UEFA’s B competition has always been filled with intriguing match-ups, lo and behold, David Moyes came face to face with another glass ceiling. Though delving into European competition with previous clubs, the step past the quarter-finals had never been made for the experienced coach.
Lyon proved to provide a significant hurdle. A balanced first half was swayed by Aaron Cresswell’s red card, although Lyon was unable to fully capitalize on their control, a one-all draw left this tie well in the balance.
Peter Bosz made six changes from their 1-1 draw to Strasbourg at the weekend. Julian Pollersbeck started in goal, whilst Malo Gusto, Castello Lukeba and Emerson Palmieri all came into the defense. Romain Faivre and Thiago Mendes also came back, to start in the midfield.
Kurt Zouma was also unavailable due to injury. Issa Diop came in at center-back, one of three changes from their loss to Brentford. Cup goalkeeper Alphonse Areola would return, whilst Ben Johnson came in for the suspended Cresswell.
Half-baked possession plan
Lyon asserted control in the early stages, with a passing blueprint that got the ball behind West Ham’s midfield line but had very little substance upon entering the final third. Lyon built in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with some key alterations that constantly created a four-versus-two in the center of the field.
Gusto and Emerson were positioned extremely wide when moving into the middle third, with Lyon’s narrow forwards creating a number of variations in the buildup. Romain Faivre and Houssem Aouar were often placed in the halfspaces, with Faivre coming towards the ball whilst Aouar’s position was more fixed. Lyon’s early threat can be highlighted by the flexibility that Karl Toko Ekambi offered, who sat next to Moussa Dembélé, but also drifted out towards the left, which caused West Ham threat.
As Tomáš Souček was occupied by Aouar, Ekambi was afforded the space in the box to receive from Emerson for a close chance early on. Ekambi slalomed past Craig Dawson and angled his shot towards goal, which beat Areola but smacked the foot of the post.
10th minute: Up-back-and-through combination (Grey ball, first pass: black ball, second pass) created a fast Lyon move as Declan Rice stepped out to confront Mendes, which opened up the passing lane from Jason Denayer into Faivre.
The central focus of Lyon’s passes continued to put the opposition under pressure, especially when one of the midfielders or wingers would step out of the midfield line, which opened passing lanes through. With Tanguy Ndombele dropping into the backline and between phases, Mendes could also push forward to join the passing moves through.
Though the box of Lyon overloads gave them routes and encouraged verticals, ultimately there were no established passages to turn such moves into dangerous shots. Lyon’s attack was aided by Emerson’s underlapping runs, but with no outside presence on the left, the second phase would often grind to a halt. West Ham’s center-backs are notoriously hard to shift out of their defensive positions, and the lack of patterns upon entering the final third saw the Lyon attack reliant on crosses from the right, as a result.
After fifteen minutes, both Faivre and Ekambi switched positions, with Faivre now on the left and Ekambi on the right. This saw their buildup become more clustered, as Faivre and Aouar were drawn more towards the ball, with Emerson the only player offering movements behind them. With less efficiency through the lines, Lyon’s control began to fizzle out, with no shooting substance and the predictable pass towards the fullbacks causing very few problems.
Asleep at the wheel leads to crashes
As the half progressed, West Ham began to produce buildup phases of their own and revealed the disorganization of the Lyon block. Bosz’s team counterpressed individualistically, which didn’t unsettle the visitors’ deep set-up, as well as having a very effective outball in Michail Antonio. As a result, reshaping in their 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 medium block did not look pretty.
Coverage from the midfielders was dysfunctional, often having to support fullbacks that stepped forward, which left spaces for Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals to receive, turn and drive with the ball. The lack of cohesion continued with the forwards pressing more aggressively without the midfield support, whilst the last line dropped a lot deeper than what they should have when West Ham made quick progression.
Such open spaces were visible towards the end of the first half when West Ham’s most controlled phases took place. A long ball from Issa Diop to Antonio, on the right, saw a scattered defense with no midfield coverage. Antonio chested the ball down to Bowen behind, and although the forward lost balance, he still had time to turn and shoot. His deflected shot bounced out for a corner.
36th minute: Buildup to Bowen chance. Player positions for Issa Diop’s long pass into Antonio. Lyon’s defensive block had not properly reset and there was no coverage for the center-backs for the second ball.
From the resulting corner, a pacey front post-delivery was met by Dawson, whose bullet header gave West Ham the lead. Moyes’s team kept pressure through dangerous set-piece work, as well as neat three-man combinations down the left side, which continued to put an attacker in good positions to cross the ball into the box.
In these phases, it’s worth highlighting how reactionary the Lyon defenders were towards crosses or being under pressure around the box. These moments often led to dangerous scenarios around the box, whether that would come from West Ham getting a second bite at goal or sustaining pressure inside of the Lyon half.
Such elements can be seen in West Ham’s second goal, shortly after the first. Mendes’s tame clearance upfield led to Ben Johnson passing to Manuel Lanzini, who drifted towards the left, and continue with an underlapping run, left free by Gusto. Though his cross didn’t connect with a West Ham head, Emerson’s header went straight to Declan Rice, on the edge of the penalty area, in acres of space. Ndombele was forced to drop deep and Rice was left in lots of space. His shot was deflected but rightly punished the hosts as West Ham doubled their lead before half time.
Bosz made a double change at the start of the half, with Ndombele and Faivre replaced by Lucas Paquetá and Tetê. Lyon had now switched to a 4-3-3 formation, with Mendes behind both of their prime creators, whilst Ekambi moved back to the left side of the field.
However, this did not solve their coverage issues, in front of the center-backs. Something that West Ham continued to exploit throughout the second half. Within the first two minutes, the visitors had already gotten into dangerous positions. Lanzini’s layoff to Fornals saw the Spaniard put Antonio into his best position, down the left, with space to run into. A skip past Lukeba created space for a drilled pass across the goal, but just too far ahead of Bowen.
Nevertheless, West Ham would grab a crucial third goal just a few minutes into the second period. Antonio had managed to drag Jason Denayer far towards the touchline, but Lyon’s defensive line was in total disarray as Fornals found Bowen in acres. The forward finished in excellent fashion as hopes of a Lyon fightback were instantly quashed.
56th minute: Example of possession problems for Lyon. West Ham was able to make central areas more compact, which closed passing lanes through. Ekambi and Tetê were encouraged to sit outside more, whilst the lack of verticality led to lateral passes from Lyon midfielders.
Having produced a huge advantage, West Ham could afford to sit more conservatively, as Lyon attempted to get into the same spaces as they had done in the first half. However, Lyon remained just as blunt when in possession. Ekambi and Tetê were now more relied upon to sit on the outside of the fullbacks, without either man able to draw them out effectively. Meanwhile, Lyon’s midfielders failed to offer much verticality, as the flat positioning between Mendes, Aouar and Paquetá led to more lateral passes in front of West Ham’s midfield line, instead of having an option behind them or in the spaces between the double pivot and winger.
West Ham’s 4-4-2 defensive block sat deeper as the game continued, only threatened when a Lyon fullback would drift infield upon entering the final third or the occasional cross would find a free man at the back post. Bosz would replace Aouar with Bradley Barcola, which did see more narrowness from the forwards return as Ekambi was now positioned next to Dembélé, whilst Tetê and Barcola drifted in from wide areas. Although Lyon racked up twelve attempts in the last half hour, just two of these shots would hit the target.
Lyon’s slump in the league had not affected their European performances. They came into this match as the competition’s top scorers, and off the back of an impressive display to knock out Porto. That being said, the fragile defense was truly exposed by West Ham’s effective outball in Antonio, and the deep forward runs that support the attack.
Moyes’s team were well calculated and fully deserved their win. Their offensive play may be extremely reliant on Antonio’s work, but it can be very difficult to defend against. Alongside Rangers, Rasenballsport Leipzig and facing Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, the prospect of West Ham achieving European success is very real.
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