West Ham United vs. Chelsea: Opposition Scouting Report

Perhaps the last remaining photo evidence that Wayne Bridge ever existed - Jamie McDonald

Brutal, ugly, effective are words commonly used to describe Sam Allardyce's West Ham. Do they apply? Yes. They certainly do.

Sam Allardyce inflicted Rafa Benitez's first loss in English football when Bolton defeated Liverpool in 2004, and he'll be hoping to inflict a similar punishment upon the new Chelsea boss this weekend. The two have an acrimonious relationship but Allardyce did admit to the biggest positive of Benitez's short reign. "It will be more difficult to break Chelsea down than it would have been," he said this week, "and chances will be few and far between."

That's a fair assessment of what will likely be a cagey affair: Chelsea and West Ham rank third and fifth respectively for goals conceded in the Premier League this season, and Benitez is notoriously conservative, with two scoreless draws hardly endearing the former Liverpool manager to the Chelsea fan-base.

The Spaniard's strategy is obvious: he'll elect for the same 4-2-3-1 preferred by his predecessor, although the Brazilian Oscar might be a notable omission, with Victor Moses rumoured to be preferred for the starting XI.

Allardyce's strategy is also straightforward: a 4-5-1 formation that could also be termed 4-2-3-1 offensively. Kevin Nolan is central to West Ham's game - he's their captain, the most used player, the top goal scorer, and was Allardyce's first signing after his arrival at the Hammers. The first signing isn't necessarily the most important, but for Allardyce, it proved crucial. Nolan is the fulcrum of the side, and he focuses on breaking into goal-scoring positions inside the penalty area (in a manner somewhat similar to Frank Lampard, who is injured).

Nolan is always positioned behind a central striker, likely to be Andy Carroll here, and he hovers around in the space behind him, positioning himself for cutbacks or the second ball, reprising the partnership that worked well for Newcastle during their Championship-winning season. Knock-ons are a similarly opportune route of attack, a pattern of play that has grown to characterise West Ham's ugly, but effective style of play - WhoScored statistics suggest they win 54% of contested aerial duels.

Long, direct balls to Carroll quickly bypass the opponents' midfield, and with Nolan in support, the centre forward's role isn't necessarily to score goals, but to free up space. Tracking Nolan's runs inside the penalty area is the responsibility of the central midfielder, a job that will fall to either Ramires or John Obi Mikel.

Out wide, Allardyce tinkers with the selection of his wingers, but generally Ricardo Vaz Te and Matthew Jarvis are on the flanks, instructed with dragging their direct opponents wide and deep to open up space in the middle. They then quickly break towards the centre to attack Carroll's knock-downs: Vaz Te is the more aggressive from the right and it will be important that Ashley Cole remains alert to the danger. Jarvis is a more traditional winger, and can go in or outside the full-back. He'll try to take advantage of Cesar Azpilicueta's tendency to move quickly into challenges.

The midfield duo is likely to be Mohamed Diame and Mark Noble, although Allardyce selected James Tomkins against Manchester United mid-week. Tomkins, also capable as playing as a centre-back, plays a deeper, more destructive role, and Allardyce might be wary of Juan Mata's ability to find space between in midfield. Santi Cazorla is a similar player and was at the heart of the play in Arsenal's 3-1 win earlier this season: selecting a more defensively-minded player in Tomkins would give West Ham a better shape without the ball.

That protection in front of the back four will be important: James Collins and Winston Reid are the opposite of the ball-playing defender. Benitez will instruct Fernando Torres to drop deep alongside Mata, and the duo will move laterally across the pitch to place pressure on the centre-backs.

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