Gary Cahill knows what to expect from West Ham on Saturday, and believes our defensive improvement will need to continue as we look to fend off a side earning a reputation for its direct style.
The defender has been an observer for our previous two outings, where clean sheets were achieved against Manchester City and Fulham, but is expected to come into the side tomorrow lunchtime with David Luiz suspended.
Facing him will be a West Ham team that under Sam Allardyce has been pragmatic rather than poetic, and a reliance on long balls to forward Andy Carroll has become a main characteristic of the Hammers’ play.
At Manchester United on Wednesday, and Spurs last Sunday, their most frequent pass combination has been from goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen into Carroll, though it is not just on their travels this tactic is used, it was also employed effectively in last month’s 4-1 win against Southampton at Upton Park.
‘Tomorrow will be a huge test, size wise we don’t have the tallest of teams by any stretch, and they look to get the ball forward quickly and play off the second ball, it’s the way Sam Allardyce likes to set his teams up, and the personnel is geared towards it,’ Cahill said.
‘It’s a noisy place to go too, so it will be a tough test and defensively we’ll be asked a lot of questions.’
The 26-year-old has been impressed with what he has seen defensively, since Rafa Benitez took over last week.
‘Defensively we’ve looked really good in the last two games. The new gaffer has come in and organised it so we’re not as open, which for the lads at the back is great.
‘He’s changed the mindset of the players when they haven’t got the ball, that’s the main thing.
‘At the start of the season we did it well and had a balance in the team and kept clean sheets while scoring goals, but we lost our way, especially at Juventus where we were so open. There’s no way we can keep clean sheets like that, so the mentality of getting back into a good shape when we lose the ball has returned, making sure everyone is the right side of the ball.’
Carroll has displayed a tendency to pull wide when receiving long balls, a tactic that suits the run of attacking midfielder Kevin Nolan, a player Cahill knows well from his Bolton days.
‘If he pulls onto the full-back then we have to win the second balls, if not we have to win the first down the middle, Iva and I are tall and can deal with it, but it will be tough.
‘With Nolan running through it’s about communication, the gaffer has brought in the importance of that. With different nationalities it’s not always easy but the midfielders and defenders need to speak to either track him or pass him on. We’ll have to be aware of Kev’s runs, he’s had a lot of joy from doing that.
‘I played with him at Bolton, and Jussi Jaaskelainen, Joey O’Brien, Ricardo Vaz Te, there are loads of former team-mates and it will be good to see them.’