West Ham: Play Maïga, Diame Up Top & Drop Nolan To Avoid Relegation

Big Sam is no tactical genius and his transfer policy has bordered on diabolical but we're still only a few tweaks away from safety...
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Big Sam is no tactical genius and his transfer policy has bordered on diabolical but we're still only a few tweaks away from safety...

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A few weeks back something strange happened.

West Ham's manager, 'Big' Sam Allardyce, was being hailed as some sort of tactical mastermind by broadsheets, badly clothed Match Of The Day pundits and even Big Sam himself. This confused no-one more than West Ham fans.

While once heralded as the lumpen-headed bane of English football, the rough-and-tumble merchant with precisely zero thought for aesthetics, it only took one win against an ailing, toothless Spurs team to have people raving.

Ludicrously, people were claiming we were ingeniously playing a 'false nine' and free-flowing counter-attacking football instead of laughing at how we were lucking out by fluking wins against superior teams thanks to a transfer policy that is, at best, naive and, at worst, dangerous to the future of the club. I couldn't believe my ears.

The Spurs game was a fantastic win against a bitter rival. As much as it pains me to admit it, Spurs are practically out of our league now, so gaining a scalp over the old foe was a dream come true but the 0-3 scoreline, away from home, has perhaps done more harm than good.

Allowing Sam to rest on his laurels, safe in the knowledge that despite the fact he made two big money, perennially-crocked or as-good-as-crocked signings people love him. It's a fanciful notion from a man who has made a living from being a tight-a***d pragmatist.

He got away with it last year, too.

When we beat Chelsea, Hammers fans couldn't believe their luck. With luck being the operative word. It was amidst Rafa Benitez's rocky early Chelsea reign (they hadn't even had their first win under him yet) and it took us coming from behind to beat a Blues team that simply self-capitulated. Even Modibo Maïga scored - considered by some to be the ultimate insult.

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The former Sochaux forward has had a torrid time of it since his July 2012 move for an (always ominous) undisclosed fee. Just two goals and twenty-four starts is not good enough for a man who scored sackfuls in his time in Ligue 1. The problem was only exacerbated when, in his infinite wisdom, Allardyce decided to play him in the centre-forward position early this season. His name become a byword for impotence, hardly helpful when you're a forward who relies on confidence.

Clearly a left-forward with a without a care for crossing, the option of Modibo Maïga out wide should be one that West Ham take more seriously. What use is it playing two out-and-out, 'get the ball the byline and cross it in' wingers when Andy Carroll - the player they were bought to service, the player around whom the entire team was built to service - is absent? Nolan has been a fantastic servant since his move and has proved vital time and time again but playing him up-front is not the answer.

Instead, much like against Spurs, leggy midfielder Mo Diame should be the man promoted to attacking focal point. Strong and decent in the air, Diame closes down like his life depends on it and possesses more than enough quality to give goalkeepers something to worry about. With Maïga left of him and Downing right, West Ham should have just enough to give Chelsea something to think about going forward.

While pushing resurgent Ravel Morrison forward might seem like a more obvious option, why disrupt a young player who has settled in so magnificently in the middle of the park? With Noble next to him, Nolan can easily drop into the middle where he is more effective. He doesn't have the legs to play up-top but when it comes to making late runs into the box, there have been few better in Premier League history (a bold claim, I know, but one which I'll gladly defend in the comments section).

At the end of the day, however, the biggest loss will be Winston Reid in the centre of defence - a man I've taken to likening to my Mum's roast beef dinners, given his miserly and surprisingly tough demeanour - who is out until the new year. I was distraught when I heard.

All we can hope so is a solid performance. Wins against top six teams aren't necessary, though they can provide a kickstart. If we can come up with a showing that isn't worthy of derision, that'll be good enough for me.