West Ham are doing pretty well this season, and there is not a touch of sarcasm considering the impasse of their London neighbours. Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea are going through relatively tough times when analysing their overall performance this season. It is also unfair to compare these clubs with West Ham based on the performance of one single season. However, it is also unlikely to see a team from London having the last laugh this season.
The Hammers are perhaps the luckiest club, considering the quality of depth and character the club could maintain. With little or no funds available for a pandemic hit economy, West Ham were more hesitant to do business in the summer. However, they still landed Vladimir Coufal, Tomáš Souček and Craig Dawson, three significant signings, followed by an insane gamble with Jesse Lingard in January.
To make things even better, they are now tipped to be a genuine contender for European football next season around. Just 5 points behind the 4th placed Leicester City and 2 points above 7th placed Spurs, the future looks bright for the Hammers no matter what. But how did they do it?
The Second Homecoming of David Moyes
Perhaps you may remember that David Moyes had a short stint with the Hammers back in 2017 when he took over from Slaven Bilić. Securing a series of marginal victories, notably a 1-0 win over reigning champions Chelsea, guaranteed safety for them. They finished 13th in the league table but refused to renew Moyes contract at the end of the season. Instead, Manuel Pellegrini was brought in for a major overhaul, which we could argue, didn’t work as planned.
In his first season in charge, they finished 10th but failed to overcome their poor consistency in form. Just a year on, Pellegrini was finally sacked in December 2019 after a series of poor performances in the first half of the season. Desperate and struggling to survive, Moyes was once again brought in to save the sinking ship by the owners, David Sullivan and David Gold. Not known to be a popular face among supporters, both these men have an inconsistent attitude regarding decision-making.
Former Hammers manager Sam Allardyce once remarked that both of them tend to bully managers into signing the players they wanted. The owners and their lack of proper man management is something that is often discussed around the globe, and it is not uncommon. Failure to conduct transfer business in time with managers struggling to cope with pressure is also not unheard of. However, one thing that stands out in retrospective to their modest Operandi is the Hammers’ questionable decisions in recent years. It’s a rabbit hole mystery of the universe, how Moyes assembled a decent side out of what he received.
Tactics, New Faces and Changes
West Ham opt for numerous formations throughout the season, with slight variations coming here and there in between. However, the players almost remain the same except in certain key areas. For instance, Fabianski in goal, Vladimir Coufal and Dawson in defence, Antonio in the attack are constantly featuring under Moyes. Certain players often swapped positions and were constantly rotated as per the formation in demand. Tomáš Souček, who naturally plays on the right side of the central midfield switches places with Declan Rice who plays on the left of the midfield. In the presence of left-back Arthur Masuaku, the Hammers often played with a back three with both wing-backs playing further higher up the pitch in a 3-4-2-1 formation. With Masuaku injured, a change of formation into 4-2-3-1 was later adapted. By introducing Jesse Lingard in January, West Ham saw significant improvement in attacking potential as a unit.
With Lingard’s arrival, Antonio is now getting more of the ball than ever before. It essentially changes the dynamics of the game. For Example, Aaron Cresswell played a key role in the absence of Masuaku, with the quality to move up the pitch like his predecessor. This sense of similarity in squad favoured Moyes to quickly adapt the style he mastered at Everton. Despite several injuries, West Ham still manages this quality of depth in the squad, which allows several players to carry out multiple roles. Declan Rice is a crucial example of this. His ability to fall deeper as a centre back or as a right back in times allowed Moyes to shift their tactics accordingly.
Now as we turn our attention to the midfield, we could see that West Ham legend Mark Noble was struggling for playing minutes due to the quality brought in by Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček. The pair have managed to find an unusual bond in the midfield that not only enables the Hammer’s attack but also solidifies their defence, an area where they suffered badly last season. Interestingly, David Moyes has an increasing list of rich options available on the bench and in reserve.
In offensive areas Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen, for instance, continue to play a key role despite the emergence of Lingard. Antonio’s fitness is another area that looks very crucial for West Ham and in his absence the club has previously failed to ignite. However, with Lingard’s potential to play in areas similar to Antonio, Moyes had finally found a makeshift striker to support his attacking unit.
How Stats and Facts Speaks
The style of play they adopted under this system is moreover similar to the one implemented by their former boss, Slavan Bilic. However, one area in particular Moyes made significant improvement is with the stability in possession. With a wide area of play, with significant momentum coming through wings, West Ham hold the upper hand when in possession. Unfortunately, they have only managed an average of 42% in total possession this season, but hold a healthy 1.62 ratio of goals per match with 56% of those goals coming from open play. Not to mention the team relies heavily upon a creative workforce that is built from the back.
Moyes demands a similar style of play to the one he had at Everton. With players often similar to his Everton side with a strong deep-lying midfielder in Fellaini and high pressing wings in Baines and Coleman. It is also quite similar to the one played by Wenger back in the day with heavy dependence on short creative passes and wing presses. By playing with a strong low mid-block, teams have a herculean task of breaking this deadlock in counter-attacks.
With opposition pressing high, they also had the advantage of finding space for Antonio up front, who had the natural strength and quality to find empty pocket spaces. West Ham also counter swiftly with long balls, which leaves little room for the opposition to man-mark the pressing players. However, they notoriously hold a tendency for fouling, which averages something like 10.18 fouls per game. Despite a solid back, they have also conceded a woeful 44 goals so far and managed just 10 clean sheets. However, they average 393.18 passes per game and are excellent in aerial duels as well.
By relying on long balls, the players find attackers in and around the box, enabling wingers to cut in and let wide wing-backs launch effective balls into the box. This in particular was a standout feature of West Ham this season. In the case of the ball possession, much of the style has significantly shifted to the midfield area since the arrival of Lingard. For instance, against Wolves in April, despite a mere 33% possession, they still managed to finish with a score of 3-2 in their favour. They had managed a similar style of loose possession against several other sides throughout the season. But much of their performance relies heavily upon their defence as well.
With the presence of two solid defensive centres back, West Ham can tap into the defensive shape quite easily. By low block, against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, they were quite easily able to thwart any in roads made by the attackers. Against Manchester City, they still managed to keep an in form city at bay despite an eventual 2-1 loss at the Etihad. In the match, Manchester City were only able to register10 shots, which is quite low considering their overall shot per game this season. With more players available to play in the middle of the park and defence, the Hammers hold a significant upper hand in several key areas other teams often struggle with. Due to this overall balance, they could easily manage to stay consistent throughout the season, something which Aston Villa and Southampton failed to foresee.
Now as it stands, West Hand have a significant opportunity to change the history of the club and qualify for European competitions for next season. With 3 more fixtures against the likes of West Brom, Brighton and Southampton remaining, the future promises to shine brightly than ever before. For David Moyes, it is another opportunity to return to the top echelons of English football once again as a Manager.