How David Moyes transformed West Ham into top-four challengers
West Ham have been the surprise package of the Premier League season so far – here’s how they turned their fortunes aroundByJJ Bull29 January 2021 • 9:59am
West Ham’s 3-2 win over Crystal Palace on Tuesday night pushed them into fourth place in the table, David Moyes’ side quietly sneaking their way into the Champions League spots despite nobody being aware they were that good.
But are they? How has Moyes done it?
Getting the balance right
Moyes swiftly set about addressing the problems that plagued Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham teams soon after rejoining the club, reverting to a more defensive style of play and switching focus from a system built on possession.
By getting bodies behind the ball out-of-possession and attacking quickly on the counter – with direct passes, rather than short – they are much harder to break down than in previous seasons, more dangerous in transition, and uglier to play against as a result. It suits them.
Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are key to it all. Rice links defence with midfield and has the vision to find teammates higher up the pitch with clever passes, making more interceptions and tackles than any other West Ham player, as well as making the second-most passes into the final third. He has formed one of the most balanced midfield duos in the league alongside Soucek, working in tandem as though connected by an invisible string. One holds, one supports the attack.
Soucek’s late runs
The manager has switched between a 5-4-1, a 4-1-4-1, and a 4-2-3-1 at West Ham but seems to have settled on the latter during their recent run of good form, with Soucek’s late runs from deep a vital part of how they attack.https://cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk/7d077431-973b-4dee-b502-f906110d4fa7.html?i=0&ref=www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2021/01/29/david-moyes-transformed-west-ham-top-four-challengers/&channel=sport&id=7d077431-973b-4dee-b502-f906110d4fa7&isapp=false&isregistered=false&issubscribed=false
Despite being a defensive midfielder, Soucek is West Ham’s top scorer this season with seven goals.
As with any system, different players make it function in different ways. Mark Noble occasionally plays as a 10 against strong opponents to help with the forward press, Said Benrahma operates as a floating second striker, and Manuel Lanzini is more of a string-puller. Moyes selects his team based on the tactical requirements of the match.
Jarrod Bowen was signed in January 2020 and has become one of the club’s most important players since, scoring five goals and providing three assists this season. His defensive output is a significant upgrade on Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson, the sort of improvement Moyes has tried to make across the team.
Rather than bring in a creative number 10 or prolific goalscorer in the summer, Moyes signed Vladimir Coufal and Soucek from Slavia Prague for a joint fee of under £20million. The first seemed a fairly unremarkable, reliable, no-nonsense right-back but has proven to be the product of excellent scouting, creating more chances from open play than anyone at West Ham this season. This is how his statistics compare to another Premier League right-back, with Coufal showing a similar defensive output to Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka but offering far more going forward. https://cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk/9c4152fc-b60f-44a0-afbd-7b0d29892935.html?i=1&ref=www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2021/01/29/david-moyes-transformed-west-ham-top-four-challengers/&channel=sport&id=9c4152fc-b60f-44a0-afbd-7b0d29892935&isapp=false&isregistered=false&issubscribed=false
It’s precisely what Moyes wants of his full-backs. With Coufal, Cresswell and two wide forwards providing ammunition from wide areas, Soucek can profit from any loose balls in the box, the kind of opportunies which arise when a team bases much of its chance creation on crosses.
Crosses into the box
Moyes was criticised for his Manchester United team’s reliance on crossing the ball into the box, even breaking the record for the most made in a single game, with 81 against Fulham in 2014. West Ham do something similar and have made the second-most crosses in open play of any side this season, with a total of 318 working out at 15.9 per match.
This number might not be so reasonable were West Ham able to dominate possession as United did, but getting the ball into the box from wide areas suits the players Moyes has to choose from. A high volume of crosses necessitates individuals who can win aerial battles, and with the likes of Tomas Soucek and Michail Antonio contesting headers, West Ham have had more headed shots on goal than anyone:https://cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk/383c6018-cd57-4394-bbb2-2d13fd31ec11.html?i=2&ref=www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2021/01/29/david-moyes-transformed-west-ham-top-four-challengers/&channel=sport&id=383c6018-cd57-4394-bbb2-2d13fd31ec11&isapp=false&isregistered=false&issubscribed=false
… and have scored more headed goals too. https://cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk/344abd6a-d8b0-489b-9639-05ee05389a65.html?i=3&ref=www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2021/01/29/david-moyes-transformed-west-ham-top-four-challengers/&channel=sport&id=344abd6a-d8b0-489b-9639-05ee05389a65&isapp=false&isregistered=false&issubscribed=false
Direct style of play suits players
Physically commanding players like Antonio and Soucek allow West Ham to progress play in the Moyes way. Although they are capable of playing some lovely, quick football in the final third, West Ham are 15th in the table for average possession share at 44.3 per cent, and with the 13th fewest passes made in total but the sixth-highest number of passes made into the final third, we can deduce that they aren’t playing tiki-taka. They are built to absorb pressure, deny space for through-balls and when they have the ball, the passing style is direct.
Below is how that manifests on the pitch.
In the 17th minute of a 4-0 win over Wolves, West Ham win possession on the edge of their box. Rice immediately looks for Antonio.
Antonio has the anticipation, balance, strength and skill to hold off Adama Traore, who fouls the striker to prevent the attack progressing.
Pablo Fornals reacts instantly and takes a quick free-kick, threading a pass through to Bowen on the right.
Bowen controls while running, takes on the defence, and cuts inside onto his left foot.
Wolves’ defence cannot reorganise quickly enough and Bowen tucks a lovely finish into the far corner.
West Ham take the lead. Minimal passes, quick in transition.
Another example is below from the 3-0 win over Leicester. As is normal, West Ham defend deep in numbers and Rice wins the ball, before immediately looking to make a forward pass. This time he finds Fornals on the left.
Fornals carries the ball inside the pitch as Antonio moves wide to vacate the space, swapping positions with the runner (Fornals).
Fornals waits for Bowen to make a run beyond the last man and threads a pass between Leicester’s centre-backs (the blue arrowheads below show the space between them).
Bowen sprints in behind, gets to the box and finishes to make it 3-0.
Maximising set pieces
A big, if not the biggest, reason for West Ham’s ascent to the top four is their clinical execution of set pieces. 10 of their 17 league goals scored have come from dead ball situations, with Aaron Cresswell creating the third-most chances of any player from set pieces in the league, resulting in three assists. Bowen’s delivery is of a high quality too, having also provided three assists from set-pieces. Only Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse has assisted more.
West Ham are in excellent form but should be wary that their six-game Premier League unbeaten run has included a draw with an out-of-form Brighton and narrow wins over relegation-threatened West Brom and Burnley.
David Moyes beats Jose Mourinho for first time as West Ham move into top four with win over Tottenham
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