After their 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool, it was time for a change at West Ham. In the weeks leading up to the game, poor results and performances led the West Ham hierarchy to speak out about the position of the now ex-Hammers manager, Slaven Bilic. They decided the Croat had two games to save his job, with rumours already circulating of a potential move for ex-Sunderland boss David Moyes.
With results failing to improve, Bilic was relieved of his duties. Despite the opposing views from the West Ham fans, Moyes was appointed at the beginning of the international break. The Scotsman took the two week interval as an opportunity to enhance player fitness, imposing double sessions on the players who were present at the club.
Match day squad
When the teams were released, it was clear Moyes didn’t feel wholesale changes were required. The switch to a back four saw Cheikhou Kouyate move into central midfield with Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll coming into the starting 11.
Winston Reid’s inclusion from the start had many surprised. Reid had spent the International break travelling around the world with New Zealand in their unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In an interview before the match, Moyes explained injuries and illness had impacted the squad, giving him no other option.
3 points of discussion
Shape – West Ham shaped up as a 4-3-3, with Manuel Lanzini and Arnautovic flanking Carroll up front. The flat three chosen by Moyes to play central midfield allowed viewers an insight into his structured philosophy. A central three creates the defensive stability for the front line to concentrate on attacking, whilst offering an extra man to float between midfield and attack when the opportunity arises.
Tactical tweaks – With Lanzini seemingly given the license to roam in from the left flank, the onus was on Arnautovic and Aaron Cresswell to provide width. Despite the average positions of the two showing exactly that, both players failed to make any sort of impact in an attacking sense.
Style of play – The third and possibly most prominent feature was the use of direct diagonal passing. Once possession was turned over, the West Ham rearguard looked to fire passes long, often toward their target man Carroll. Though this would seem like the correct way to utilise Carroll’s strengths, with only 9/18 Aerial duels won, perhaps the quality of pass could be improved upon.
Chance creation – The biggest improvement from a Hammers prospective was the chances they created. Despite spending much of the first half under the cosh, a late rally saw Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes make a number of impressive saves. Lanzini and co began to create chances early in the second half, the biggest of which fell to Kouyate. The Senegalese midfielder was presented with the ball after finding space at the edge of the box, but blazed the resulting shot into the stands.Embed from Getty Images
Improved ball retention – After a poor first 40 minutes, West Ham sprung into life just before the break. This was due to their ball retention in the opposition’s half. After picking up the knock downs from Carroll, the Hammers were finding it easier to attack Watford in the final third. This led to the flurry of chances just before half time and the aforementioned Kouyate opportunity prior to Watford doubling their lead.
Accuracy of shooting – Despite some wayward finishes from the East London club, they recorded their most shots on target (6) since their second game of the season (8 vs. Southampton) – almost double the amount they were averaging per game under Bilic. Although the final score may suggest otherwise, there were some signs of growth in an attacking sense.
Defensive tenacity – The defensive performances for West Ham so far this season have been hopeless. They have now conceded 25 league goals, keeping only 3 clean sheets in 12 games. Although Moyes attempted to stiffen up the midfield with workman like players to aid the defence, all three spent much of the match chasing shadows. With only 3 tackles and 3 interceptions between the trio, it seems more of a lack of performance from the players than a lack of intent from the manager.Embed from Getty Images
Instability at full back – The club’s ongoing issues at full back have become a point of weakness for the opposition to exploit. Although Zabaleta completed the second most interceptions against Watford (6), he spent much of the first half struggling to deal with the pace and tenacity of the Brazilian, Richarlison. As the game progressed, Watford switched its approach and began to attack down the left. This created problems for the Hammers, with Cresswell struggling to close down the space being utilised by Kiko Femenia. With Zabaleta approaching 33, and few candidates within the squad to replace either full back, the manager may have to look toward January to alter the issue.
Poor passing – Another element to improve upon is – as previously mentioned – West Ham’s passing from back to front. Though the direct style lends itself to having low pass accuracies along with less possession, it doesn’t excuse the quality of passes from the Hammers. Moyes’ side spent much of the game pinned in their own half, with many of the attempted out balls looking more like clearances. Despite the direct style suiting the majority of the players at his disposal, their passing ability whilst under pressure currently leaves a lot to be desired.
Moyes had just under two weeks to work with some of his squad and a matter of days with the majority. Whilst it is understandable for fans to show their discontent at the players for demonstrating a clear lack of determination, it may be too soon to judge their new manager.Embed from Getty Images
A criticism that was often labelled at Bilic, was the lack of a fixed ethos in the way the team progressed. Moyes’ switch to a more direct approach, allows their more influential players to flourish, giving the team a feeling of repetition in the way they create chances. The iteration of this process allows the transition into attack to become fluid, meaning the players will act more on instinct than thought. After only one game, it is difficult to say whether or not the chances that presented themselves versus Watford, will continue to be created. However, there are definitely positives to take from the game, despite the loss.
In his most successful stint in charge of Everton, his teams were structured and organised, something that West Ham most definitely are not. However, if allowed time to work on the shape and organisation of his back line, as well as establishing a plan for January recruitment, supporters may begin to see a change in their club’s fortunes.
Josh Jones – Trigger the Press