The return of David Moyes to West Ham United in 2019 sparked a debate surrounding the decision to hire a manager who has struggled to stamp his authority in recent years. Hand-picked by the great Sir Alex Ferguson to replace him, Moyes’ Manchester United era did not go according to plan. A harsh lesson in Manchester was then followed by a dismal tenure at Real Sociedad and Sunderland.
After Manuel Pellegrini left West Ham in a huge spot of bother, David Moyes cleaned up the mess and kept the Hammers in the Premier League. The following year, he added some astute signings as the Hammers stunningly finished 6th which resulted in a European campaign in 2020/21. And last season, they went one better by landing in the semi-finals of the Europa League and ending up 7th in the league.
After two stellar seasons, one clearly cannot understate his achievements with the club. But the screw is starting to loosen by the looks of it, as West Ham are currently in the relegation zone after seven games to the new season. Despite bringing in fresh faces, the players have been underwhelming and shouts of ‘you’ve been found out’ are certainly ubiquitous among the supporters. So, let’s focus on what is going wrong at West Ham United and the probable solutions to improve the club’s current status.
Why are West Ham struggling?
One win in seven games, three goals scored (lowest in the division), and 18th in the table, the stats don’t read well for the Hammers. Adding a host of fresh faces, including club-record singing and highly rated Brazilian – Lucas Paqueta, West Ham fans arrived into the season with plenty of optimism.
The likes of Gianluca Scamacca, Emerson, and Thilo Kehrer also provide variety as well as depth. However, life in English football has not been kind so far, especially for Paqueta. Additionally, fatigue could be one of the major reasons for the lack of inspiration shown on the pitch. Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal, Michail Antonio, and Jarrod Bowen – five of West Ham’s key players are regular for their countries in the international circuit. Hence, after a grueling season, the fixture load could unquestionably have taken a toll on the Hammers.
Moyes, however, was critical of his star men and failed to blame the congesting fixtures. Speaking after their recent defeat against Everton, he said, “They were the players in the main who let me down with their play overall. The players who played last year are down on their level as well. We had shown signs we were getting back to it but I don’t think we did here. When we got anything in the final third it was nearly always the wrong decision.”
Delivering in the final third has certainly been one of West Ham’s problems this season. However, the Londoners have also struggled to progress the ball quickly, as they did last season. Tomas Soucek has been Moyes’ go-to man in midfield, but his form has coincided with West Ham’s struggles in this area. West Ham are one of the best teams in targeting the channels and creating overloads in wide areas to ultimately deliver the ball in the box for the likes of Antonio and Bowen to pounce on, but a lack of progression means that the team are creating fewer chances.
The stats also show this. The club topped the chart in terms of crosses into the 18-yard box in the Premier League last season (2.58 per 90), but they are down in 13th with just 1.86 per 90 this time around (stat via Fbref). This is down to their poor progression from the first and second phases, as Soucek has been going through a rough patch. The below passage against Everton is an example that teams are now targeting Soucek and marking Declan Rice – who has been West Ham’s best player, both in breaking down the opponent’s attacks and progressing the ball from midfield.
West Ham also have an excellent record in corners and set pieces. In the 21/22 campaign, only three teams (Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal) had a better record from dead ball situations than West Ham United. However, they have scored only once from their routine this season, which is surely a concern for Moyes and his staff.
Moreover, the Hammers have the worst PPDA (Passes per defensive action) in the league, which displays their lack of pressing upfront. While they have been who like to sit back and invite the opposition, their structure out of possession, especially up-front, has been poor. Going back to their game against Everton, Antonio and Paqueta started as forwards with one of the two marking the number 6 (Gueye) while the other looked to press the center halves. But a lack of communication and a poor body shape while pressing meant that Gueye was in acres of space to turn and carry the ball.
After Everton string a few passes, Paqueta is once again caught out of position as Iwobi cleverly moves into the space from the Brazilian’s blindside. And this passage of play led to Neal Maupay’s winner.
What can David Moyes do to improve the situation?
Lucas Paqueta was signed for big money from Olympique Lyon but has failed to hit the ground running. Of course, the former AC Milan man will need time to adapt, but is Moyes playing him effectively to get the best out of him? Well, the answer is simply no. As per Fbref, Paqueta has received a whopping 9.25 progressive passes per 90 and stands in the 99th percentile when compared to attacking midfielders in Europe. This season, however, the Hammers have struggled to progress the ball to the forward areas. Moreover, his passing range is under-used at the club as David Moyes’ side usually looks to overload the wide area and whip in crosses for Soucek and Antonio to attack.
Pablo Fornals is another player who is mis-profiled this season with Moyes using him predominantly from the left. He has played Fornals in several roles, including both the wings and as a number 10 in the past for his tremendous work rate. With that said, the Spaniard’s strengths lie in the central areas as his ability to drop between the lines and arrive in the box at the right time is superior when compared to his time in the wide regions.
Maxwel Cornet perfectly fits the bill to replace Fornals on the left side. Cornet is a Premier League-proven player, and his dynamism is something the Hammers have missed this season. Additionally, Moyes can start Fornals as a number 10, with Paqueta dropping a bit deeper in place of the struggling Tomas Soucek.
As mentioned above, Soucek has been out of form for a while now, and despite the impact, he provides in both the boxes, it is high time for Moyes to replace the Croatian in the starting 11. The new £12 million signing from Ipswich Town – Flynn Downesr has impressed the Hammers faithful in the UEFA Conference League and could also be in line to start against Wolves after the international break, replacing Soucek in the heart of midfield.
Gianluca Scamacca is another signing who is yet to make a mark in the league. He has already scored thrice in the UEFA Conference League and yet just made one start in the Premier League. However, like Paqueta, Moyes is certainly giving them the time to settle in new surroundings, but with the team misfiring in front of the goal, maybe it’s time that the Scottish manager hits the refresh button and starts his new singings.
In a time of struggle, it’s important to have a squad that can get the club out of trouble, and West Ham certainly have several talented players with experience. Further, they have already played Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur, so their fixtures look relatively easier now. And they were arguably unlucky during their defeat against Nottingham Forest and Chelsea. The tides could turn their way sooner than later, but Moyes is a man under pressure to deliver after the owners have backed him this time around. The mood in the dressing room is low by all odds, but that may change with just one victory, which the Hammers supporters are hoping will come against Wolves in game week eight.