Are Moyes’ steely Hammers top-four contenders?

West Ham United manager David Moyes.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

West Ham suffered a slight dampener last Saturday, but the 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers did little to disturb the air of optimism around the club, which has been having one of its finest seasons in recent memory.

What the underlying numbers say
  • West Ham is fourth on the points table after 12 rounds, but how good are its attacking and defensive metrics relative to the rest of the league? We take a look:
  • Goals: 23 | 4th (No. 1: Liverpool 35)
  • Expected Goals (xG): 20.62 | 4th (No. 1: Liverpool 31.42)
  • Open play goals: 12 | 8th (No. 1: Liverpool 26)
  • Counter attack goals: 4 | 1st
  • Set-piece goals: 5 | 4th (No. 1: Liverpool 7)
  • Own-goals: 2 | 1st
  • Shots per game: 15 | 4th (No. 1: Liverpool 19.5)
  • Shots on target per game: 5.1 | 4th (No. 1: Liverpool 7.2)
  • Dribbles per game: 9.2 | 13th (No. 1: Wolves 14.5)
  • Goals conceded: 14 | 5th (No. 1: Chelsea 4)
  • Expected Goals against (xGA): 14.06 | 5th (Man. City 7.96)
  • Shots conceded per game: 12.4 | 9th (No. 1: Man. City 6.3)
  • Shots blocked per game: 3.7 | 11th (No. 1: Burnley 6)
  • Saves per game: 2.8 | 11th (No. 1: Norwich 3.6)
  • Tackles per game: 15.7 | 13th (No. 1: Everton 19.7)
  • Interceptions per game: 9.9 | 7th (No. 1: Burnley 12.5)

In addition to snapping Liverpool’s 25-game unbeaten run this season, beating the Reds 3-2 before the international break, the Hammers also ended Manchester City’s reign as League Cup holder after knocking out Manchester United earlier in the same competition.

The defeat at Wolves was West Ham’s first game without defender Angelo Ogbonna, who will miss the rest of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury. Although manager David Moyes struck a note of cautious realism after the loss, the side’s first in eight matches across competitions, he wasn’t dialling back on his goals.

“We just weren’t quite at the races, the first time playing without Angelo. I think there was a bit missing, but no excuses. The games in the Premier League, there is very little between the teams.

“If the season finished now, I would be ecstatic, drinking champagne because of how good the team has done, but we have another 20 or more games to go, so we just have to continue how we have been playing and keep the players pushing on,” he said.

“But I think we can play better, there is more to come and players who can step up again. I want to challenge the top four. We finished two points outside last season... that is a good target to give the players.”

This ambition will be tested again when West Ham, fourth in the league with 23 points from 12 games, faces champion Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

But it’s just the sort of challenge Moyes has appeared to relish this season. For, the Scot is enjoying a long-awaited renaissance after years in the wilderness as he masterminds his club’s unexpected bid to reach the Champions League.

And for the first time since 1985-86, when John Lyall’s side finished third, West Ham could emerge as a dark horse in the title race. That such talk isn’t being considered fanciful is a measure of the remarkable overhaul carried out by Moyes, both on his club and his own reputation, since he returned for a second spell at West Ham in December 2019.

Back then, West Ham was one point above the relegation zone, while Moyes was regarded as damaged goods after his nightmare period at Manchester United.

When Moyes was hired by United in 2013, he was seen as one of the Premier League’s brightest young managers after his impressive 11-year reign at Everton.

Although he was unable to deliver any silverware at Goodison Park, he led Everton to a top-four finish in 2005 and consistently kept it in the top half of the table on a limited budget.

Moyes’ appointment at United had been endorsed by Alex Ferguson, who recommended his compatriot before retiring. Inheriting a title-winning team, Moyes was expected to maintain the success of the Ferguson era but he never looked comfortable in the harsh glare of the Old Trafford spotlight.

He was criticised for his cautious tactics and ridiculed after signing Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini, a player whose rudimentary style contrasted with United’s ‘purist’ principles. Moyes soon wore the anguished expression of a man who knew his dream was fading before his eyes.

After less than a season in charge, he was sacked in April 2014, with United languishing in seventh place and destined to miss out on a Champions League place for the first time since 1995.

Moyes was back in management at Real Sociedad just months later, but once again he was a fish out of water. That lost year in the Basque country was followed by an even more chastening experience at Sunderland.

Taking over at the Stadium of Light in 2016, Moyes’ team was relegated from the Premier League in his first and only season, while he was forced to apologise after telling a female interviewer she might “get a slap”. At that point it was hard to imagine him salvaging his crumbling career.

But he rescued West Ham from relegation in 2018 and, while that was not enough to keep him employed at the time, Moyes stayed true to his principles and is finally back in fashion.

Revamping his squad with bargain signings Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Jarrod Bowen in his second spell at the club, Moyes has moulded West Ham in his disciplined and feisty image, leading the side to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League last season.

At last the London Stadium — derided as soulless by West Ham fans following the move there in 2016 — is becoming a vibrant home to a team on the up.

  • West Ham’s goal output is in line with how many it is expected to score, based on shots per game and xG. And it is conceding almost exactly how many it is expected to concede (xGA). These two trends — along with the fact that its raw numbers (goals scored and conceded) are clearly in the league’s top five — suggest that its position is no fluke. The challenge will be to sustain these levels over the remainder of the season.
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The club, too, is backing the manager’s ambition. West Ham has been further boosted by investment into the club by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky who earlier this month bought a 27% stake in the London club.

“It’s great, we got a new coffee machine the other day!” Moyes joked. “I had a chance to meet Daniel after Liverpool, he seems a very charming fellow and is a really good addition to the board and I am looking forward to working with him. It looks and feels like a good move for West Ham and we are looking forward to him having an impact and moving forward.”

West Ham is aiming high and whether it reaches the Champions League or not, Moyes’ remarkable rehabilitation is one of the stories of the season.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 11:41:43 PM |

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