WHO Poll
Q: 2021/22 What competition should we prioritise this season?
a. The league is our bread & butter, so this year let's have a club sandwich
25%
  
b. We're owed an FA Cup after Gerrard nicked our last one in 06, our name's on it in 22
9%
  
c. A bye to the League Cup 3rd round gives us a good start, let's make it count
6%
  
d. The Europa is our best ticket to the Champions League, this is the one
36%
  
e. What's wrong with you, let's do the lot, has the quadruple ever been done
24%
  



Alan 3:20 Fri Nov 12
How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
The Analyst

How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm

Alex Keble

West Ham United are the most fashionable team in the Premier League right now precisely because they are not. There is something about their retrograde tactical setup under David Moyes that charms both traditionalists and modern supporters alike; a warm winter cardigan for grandad and a piece for hipsters rummaging through a vintage clothes store.

It is a system that, broadly speaking, rejects the accepted norms of possession and pressing for a deeper line of engagement and swift counter-attacks. Following a 3-2 win over Liverpool that had all the familiar hallmarks – a low block, long balls into the channels for Michail Antonio, deadly set-pieces – West Ham are now third in the Premier League table.

They are in the running for a Champions League spot primarily because they run against the grain, with Moyes’ relatively simplistic system providing a sharp clarity that few others – in their straining attempts to play in a complex and adventurous style – can match.

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The last team to finish in the Premier League’s top four with a possession average below 50% was Leicester City in 2016, and it’s easy to see why wild comparisons are being made this week with Claudio Ranieri’s fairytale (which, by the way, is not about to be repeated by West Ham).

But the similarities are interesting regardless. The Hammers are averaging 48.7% possession, ranking them 12th in the league, and it reflects the way Moyes expects his team to hold a relatively deep defensive line. West Ham do not tend to engage high up the pitch, and indeed they are third bottom for total presses, while just 16.8% of their total pressures are in the opposition’s third (again, 12th in the league).

The idea is to maintain shape from a deeper position, which helps ensure compression between the lines and draws the other team forward, in turn creating scenarios for quick counter-attacks in behind the advancing opponent. West Ham have notched 21 direct attacks so far this season – essentially a metric that proxies effective counter-attacks – and this figure is only bettered by four teams this season.

West Ham are certainly a combative and aggressive team once engaging, but they allow 12.5 opposition passes before making a defensive action (PPDA) which is 12th lowest in the league, capturing their preference for sitting deep and patiently waiting. There is no tearing around for the ball.

Inevitably, a low defensive block is matched with quick transitions as opposed to careful possession football built through the lines. West Ham generally use the explosive forward runs of Declan Rice to move them up the pitch on the break and get those forwards quickly into dangerous areas. Rice tops the Premier League charts for carry distance (2,680 metres) and is fifth for upfield progress with the ball at his feet. After charging forwards, Rice has the confidence and assuredness to find a teammate, only Mo Salah has more assists than him following a ball carry.



Rice has openly expressed he’s trying to improve the ball-carrying part of his game, and the numbers show this. Over the course of the last five season, his progressive carry numbers (dribbling the ball five metres or more up the field) have consistently increased.



His progression in this facet of play has drawn plaudits from many. Last month, Roy Keane spoke about Rice’s talent and believes the midfielder is further ahead in his development as a player compared to himself at the same age.

Once the ball is in the final third, the tendency is again towards simplicity and traditional methods as West Ham swing crosses into the box. They attempt the third most from open play in the division (16.5 per game).

Variety and Reactivity

But although West Ham are characterised as playing lots of longer passes into the channels for Antonio, often via Pablo Fornals or Jarrod Bowen, perception is skewed by the fact most of their televised games are against top clubs like Liverpool or Manchester United:



What really marks Moyes out is the variation in how his team play. He is a true reactive tactician, pouring over data to find opposition weaknesses and adapting his strategy accordingly, famous for covering every inch of wall space in his office with sticky notes during his Everton days. This malleability is best captured in the striking statistical differences between games this season.

Against Leeds United, his side had a PPDA of 22.9 but against Brentford it was 8.3, the former requiring a deeper line to prevent getting sucked into Marcelo Bielsa’s wild end-to-end football and the latter a calculated response to Brentford’s difficulty passing out from the back – as they like to do – at Premier League level. That’s a range of pressing that goes from the top 10% of recorded figures across the division this season to the bottom 10%.

We see a similarly dramatic swing elsewhere. For example, West Ham put together just four 10+ pass sequences in open play against Crystal Palace but 18 against Southampton. Very few clubs have such stark shifts in strategy between matches.

Slowly Moving up the Pitch

West Ham play backs-to-the-wall football, then, and in fact, there is evidence to suggest that as the choreography improves as the players grow in stature, Moyes’s tactics are opening up somewhat. They measure highly on a number of attacking statistics: they are fifth for passes into the final third, reflecting their propensity to dominate territorially for parts of the game, and rank eighth for possessions won in the final third, showing their willingness to press hard for a few seconds after the ball is lost.

A more telling measure of West Ham’s movement towards ball retention and a higher defensive line is their shift from last season. Their possession, passing accuracy in the opposition half, possession won in the final third, and shots from open play are all up significantly from the 2020-21 campaign, as the table below illustrates:



A lot of this work is led by the excellent pressing from the front we see from West Ham’s hard-working attackers, who may not be asked to counter-press regularly but who work tirelessly once the ball enters the middle third of the pitch. Pablo Fornals is second in the entire division for pressures, with 530, while Said Benrahma ranks 10th and Jarrod Bowen 35th.



Set-pieces Skew Perceptions

But we shouldn’t get too carried away. West Ham are in a purple patch at the moment and it’s unlikely they will maintain it, given they have scored 23 goals from an xG of 19.2 and have the third best conversion rate in the division behind Chelsea and Liverpool (13.4%). It is hard to believe they will keep that up for an entire campaign.

West Ham’s secret weapon, and arguably the reason for their climb from Europa League hopefuls to top-four contenders, is their brilliant set-piece record. Moyes’ team have scored the second most set-piece goals (five), having topped the charts with 16 last season, and the underlying numbers are just as impressive: West Ham hit the second most successful corners into the box (22 so far), create the fourth most chances (13 in total), and have the third most players in the six-yard box when corners are delivered.

Which brings us full circle: to the winning goal, from a corner, against Liverpool and to a simple, old-school tactical strategy that has neutrals swooning over the retro feel of Moyes’ team.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Darby_ 11:00 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
A lot of latter-day Moyes converts clutching their pearls here. I spent months arguing that Moyes was nothing like BFS, and was one of the few here defending him.

However, I think it's fair to call him pragmatic rather than a dreamy idealist like certain managers we've had.

chim chim cha boo 9:18 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Totally agree Legrandefromage.

Allardice and Moyes should never be mentioned in the same post ever again. An old Pal of mine said 'once you stop growing you start dying' and as I get older the more sense that makes.

Moyes is just getting going managing us and it fills me with joy.

Personally I feel that we are on the cusp of a golden age.

Mex Martillo 9:02 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Yes Moyes is nothing like BFS
It annoys me that they mention we use long ball. We don’t, like many teams we make long passes. It is not a main strategy, or the main way we attack or go forward. Liverpool do the same for Salah, when they get the chance, long passes up to him or in front of him to run onto.
Interesting article though.
Yes Alan please give Irish the chance to post figures and pictures, he deserves it.
Thanks

legrandefromage 5:11 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Shame on you mentioning BFS and Moyes in the same parenthesis.

Darby_ 5:02 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
For many years there has been a struggle at West Ham between playing attractive football and pragmatism. Usually it results in us appointing a manager who promises beautiful, flowing football (Zola, Bilic, Pellers), having that fail to produce results, and replacing him with a pragmatic, results-first manager (BFS, Moyes).

Maybe though Moyes has managed to combine pragmatism with exciting football. For his first full season, he mostly ignored fashionable possession football for a sort of blitzkrieg counter attacking, with players like Antonio, Lingard and Bowen screaming down the pitch through a panicking defence. You can’t say that hasn’t been exciting.

But that by itself is probably not enough to get us where we are. Another nod to pragmatism was an expertise in set pieces, which the author thinks the “big clubs” snootily look down on. The reality is that we don’t have the financial resources to complete with the likes of Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd. We have to make some concessions to pragmatism.

But as our star rises, I think we’ll slowly move back to a possession game. We’ll still use counterattacking against the big clubs, but we’ll need a slower, more technical possession game against clubs that will sit back against us, possibly try to hit us on the break, and who might be happy with a draw against a club as massive as West Ham.

gph 4:16 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
I don't think we're flying under the radar of our competitors any more. Hence, the doubling and trebling up on Antonio as soon as he gets the ball.

Not sure what the advantages of flying under the press' radar are.

yngwies Cat 4:12 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Keep flying under the radar. Thank you very much.

gph 2:20 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
gph/he/him/his

Or Your Highness/Your Highness/Your Highness' if you're willing to accept the inevitable outcomes of my pending claims disputing the legitimacy of the Norman Conquest, and decent from Alfred

Irish Hammer 1:26 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
gph 1:13 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm

Well said gph. Like what's this "Alan" character, if that's even his real name ! ever done for us? eh? eh? eh?

Last time I was allowed post a picture it was the Legendary Bouncy Happy GRRRR

I rest my case.

Irish Hammer*
*they/them

gph 1:13 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
I hear your pain, Irish.

In fact, in heard it before you voiced it.

*waits to be called woke*

Irish Hammer 12:33 Sat Nov 13
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm

No Fair

I want to be able to post pictures and diagrams too.

It's Racialist, and I'm OutrageD.

ludo21 8:17 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Fans of other clubs very fond of saying we will falter and drop off... genuinely think we will continue to improve (obviously barring injury to Antonio / Rice).

Hopefully Antonio backup will be addressed in January. Rice is irreplaceable.

the exile 7:01 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Interesting, particularly the way we have improved over last season. We' definitely on an upward trajectory and I really can't see why we can't keep that going. We're going to surprise a few people this season.

Crassus 6:22 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
white ones?

Alwaysaniron 6:18 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
I used to get lines at school

Crassus 6:02 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Thanks Alan, I like these articles

Lines - I'll tell you something I heard recently about our 'lines' that I had not noticed before but see all the time now and why our set plays are so effective

When we deliver the ball, unlike other sides, we consistently position players attacking along the flight path, meaning that if the ball is under or over hit, there is invariably a player to receive it
That is camouflaged/assisted by having a straight policy of aggressively packing the target area (mentioned above) with highly mobile players that at the least distract but very often receive second phase ball
Sounds all rather obvious, but the defenders are very unused to the threat we pose.
For one they don't usually see so many attackers in the box
Secondly, we have a number of equally adept finishers to those deliveries
Thirdly, we are just bloody good at it, well coached and can deliver, rendering opponents generally unable to stop it, particularly with the zonal marking vogue by defenders that can't truly defend
Worth watching how other sides set up in attack and then comparing to us with that in mind

roltrader 5:26 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
"Lines, Lines, Lines ! ...What do they all mean Edward ?"

arsene york-hunt 5:08 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Reminds me of John Cleese being interviewed by Eric Idle who asked a similarly pretentious question and was given the answer: "Well, I kicked the ball Brian, and it went in the goal."

southbankbornnbred 4:16 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
As soon as I read the line "and a piece for hipsters rummaging through a vintage clothes store", I switched off and considered setting fire to my laptop.

gph 3:37 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
Thanks, Alan (better later than never)

gph 3:37 Fri Nov 12
Re: How Retro West Ham Have Taken the Premier League by Storm
If we could avoid serious injury to too many key players, I can't see why our current position couldn't be maintained.

Not only does Moyes have a winning strategy, but we seem to be getting better at it.

It's a shame that IF is such a massive word.

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