At times during their 1-1 Premier League draw with David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday afternoon, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was the only thing keeping Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United in the game.
Three days after the stalemate, we are going to be carrying out a statistics-driven tactical analysis to find out just how the man, who has arguably been the pick of the club’s nine first-team summer signings, did that by taking an in-depth look at all six of his pivotal saves and how they kept the Hammers in the contest. Join us.
Crucial Save One
While all of the Polish International’s stops in West Yorkshire were important, in terms of quality, there were two that stood out from the other six and firstly, we are going to be analysing both of them. We will do this with a little help from our friends over at wyscout.com, whom all the images in this analysis have come from.
The first of the mesmerising saves arrived when the even matchup wasn’t even two minutes old yet and both teams were enjoying plenty of attacking joy in a frantic first five or so minutes. As you can see below, Australian International Aaron Mooy is gearing up to take the first corner of the afternoon.
Being the creative force for a struggling Huddersfield team that would fall to 19th at full-time, throughout the 98 minutes, Mooy’s delivery was perfect. It picked out the head of French striker Steve Mounie and he has just unleashed a powerful header, one that would have beaten most PL shot-stoppers.
Many ‘keepers, due to pace and proximity, would have struggled to get anywhere near the ball, in fact, but Fabianski, who has the second-most top-flight saves this season, manages to propel himself up and get a hand on it. Which is exactly what we can see, below.
Miraculously, in what was undoubtedly the best save of the afternoon, ironic that it would be the first, the ex-Arsenal star was able to tip the ball onto the crossbar and out to safety. In the below image, we can see Pablo Zabaleta about to clear his lines and find Grady Diangana to rid the danger, Fabianski single-handedly prevented his team from falling behind in just the second minute.
Crucial Save Two
By the time Fabianski’s second-most crucial save arrived on a bitterly cold day in the north, the East Londoners had fallen behind. Alex Pritchard would strike on six minutes to break the deadlock for the Terriers, the finger of blame was initially pointed at Fabianski, but replays showed he was unsighted as the low shot went through the legs of Declan Rice and into his left-hand bottom corner from the edge of the box.
What would follow was a period of survival for the East Londoners in which the hosts bombarded their goal in the hope of doubling their slim advantage. Pellegrini’s men had Fabianski to thank that it wasn’t doubled and that came courtesy, in the main, of this next save. The move for it started with Mooy on the right flank.
Amid one of the worst spells of defending of the campaign for the Hammers in the first period, when the home side registered four of their six shots on target, the Aussie was able to thread a ball through to Mounie. As you can see, the Frenchman is clean through on goal.
Both the centre-forward and Fabianski brace themselves for a one-on-one from a tricky angle and as defender Issa Diop closes in, Mounie unleashes his effort. Below, the Polish International, still searching for his second clean sheet of 2018/2019 despite the widespread plaudits, gets to the ball with his strong left glove.
Not only is Fabianski able to prevent it finding the back of the net, but he pushes the ball away from danger and out for a corner, as we can see, the ball trickling away towards the travelling Claret & Blue Army. Some ‘keepers would have rebounded the ball back into danger and undone their hard work, not the Hammer intent on keeping his side just one behind at all costs.
Whilst the saves we’ve already analysed were undoubtedly the top two from the shot-stopper who joined the club from Swansea City in the summer, he did make four other stops in one of his busiest matches of the term thus far and one he wouldn’t have expected against the league’s low scorers.
His second save at the John Smith’s would arrive under a minute before conceding his 18th goal of the season, a stop that wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. The second of four times denying Mounie involved catching his bobbling overhead-kick, as you can see, below.
The Terriers could have and probably should have scored a second before they allowed the visitors to gain a stronger foothold in the encounter and eventually equalise through Felipe Anderson’s third in two games after half-time. On this occasion on 16 minutes and once more, it appeared to be relatively simple work for Fabianski, keeping out Mooy’s low free-kick.
Into the second period and the No1 would only need to do a third of his work for the entire game in the final 45 as his team levelled things up and finished by pressing for a winner. Before they equalised, Fabianski was forced into two saves, the first of which we see below as he claims easily from Mounie scuffing his shot when he had an excellent opportunity to make it 2-0.
Three minutes prior to Anderson’s stunning half-volley, below, we see Pritchard on the far left of the picture trying his luck at scoring in similar circumstances to when he had done 63 minutes earlier. This time, Fabianski gets down to his left and is able to make the save from the accurate and racy low effort.
Keeping West Ham In The Game
The timing of the six saves from Fabianski meant that they effectively kept West Ham in the game and provided the platform for their second-half comeback and 72nd-minute equaliser, the bulk of them meaning they had to come back from one and not two goals down.
The summer arrival was, without doubt, the difference between drawing and losing for the East Londoners in a game where their first-half performance deserved to be punished greater by the hosts and wasn’t because of Fabianski’s Man of the Match-contending performance. This was as well as denying Wagner’s men twice in the build-up to the goal that made it 1-1, how it would end.
In conclusion, our statistical tactical analysis today has found that Fabianski made himself the only thing keeping his new club in the game by pulling off vital saves at vital times, such as to prevent them going behind earlier on and keeping them just one behind on no less than four occasions.
However, this is far from the first time that Pellegrini’s men have had solely Fabianski to thank as he has been the difference for them, it has happened numerous times, the Chelsea draw in September, the first time they avoided defeat at home in 17/18 being a vivid example. The Poland man continues not only to be West Ham’s best player under the new gaffer but their most important one, too.