Pedro Obiang played an integral part in West Ham’s victory over Everton on Sunday, in what was the midfielders first start of the Premier League season.
The Spaniard has been out of favour recently after he was believed to have been looking for a move away from the London Stadium in the summer. But Obiang bided his time, and when his opportunity finally came around to show Pellegrini what he could do, the midfielder snatched it with both hands. His tireless exuberance in the middle of the park led to him playing a major part in Andriy Yarmolenko’s first goal and later laid on an assist for Marko Arnautović to slot home.
Despite actively having a huge impact on the offensive end with his part in those goals, it was Obiang’s defensive work that made him a real unsung hero for the Hammers.
Obiang positionally against Everton
After Manuel Pellegrini made six much-needed changes to his side following the defeat to Wolves, one of which was to bring in Obiang, the West Ham boss also tried out a new system. Where we have recently seen the Chilean plunge for a 4-2-3-1 formation, at Everton he decided to set the team up in more of a 4-3-3, with Declan Rice patrolling just in front of the back four.
In this line-up, Obiang’s position was on the left-hand side of the midfield three, where he could easily drop in and cover either Anderson or Masuaku out on the left flank if need be. It is very much in the midfielders nature to get through a lot of miles on the pitch, and his slightly advanced role from his usually defensive-midfield position allowed the Spaniard more freedom to do that.
Here is his heat map from the visit to Goodison Park.
This clearly shows how much work Obiang put in against Everton. You can see that the midfielder stuck to his position well on the left of the midfield three and had an impact at both ends of the field. Whilst he linked up with his Hammers teammates to the left of him and filled in defensively when needed, the graphic indicates that he spent a lot of time in central left positions at each end of the surface. It was a real box-to-box performance – and the heat map proves just that.
Obiang defending from the front
If you watched the game closely enough, it was obvious to see that Obiang had been asked to press Everton’s midfielder and put them on the back foot. Here is a graphic that shows that.
This was a constant theme throughout the game, but predominantly in the first half. When the Everton midfielders picked the ball up in deep positions, Obiang pressed them early and wouldn’t let them advance forward with the ball. In this instance Gueye, after he only just received the ball, was forced into passing the ball backwards because of the high press from the West Ham midfielder.
Below is another very similar scenario, involving the same two players.
Just like in the previous image, Obiang’s press has left Gueye with very few options. If he turned around, Mark Noble would have been on his back and if he tried to move forward, then Obiang would be in a position to make a tackle. This left the midfielder with the option of going back again, or to play it out to the right-back; he went for the latter. As Gueye played the ball, the West Ham midfielder in his position, got a touch on the ball which diverted it towards Arnautović. The forward sprung an attack from that but was later tackled.
However, the tactic instilled upon Obiang clearly worked, as it stopped the Toffees from moving the ball forward on a number of occasions and caused mistakes in the midfield.
Now for a slightly different example of the midfielders box-to-box performance, where he was seen dropping into a position towards the left of the defence.
As Everton look to break quickly and catch the Hammers on the counter with Arthur Masuaku out of position at left-back, Obiang pushes out to the left of the defence to try and snuff out the danger. Given his adaptable position in the midfield three, this was a relatively straightforward adjustment for the West Ham man. As he closes Walcott down, he gets close to the winger which means that the options to either play the ball through to the striker or go past the midfielder, are both blocked off. Eventually, Obiang dispossesses his opponent and removes the ball from danger.
In his time as a Hammer, the Spaniard has been regarded as anything but a playmaker. West Ham fans have mostly seen a defensive-minded midfielder, who patrols in front of the defence and breaks up play well. On the odd occasion, he has shown promise in offensive positions, but it has been extremely rare; his three goals in 69 matches back that up. But in a more advanced role at Goodison, it was a different Pedro Obiang from what the Irons faithful have come to expect.
The midfielder was seen playing one-twos across the park, driving forward with the ball with purpose, looking to make things happen. With an 89% pass success rate, Obiang was a playmaker on Merseyside.
Here are a couple of graphics of his impact in advanced positions.
After showing a couple of nice touches in an intricate pass and move situation with Arnautović, the West Ham midfielder picked his head up and played a sumptuous ball over the top of the Everton defence. The striker then latched on to the ball and played it across to the arriving Yarmolenko, who duly slotted in from close-range.
Here is how Obiang registered his assist.
After yet another series of passing between Obiang and Arnautović, the midfielder managed to burst beyond two Everton midfielders into a dangerous position on the edge of the box. He then had the awareness to, despite all of the Toffees players around him, pick out a lovely weighted pass into the onrushing Hammers striker, and he did the rest. If this goal had not gone in, then the Irons might not have claimed their first three points of the season. They have Obiang’s composure at a crucial moment to thank for this one.
It was a fantastic performance from the Spaniard, who has surely done his chances of nailing down a permanent spot in Pellegrini’s side no harm. If Obiang had not made the massive contributions that he made at both ends of the field, then perhaps West Ham may not have come away with any points from the fixture. But they did – and that’s all that matters. Next up for the Hammers is a visit from London rivals Chelsea, where Obiang will be looking to build upon his fine performance against Everton.