Andriy Yarmolenko may have had a difficult start to life at West Ham, but the forward managed to keep up his impressive goalscoring record for Ukraine over the international break.
After joining the Irons for a big-money fee over the summer, a lot was expected of Yarmolenko from the Hammers faithful. However, after making just one start and a handful of less than impressive appearances from the bench, people are beginning to wonder whether he was worth his hefty price tag. If you were to go on his record at Dinamo Kiev and as part of the Ukranian national side, then you would say yes he is worth every penny. But ever since his move to Dortmund last summer, the jury has been out on Yarmolenko’s ability to play in Europe’s elite leagues.
Could it simply be that the Bundesliga side, and now West Ham, have not done enough to get the best out of the winger? Let’s explore that issue.
Position and style of play
Yarmolenko, despite being predominantly left-footed, operates on the right wing. Over the years, he has had great success when cutting in from wide positions, linking up with centre-forwards and unleashing fearsome long-range drives at goal. Although the Ukranian likes to hug the touchline before receiving the ball, he is not your typical winger. He prefers to be more direct and purposeful with the ball, rather than just get it out of his feet and swing a cross into the box. Yarmolenko’s game is all about coming in off the flanks, picking pockets and making things happen in the final third. In some ways, he is a similar type of winger to what Marko Arnautovic was before he moved back into more of a centre-forward role.
How Ukraine get the best out of Yarmolenko
Yarmolenko has and probably always will play out on the right wing for Ukraine, in a formation that suits him down to the ground. Believe it or not, but it is an incredibly similar set up to what Manuel Pellegrini is currently using at West Ham. You know, the one which Yarmolenko has not yet had a fair crack of the whip in. Anyway, in that system, now under the guidance of footballing great Andriy Shevchenko, the Hammers winger has an exceptional record of 36 goals in 79 appearances. He added to that record on Sunday, registering the winning goal against Slovakia.
Below is the heat map for Yarmolenko’s performance against Albania for Ukraine earlier this year.
As you can see, Yarmolenko likes to stay wide on the right and only cuts into more of a central position in the final third of the field. In that game, Ukraine recorded a 4-1 victory and the winger scored two goals and set up the other two for his teammates.
Below is the build-up to one of Yarmolenko’s goals against Albania.
With the attacking midfielder in possession of the ball, Yarmolenko holds his position out on the right, ensuring that the Albanian defence is stretched across the field.
With the ball progressing forward into the final third of the pitch, Yarmolenko moves inside and picks up a good position just outside of the box, and is now looking to join in with the attack. Even if he doesn’t receive the ball, his late movement has left the full-back in no man’s land and has created space for a potential ball out to the right-back, should he wish to come forward.
After making himself free on the edge of the area, Yarmolenko received the ball from his teammate in a dangerous position. If he can get his turn right, that would leave him with a great opportunity to get an effort on goal.
The winger did get the turn right and despite passing up the opportunity to get a quick strike away, he had the composure to take his time and eventually hit a high drive past the Albanian ‘keeper.
This is a constant theme for Yarmolenko as a focal point of the Ukranian side. Whilst he does like to get on the ball, his movement is excellent in the final third and is a part of his game that gets overlooked. The way he holds his position out wide can be an extremely effective way of creating space for his fellow attacking teammates and also stretches the opposition’s defence. Yarmolenko is trusted by his manager to stick out wide and let other players bring the ball forward, before moving inside as the play edges closer to the box. It’s clearly working, you can’t argue with his goal record.
Where are West Ham going wrong?
Yarmolenko’s longest spell on the field for the Hammers in the Premier League came in their latest match against Wolves when he was introduced at half-time. Despite replacing fellow winger Robert Snodgrass, the former Dortmund man was sent on to play just off Arnautovic, in a sort of supporting striker role. That did not work and this is why.
Below is Yarmolenko’s heat map against Wolves.
It is clear to see that Yarmolenko was asked to play out of position against Wolves, as he spent more time in a central attacking midfield area, instead of in his favoured role on the wing. This heat map is completely different to that of Yarmolenko’s performance against Albania, where he played such a significant role for his side. Whereas against Wanderers, he found himself drifting out too far to the left at times and ended up in positions where he was uncomfortable.
Here are a couple of examples of why it did not work.
This is not where you want Yarmolenko. It is not his game to carry the ball from a centrally deep position, hence why he kept hold of possession far too long and it resulted in him being crowded out by Wanderers. When operating in positions such as this, the winger often finds himself trying to force the issue, rather than taking his time and working space like he does when coming off the flank.
With Yarmolenko operating in a central position, it meant that he wasn’t picking up the natural positions that he usually finds when coming off the wing. If he had been playing out wide in the scenario above, then Yarmolenko would probably have been in the highlighted space. Whilst this may not have led to him receiving the ball, he would have at least taken away the left-back who eventually blocks Antonio’s effort on goal.
Hurrah. Yarmolenko finally got a chance to move into a position on the right.
When Chicharito came onto the field, he and Yarmolenko interchanged regularly centrally and out wide. On this occasion, the winger got himself into an excellent position coming in off the right wing. All he needed was for Arnautovic to pick his head up and play him in. But the West Ham forward played the ball to Chicharito on his left and the attack quickly ended. The movement was encouraging from Yarmolenko, though.
Just in case you are not yet entirely convinced by how much more of an impact Yarmolenko could have if he is given an opportunity to play on the right, then here is graphic from one of his games at Dortmund, where he scored and assisted a goal in a 2-1 victory over Augsburg.
The heat map clearly shows that Yarmolenko is most influential playing off the right, as this was his best performance in a Dortmund shirt. The winger rarely moved into central positions outside of the final third, and that obviously worked as his contribution to the game won the match for his side.
Yarmolenko clearly needs to be playing regularly out on the wing, where he can either get on the ball or drift into dangerous positions around the box as his team progress forward up the pitch. There would be no need for Pellegrini to change from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation if he wishes to give the Ukranian increased game time and get him more involved with the play, as this is a system that fits him perfectly.
Let’s be honest, there is no reason as to why Snodgrass should be getting in ahead of Yarmolenko, the Ukranian is a far better player on his day and has the potential to have a huge impact at the club. Playing alongside the likes of creative midfielders Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson will only benefit him, as his movement and direct style of play will complement those players well. But make no bones about it, if you are to get the best out of Yarmolenko then West Ham must follow Ukraine’s methods and play him out on the right flank.