When West Ham United announced that they had signed Former Manchester City and Real Madrid manager, Manuel Pellegrini, it was a statement of intent that the East London club meant business this season, after an abysmal campaign under Slaven Bilic when the Hammers flirted with relegation. They were only rescued by the appointment of David Moyes, who managed to keep the club up with two games to spare.
After their big-name managerial acquisition, the club went to work in the transfer market to give Pellegrini all he needed to execute his brand of football and achieve results as well; to this end, the club made nine new signings this past transfer window while there were twelve departures, many of whom were youth players. The arrivals included some well-known names like Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson, who has been courted by some of the biggest clubs in the league including Manchester United, finally, after the doom and gloom of the previous year, there was some excitement for the new season.
So far this season, West Ham have lost all four of their Premier League games, leaving them at the bottom of the league table and despite signing attacking players good enough to play for the top six teams, have managed to score only two goals while shipping in ten at the other end, this is West Ham’s worst start to a league season in 92 years! This article will analyse the club’s summer business in light of the problems currently facing the team and Pellegrini’s preferred tactical approach.
When he was presented to the club, Pellegrini said that his style of football “has always delighted the fans” and tactically, the Chilean manager has shown his preference for expansive, attacking football in his previous managerial appointments. Pellegrini has also shown a preference for the 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations.
West Ham’s formations and starting elevens against Bournemouth and Arsenal. The 4-4-2 was used against the Cherries while the 4-2-3 -1 was deployed against Arsenal.
Also, rather than have dedicated wide players, Pellegrini is more comfortable with situational width and so prefers players that can move around the pitch, interchanging positions to cause problems for the opposition. To that end, the acquisitions of Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko made a lot of sense as both players are comfortable in wide positions and also in more central areas
When deploying his team in a 4-4-2, there is usually one of the central midfielders who is given license to be more adventurous, this is the role in which Yaya Toure excelled for him at Manchester City; so far, it seems that Jack Wilshere is the man that has been chosen to fill that role here at West Ham and that has seen him paired with one of either Mark Noble or Carlos Sanchez.
West Ham have conceded the joint-most goals in the league so far alongside Huddersfield Town, who are also yet to win and just one spot away from the relegation zone in 17th place, this is despite the stellar individual performances of Lukasz Fabianski so far this season. For context, we’ll compare the statistics of both Fabianski and Watford’s Ben Foster, who are currently third in the league.
As you can see, despite conceding 7 more goals, Fabianski has made 15 more saves than his Watford counterpart, with a save success rate of 67.74% to Foster’s 66.67%; the problem is clearly not with the goalkeeper as his quality is undisputed, showing him to be an excellent signing. So, let’s look elsewhere for the cause of the team’s leaky defense.
This, I believe, is where West Ham did the worst business of the summer, with the departure of Cheikhou Kouyate to Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee. The club had a hole to fill in the central defensive midfield position as only Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang were left in that role. Consequently, after the fruitless pursuit of Sporting’s William Carvalho, Colombian international and former Aston Villa man, Carlos Sanchez was signed on the deadline from Fiorentina to fill the gap in that position. As earlier stated, in whatever formation Pellegrini has employed with this team, Wilshere has been a constant feature in the side what has changed has been the players chosen to partner the former Arsenal man in the heart of the midfield. The two major choices have been one of Mark Noble and Carlos Sanchez, both of them are already on the wrong side of thirty and their mobility is gone, this is painfully evident and is the main reason that West Ham have conceded so much as the defence just have no protection whatsoever, and are easily overrun by the opposition, thereby giving up high-value chances from premium shooting positions.
Also, statistically, both Noble and Sanchez have been abysmal. Combined, the two midfielders have made zero interceptions, zero blocks and zero clearances so far this season! They’ve won only one aerial duel (Sanchez) and have made a combined seven tackles with only three of them being successful! For players tasked with protecting the defence, that is just not good enough.
OLD AGE THE PROBLEM?
Both Noble and Sanchez have passed the 30-year mark and the inevitable decline of age is apparent, upon his arrival, Pellegrini assured fans that he desired for his teams to “recover the ball as near to the other box as we can,” meaning that he would try to implement some kind of high press with appropriate levels of intensity in order to recover the ball. Unfortunately, the players in the midfield just can’t do that for him. Only four games into the Premier League season, and West Ham’s opponents have outrun them by a combined total of more than twenty kilometres. In the 2-1 home defeat to Bournemouth alone, they gave up eight kilometres to the visitors.
In the first image, we once again we see the issues with the midfield failing to cover the defense adequately; once again, Noble is bypassed too easily forcing Ogbonna to step out of the defensive line to confront the ball carrier, thereby opening up the space for Wilson to run into.
The second image shows Noble jogging back, unable to keep up as Wilson runs at the retreating defence en route to his solo goal.
These facts do not make for encouraging reading and are the reason why West Ham seem to be so easy to play against as whenever the opposition swarm forward, they find it almost too easy to bypass the midfield and attack the defence directly and pepper Fabianski’s goal.
Things look bad for West Ham, despite spending large sums of money in the transfer market, their investments have not been able to produce the desired results on the pitch, Pellegrini is already under pressure and it could get even worse; next up is a trip to unbeaten Everton and then they welcome both Chelsea and Manchester United for their next two home games, it could very well be zero points from seven games if the Hammers don’t improve. The last manager that West Ham sacked was Slaven Bilic after 11 games, if Pellegrini doesn’t find a way to get the best out of his signings, he may find himself unemployed after just seven.