Whilst West Ham United’s defence failed to cover themselves in glory, it was ultimately their attack that cost them dearly in Saturday afternoon’s first Premier League defeat in just under a month, to Javier Gracia’s Watford at London Stadium.
This was down to the sheer volume and quality of chances that Manuel Pellegrini’s men missed throughout a game in which they could have won five in a row in the league for the first time since February 2006, instead of losing out 0-2. Today, we are going to carry out a statistics-driven tactical analysis on those spurned opportunities and how they led to the Hammers being defeated by two goals at home.
The first real West Ham chance of note and the first of nine missed chances we’re going to be analysing in this analysis arrived after just nine minutes in East London and came from the unlikeliest of sources.
Young central defensive midfielder Declan Rice, yet to find the back of the net in 50 first-team appearances in Claret & Blue, was the man who failed to make the most of it.
The 19-year-old, as we can see in the below image, provided by our good friends over at wyscout.com, rose highest from a Robert Snodgrass corner to win a free header. But the effort sailed safely into the clutches of goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Two of the nine openings were surprisingly sent begging by the creator of our first, in-form winger Robert Snodgrass. This shocked many as the Scottish international had been directly involved in five goals in his last four matches, the quartet of games that made up the club’s four-game winning run.
The first was the action that led to the corner to set up Rice’s header, when Snodgrass was fed by Felipe Anderson on the edge of the area after the club-record signing had stolen the ball off Roberto Pereyra. He has the option of playing in either Javier Hernandez to his left or Michail Antonio to his right. He decides to shoot and it’s deflected out for the corner, a great opportunity to open the scoring and perhaps help to set his team on the way to a fifth win of December, missed.
The moment that made it a brace of chances gone begging for Snodgrass came in the final ten minutes, with the East Londoners chasing an equaliser after Hornets skipper Troy Deeney breaking the deadlock from the penalty spot in the 30th minute. Substitute Grady Diangana teed him up for a free header, which he could only send in the direction of Craig Cathcart to touch into Foster’s path to save.
While the majority of the West Ham’s missed chances arrived at a time when they were chasing a leveller in the match, many, like our first from Antonio, would have seen them score the first of the afternoon. As we can see below, it’s a carbon copy of Snodgrass’ first as he unsuccessfully shoots with a chance to find Snodgrass on the right or Anderson or Chicharito to his left.
The next two, both coming after half-time, were the joint-closest the Irons came to troubling the scorers in a match they failed to for the first time since November 24. Again, Snodgrass was the creator for the first with his corner, finding the free head of Antonio and his contact was weak, glancing the ball across the face of goal, off the post and out to safety.
It must be noted that Antonio’s third glorious opportunity of the 90 minutes was the best chance enjoyed by either side. The chance spawned after Snodgrass’ saved header and from the image, it doesn’t look like Antonio can miss as he looks for a fourth of the season. Somehow, he managed to head against the crossbar to the Claret & Blue Army’s agony.
This one was particularly costly as, just moments later, the visitors went up the other end and scored, putting the game to bed and sealing a 0-2 scoreline through Pereyra on 87 minutes.
Just as guilty as his strike partner Antonio when it came to missed chances, as has so often been the case this campaign despite his five goals in all competitions, was Hernandez. He fluffed his lines twice, both at crucial times when his team were behind.
As we can see from the below, the first came about just before half-time, when a goal really could have put the cat amongst the pigeons and stunned the confidence of Gracia’s Watford. From Anderson’s mesmerising cross-field pass and Antonio’s excellent knock-down header, ‘The Little Pea’ got his swivelling volley on target, but not far enough into the right-hand bottom corner to escape the clutches of the ex-England shot-stopper Foster.
Many would agree that the first, an attempted volley on the turn, was quite tricky and Hernandez was given the benefit of the doubt, however, there was no escaping the embarrassment of the second as his team fell from ninth to twelfth in the PL table. Anderson had laid the ball on a silver platter for him just yards from goal and Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer could only take an air shot, failing to find himself a 50th top-flight goal and more crucially, an equaliser with over 20 minutes remaining. One that would have given the Hammers a great chance of finding a winner.
Former England striker Andy Carroll, whose role since returning from injury in mid-November has been limited to cameos off the bench, proved a dangerous second-half introduction. And it was him to spurn a penultimate superb opportunity of the match for Pellegrini’s men.
A cross swung in from the left picked out the tall forward and as you can see below, when he made contact with the ball, Carroll had the option of going for glory or nudging it on for the free Antonio or Diangana. He goes for the shot, heading it into the ground and out for a corner via the fingertip of Foster, you would’ve expected him to do better here, though he couldn’t and the Hertfordshire opponents held on.
Missed chances cost West Ham ever so dearly in the loss to Watford by arriving at crucial times in the match, times they could have levelled the scores and pushed for the three points, or even edged ahead before the away side did. As our statistical tactical analysis, two days after the result has found.
Pellegrini and his staff will be desperately hoping, after the four victories in which their team were able to make the most of things in the final third, that this encounter was a one-off. Otherwise, they will have serious work to do on finishing over Christmas, ahead of Thursday night’s trip to face a rejuvenated Southampton under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
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