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David Moyes

West Ham, 2019–

When West Ham appointed David Moyes to preserve their Premier League status they were doing so for the second time in three seasons. In December he succeeded the sacked Manuel Pellegrini, appointed in the summer of 2018 after Moyes had first led them to safety, following the departure of Slaven Bilic.

If several teams remain at risk of relegation, theirs is perhaps the most talented squad. The club’s hierarchy remain desperate to remain in the Premier League, in the same way that Moyes has sought a permanent position in Europe’s leading league. “I do believe that the squad of players I’ve got here is a better squad of players than when I took over before, so I am looking forward to working with them,” he said when he was appointed. Their results are yet to significantly improve, but if Moyes can again inspire West Ham to safety he will have a promising squad, and they will have a manager who at Everton once created such stability – something they have long lacked.

Playing style
Despite their previous progress under Moyes, Pellegrini was the one first appointed to permanently lead West Ham. The Chilean arrived at a time of considerable investment in the club’s first-team squad. If their new players required time to settle, they eventually showed signs of promise; Pellegrini’s only full season concluded with a 10th-placed finish, one that was perhaps only undermined by them recording a goal difference of minus three.

He consistently retained a back four while in charge – Moyes had largely preferred a back three (below; third central defender out of picture) – by using a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 before settling on a 4-3-3 in which his wingers withdrew to defend in a 4-1-4-1, and in which Declan Rice operated as the single pivot at the base of their midfield. When they did so their striker, most recently the £45m Sébastien Haller, struggled through being isolated.

When they were without possession West Ham were often too easy to play through. That they did not recruit a replacement for Cheikhou Kouyaté or Pedro Obiang in central midfield was central to that. Rice has matured as a defensive midfielder since first appearing as a central defender, but their defence has often not been sufficiently protected (below), and not least because of their use of inverted wingers, and their full-backs who overlapped to provide width. They have also struggled to retain leads, and have repeatedly sacrificed points from winning positions during 2019/20.

Moyes initially retained Pellegrini’s back four, but their continued struggles contributed to him returning to a three-strong defence that prioritised nullifying attacks through central positions. Haller also received increased support, and Aaron Cresswell was used in central defence but encouraged to make late attacking runs to add a further dimension in the final third.

Tactical analysis
It was once they had settled that Moyes again started favouring a back four, and that his new team started to show some of the traits that once contributed to Everton’s success. Everton often alternated, mid-match, between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1, in which Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini often led their attacks as a secondary forward and a withdrawn number 10. In Haller, unlike Everton during that era, West Ham possess a consistently available striker to target directly, and who is also capable of linking shorter passes.

In Manuel Lanzini, Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek, Michail Antonio, Pablo Fornals, Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson they have multiple players suited to offering Haller support (below), and both subtle and powerful options – as was once seen with Everton. Movements inside made by Bowen and Fornals have ensured that the striker is far less isolated, and increased the attacking threat posed by Moyes’ team.

Regardless of their formation, their wingers and full-backs have been increasingly influential, and can therefore contribute to more set-piece opportunities – when West Ham have often posed their most consistent threat. Fornals’ performances, in particular, have demonstrated Moyes’ willingness to tweak his team to suit his most effective players; the Spaniard’s vision and ball-playing abilities, from towards the left and in central positions, are capable of replacing what Anderson has been struggling to offer.

West Ham’s ability to play direct balls, and the movements and support around Haller, give them further alternatives against opponents pressing them further up the pitch or who risk leaving spaces in defence. That play is directed towards the French striker, and supported from the second phase of their attacks; the signing of Darren Randolph, as an upgrade on the erratic Roberto, has corrected a further problem. If they are to show further signs of improvement, their full-backs – a problem that existed under Pellegrini – will need to play with greater balance, perhaps through only one of the two advancing so that they have increased defensive protection should those attacks break down. It is correcting the compactness and defensive connections between their full-backs and midfielders that could yet determine West Ham’s future.

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