What Has Gone Wrong for David Moyes’ West Ham This Season?
West Ham fans have been on a ride they’ll never forget since 2019 under David Moyes. Despite arriving to a massively underwhelmed fan base, Moyes steered West Ham clear of danger in the 2019/20 season during his second spell at the club. The next season, the Hammers hit unprecedented heights in the Premier League, recording a record points tally and qualifying for the Europa League. The following season was just as memorable, reaching the Europa League semi-final, whilst also maintaining good enough league form to qualify for European football again.
The most impressive part of the Moyes era is that all of this was achieved with one of the smallest squads in the league and a modest budget. Michail Antonio was the lone striker for months at a time, and the goals had to come from all over the pitch – whether it was Tomas Soucek arriving at the back post, Craig Dawson thumping in headers from corners or Jarrod Bowen cutting in from the right, it just worked.
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The team was a well-oiled machine, everyone knew their roles to the final detail and hard work was coupled with a genuine teamwide talent that West Ham fans hadn’t seen in years. So this summer, gearing up for the 2022/23 campaign, the mood around West Ham was a type of positivity you don’t associate with the club for whom fortunes are always hiding. Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky made a massive investment and it seemed Moyes finally had the chance to build on his successful but small squad.
In came Lucas Paqueta (£38 million), Gianluca Scamacca (£31.8 million), Nayef Aguerd (£31 million), Maxwel Cornet (£18 million), Emerson Palmieri (£13 million), Thilo Kehrer (£10 million), Flynn Downes (£8 million) and Alphonse Areola (£8 million). And yet, West Ham has spent the majority of the season scrapping out a relegation dogfight – here are a few contributing factors:
West Ham fans, as they are frequently reminded by the man himself, owe David Moyes a great deal of gratitude. The Scottish manager transformed lower table dwellers into regular partakers in Europe. But there is simply no hiding from the fact Moyes has got a lot wrong this season.
It became clear early on that the manager was struggling to integrate his new arrivals. Gianluca Scamacca appeared to have a similar profile to Sebastien Haller, who didn’t work out at West Ham but has since scored bucketloads elsewhere. Lucas Paqueta, who is by all accounts an 8, was for some bizarre reason expected to bring in “10 goals and 10 assists” a season by Moyes – whose public declaration of this certainly won’t have helped Paqueta’s confidence at the early stages of his West Ham career.
Moyes has also spent the entire season trying to find not only his best 11 but also his best system. Take West Ham’s recent games for example, 4-4-2 at Fulham away, 5-2-3 at Gent away and then back to the 4-2-3-1 against Arsenal at home. Despite the decent results in recent weeks, all the major success that West Ham have had under Moyes’ leadership has come from a settled starting team and no more than two tried and tested systems which the players know inside out. The difficulty of adjusting to new shapes was emphasised at Craven Cottage where despite leading the game, West Ham had 5% possession over a ten-minute period.
In 2017 while at Sunderland, Moyes dropped Didier Ndong for Jack Rodwell stating that he thought the game suited more “Britishness” in the midfield. This may go some way to explaining some of the foreign players struggling to adapt in Moyes’ time at the club but wouldn’t explain why Flynn Downes hasn’t been able to get a look in over a decidedly out-of-form Tomas Soucek over the course of the season.
Every football podcast, pundit or journalist you can think of has said that West Ham’s squad are too good to go down. But the hard fact is that this group of players have found themselves in this mess, and no one is totally exempt from criticism. Thilo Kehrer, in his defence, has been used across a variety of positions which hasn’t given him the time to settle into a routine. Although that makes things slightly more difficult it doesn’t explain a defender formerly of PSG and currently, Germany making so many costly basic errors at the start of the season.
Tomas Soucek is really struggling at the moment too. Not a game goes by these days where the Czech’s passing stats aren’t scrutinised, normally highlighting a surprising lack of touches for a central midfield player. Soucek summarised everything good about Moyes’ West Ham at one point, a player straight out of the Maroune Fellaini playbook but the goals have dried up and he seems to have felt the pressure of the season more than some.
It’s unfair to solely single out these two for criticism when many will be unhappy with their performances across the season. Jarrod Bowen, now seemingly back to his best, was poor early on, Aaron Creswell and Michail Antonio’s age looked to be catching up with them and Ben Johnson hasn’t found his feet at Premier League level yet.
Lack of Goals
West Ham have scored just 29 goals in the league, putting them in the bottom five, with the Hammers finding themselves just three points above the drop. For a large period of the campaign, the Hammers have actually defended pretty well, Kurt Zouma (when fit) could play for most sides in the league and Nayef Aguerd looks like a very good signing. But if anything the vast difference at either of the pitch makes, the inability to score goals look even worse.
This is partly due to individuals and partly due to the style of play. Marquee signing Gianluca Scamacca’s injuries have prevented him from making a consistent impact, whilst Antonio has three Premier League goals this season. The 4-2-3-1 has often left the frontman isolated, with midfield runners struggling to catch up with play, particularly with Paqueta proving to be more of an 8 than the 10 Moyes thought he was.
Things Looking Up?
Despite all this negativity, things actually seem to be looking up for the Irons. In recent weeks they have returned to the habits that have always served them well under David Moyes. A solid foundation at the back has been magnified by the return to form of Vladimir Coufal following his groin surgery. Paqueta has almost been helped by the absence of Scamacca, with the Brazilian being granted patience by the fan base to find his feet, without being grouped together with the other big-money signing.
Back-to-back European semi-finals mean that it will be very hard for West Ham fans to find sympathy in their ‘Moyes out’ campaign from other struggling clubs. A Conference League title and avoiding relegation would have to be viewed as a sort of bizarrely very successful season for the East London side. Especially with West Ham’s last major trophy being the FA Cup in 1980.
By: Wilf MacDonnell / @WilfMacdonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / Glyn Kirk – AFP