When David Moyes was re-appointed as West Ham United manager on December 29th, 2019, it gave many a sense of déjà vu. Just a year and a half earlier, Moyes had left the club upon the expiry of his contract after guiding the club to safety in his single season at the helm. He took over for Slaven Bilić in November of that season with the Hammers sat firmly in the relegation zone.
Not many expected his appointment to be long-term, and it wasn’t, so when the West Ham ownership group sacked Manuel Pellegrini and Moyes was brought back to the club for a second time, it was a fair assumption that the London club was again using him as a stop-gap who could lead them to survival while the leadership group evaluated options for their next long-term manager.
However, after Moyes led the team to a strong second half of the season and subsequent safety, the West Ham United board decided to let him see out the 18-month contract that he had signed upon his return. Moyes made two crucial acquisitions in Jarrod Bowen and Tomáš Souček during that January transfer window who helped massively in securing West Ham’s Premier League status during Project Restart, and both still play major roles at the club today.
The next season, Moyes would bring in Vladimír Coufal, Saïd Benrahma, and of course Jesse Lingard on a six-month loan from Manchester United, and lead West Ham United to their highest-ever points total (65) in the Premier League era en route to a sixth-place finish and Europa League qualification. This was a remarkable turnaround.
The success did not stop there for Moyes and his rejuvenated Hammers team, either. Despite the loss of Lingard, whose 9 goals and 4 assists in 16 games after joining in January were paramount in propelling the team into the European places, the team made a deep run in the Europa League before losing to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, and they also managed to qualify for the Europa Conference League after another strong Premier League campaign that saw them finish 7th.
However, despite this season landing high-profile summer signings including Gianluca Scamacca, Lucas Paquetá, Maxwell Cornet, and Thilo Kehrer, the wheels have seemingly all but fallen off at the London Stadium this season, with the club sitting 17th in the Premier League on 15 points and only clear of the relegation zone via goal difference. What has made this year one to forget for David Moyes and West Ham after two seasons to remember? Let’s take a deeper look.
Quite simply, West Ham’s inability to convert their chances into goals so far this season has been their achilles heel. Despite performing reasonably well in most metrics, the Hammers rank dead last in the Premier League this season for expected goals – goals (xG-G), which measures the difference between the number of goals they should be scoring and the number of goals they are actually scoring.
So far this season, xG indicates that West Ham have scored 7.3 fewer goals than expected, as they have only notched 15 goals from an expected 22.3. Their xGD of 1.5 ranks 8th in the Premier League, but their actual goal difference of -9 ranks 15th as a result. The biggest culprit of this underperformance in front of goal has been none other than Jarrod Bowen, whose xG-G stat of 2.4 ranks joint 4th-worst in the Premier League, only above Patrick Bamford, Danny Welbeck, and Gabriel Jesus.
Last season, Bowen finished as West Ham’s top goalscorer with 12 in the Premier League and 18 in all competitions, with 10 league assists and 1 more in the UEL making it an incredibly impressive season of nearly 30 goal contributions for the England international. This season, however, the former Hull City winger has managed just 2 goals in the Premier League and 2 goals in the Conference League without registering a single assist in any of his 24 appearances in all competitions thus far.
The reigning West Ham Player of the Season’s massive drop-off in form has unsurprisingly coincided with that of the team, so getting the best out of the 26-year-old must be a priority for Moyes going forward. Of course, Bowen is not the only one to blame for missing chances — the xG-G stat of many other key players is deserving of scrutiny as well. Lucas Paquetá (-1.6), Tomáš Souček (-1.5), Saïd Benrahma (-0.7), and Maxwell Cornet (-0.5) have all been concerningly poor in front of goal this season.
West Ham’s xG created as a team hasn’t been amazing, however, as their 22.3 ranks 11th in the Premier League, so it’s not as if Moyes has his team playing outstanding attacking football and the finishing is the only thing letting them down. However, they have finished both of the last two seasons having scored above what xG would suggest, so it’s understandable that this substantial of a finishing problem would seriously impact their results.
When we look at their creative numbers, a similar pattern can be found. West Ham’s shot-creating actions/90 (SCA/90) figure has actually improved to 23.67 this year from 20.24 last year, yet their Goal-Creating Actions/90 (GCA/90) has more than halved from 2.68 last season to 1.33 this season, further illustrating their inability to turn shots into goals.
Part of this problem is also due to their inability to attack profitable areas of the pitch. Although the team rank 11th in the Premier League for passes into the final third this season, they rank 18th for completed passes into the 18-yard box, and they rank dead last for npxG/shot, meaning they are failing at getting into the box, and are resorting to low-quality distance shots instead.
This also explains why their xA (expected assists) ranks all the way down at 17th. Another important contextual fact is that they have been awarded a joint league-high 6 penalty kicks, and have converted 4 of them, which shows why their xG sits just below average in 11th despite these issues. It’s clear that West Ham are having massive problems creating chances inside the box, and even when they do, they are unable to put them away.
On top of this, West Ham have been incredibly ineffective from crosses, despite the acquisition of 6 foot 5 Italian striker Gianluca Scamacca in the summer. As Roshane Thomas from the Athletic pointed out in a recent article, West Ham have delivered 277 crosses into the box from open play in the Premier League this season, which ranks second only behind Tottenham Hotspur.
However, they have not scored from a single one of them, further contributing to the drop off in goals from the last two seasons to now. In 2020/21 and 2021/22, they scored eight goals and seven goals respectively from open-play crosses, and that was without one of the tallest forwards in the Premier League in former Sassuolo star Scamacca.
Outside of those issues in the final third, however, the team have either stayed the same or improved according to other metrics. Last season Moyes’ side ranked 11th in progressive passes, and they rank 11th again this season. They were 12th in key passes, whereas they now rank 8th. Their pass completion percentage of 77.3% this season is nearly identical to the 78% from last season. Their GA/90 stat of 1.33 is essentially identical to the 1.34 they conceded last season, and their shots on target allowed/90 has gone down from 4.34 last season to 4.22.
I could go on and on, but the point is that West Ham’s regression this season comes directly from their deficiencies in the final third. David Moyes must find a way to put his team into better goalscoring positions, and he must ensure those chances hit the back of the net, or he may be out of a job very soon.
West Ham United have the quality and depth to be fighting for Europe again this season, yet they find themselves in the midst of a relegation scrap, which simply isn’t good enough. With important fixtures against Wolves, Everton, Newcastle, and Chelsea quickly approaching, the window for improvement is rapidly closing for David Moyes and his staff should they wish to remain at the London Stadium in the future.
By: Garrett Post / @ParrettGost
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / Glyn Kirk – AFP