Football Features

What makes West Ham the Premier League’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

By Ben Green

Published: 13:24, 20 March 2019

At one point West Ham looked destined to finish seventh in the Premier League but in typical fashion their season has tailed off.

If ever the age old maxim about life being like a box of chocolates should be applied, then it is certainly with West Ham: a club where you never know what you’re gonna get.

Proverbs aside, the Hammers have enjoyed mixed success this season, often pulling off upsets against the perennial ‘Big Six’ but then capitulating against much weaker opposition, AFC Wimbledon anyone?

The club are neither a flat-track bully or a giant killer, but rather somewhere in between, a team capable of beating most clubs on their day, but only enjoying that ‘day’ a few times a season.

Manuel Pellegrini was recruited with the mantra of instilling a ‘big-club mentality’ into his side, but of late, they appear to have adopted the all too familiar ‘beach mentality’.

And so, with the club in a constant state of flux and unable to replicate their early season form, what really makes West Ham the Premier League’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

A failure to follow up from big results

Only Wolves have a better record against the top six than West Ham, who have taken eight points from four games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.

An impressive feat, but the problem West Ham face in the immediate aftermath is one of complacency and laxity, as they appear incapable of replicating valiant performances against the ‘Big Six’ when they come up against lesser opposition.

After drawing with Chelsea and beating Man Utd in October, the club then lost 1-0 to Brighton; likewise, the 1-0 win over Arsenal in January was followed up with a 2-0 loss to Bournemouth, and the 1-1 draw with Liverpool last month was closely accompanied by a tame 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

A closer look and it appears West Ham are simply far more clinical and dangerous against the so-called bigger clubs: in the aforementioned matches against the ‘Big Six’ the Hammers had far less possession but often created more key chances.

They bettered Man Utd and Arsenal for key chances (8 & 9), while they equalled Liverpool (9) despite having just 26% possession. However, against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth they created just five and six key chances respectively, despite facing less opulent defences.

The question is then one of motivation. Does Pellegrini have the capacity to psych his players up for the big games, as well as the smaller ones? On evidence of this season, there is certainly some skepticism.

Woeful away record

This month last year saw the infamous Burnley riots take place; a harrowing noise descended across the London Stadium and, at the time, it looked unimaginable the former Olympic venue would ever be called ‘home’ by the West Ham faithful.

Well, fast forward a year and the London Stadium has been something of a sanctuary for Pellegrini and his side this season, securing eight of their 12 wins in east London, including all four of their results against the ‘Big Six’.

At home, West Ham have scored nearly double the number of goals than in away matches, netting 27 to a feeble 14 on the road. But this is understandable as they create far more chances on home turf than away (164 to 99), as well as making more passes in the final third (2094 to 1862).

Pellegrini’s side also boast a better passing accuracy on home territory (79.76 % to 76.88 %) and a better shooting accuracy (48.15 % to 46.53 %) despite attempting more passes (7039 to 6232) and registering more shots (214 to 137).

It should be noted that West Ham have won more tackles away from London Stadium (166 to 149) and have faced considerably more shots on their goal (247 to 181), showing that, for the most part, they play on the front foot at home but are often under the cosh away.

Key players: dip in form

When your talisman is firing on all cylinders, results and good performances tend to follow, but when they hit a snag and endure a barren run, the club’s fortunes tend to follow suit and diminish as well.

For West Ham that has happened in the form of record signing Felipe Anderson. The Brazil international can be an excruciatingly frustrating player, mesmeric one week but looking like he’d rather be anywhere else but a football pitch the next.

On his day he is breathtaking, but off it – which has been often of late – he looks a shadow of the player that prompted West Ham to part with £36m for his services.

In the first half of the season Anderson was sensational, scoring eight Premier League goals, registering two assists and creating 36 key chances for his teammates. However, in 2019, the incisive winger has failed to score a single league goal, registering less than a shot a game with just 10 taken from 11 outings.

That is quite an alarming statistic from a West Ham perspective as he was averaging 1.7 shots a game before the turn of the year. Before 2019, Anderson also boasted a better passing accuracy (76.5 % to 75.7 %), a better crossing accuracy (23.91 % to 21.05 %) and a significantly better shooting accuracy (72 % to 16.67 %).

With the club’s mercurial marvel having an off spell at the minute, his teammates have suffered, but, that was always the risk when bringing in a player who creates as much awe as he does frustrates.

Annual injury conundrum 

Every football club has their fair share of injury problems, but at West Ham that wretched curse seems to follow the club like a bad smell.

This season the injury Gods decided to strike the Hammers before the campaign even got up and running, ruling Manuel Lanzini out for eight months after he ruptured his anterior knee ligament while preparing for the World Cup with Argentina in June.

West Ham naturally responded by bringing in Andriy Yarmolenko to alleviate the Lanzini void but he soon fell victim to an Achilles tear in October and joined the Argentine in the medical room.

And they were soon met by Jack Wilshere whose lingering ankle problems have blighted his career; it’s safe to say that that one is not on West Ham in fairness.

Pellegrini also sought to strengthen his midfield with the recruitment of Colombian enforcer Carlos Sanchez, but he is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery in September, while Marko Arnautovic has missed nine games this season due to various injury problems.

It also looked like the club had solved their leaky defence with the signings of Ryan Fredericks and Fabian ‘The General’ Balbuena, but the former only lasted until early November until an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly three months, while the latter has only just returned having missed nearly three months after undergoing knee surgery in December.