This was a less obviously terrible lineup, except for the slightly confusing inclusion of Dawson over Diop — apparently he’d been good in training, but it’s slightly concerning that we’re starting a 30 year old veteran over a 23 year old that we signed for around £20m.
It looked like a move away from the 343 (kind of, it’s a bit lopsided down the left normally) we usually play to a much more standard 4231 or 4141, with Fornals drifting left, Lanzini as CAM and Yarmolenko on the right, in for Johnson, Noble and Bowen.
It didn’t really work. Once again we were fairly solid defensively — Southampton only generated 0.67 xG, and I’m pretty certain 0.29 of that was the Che Adams chance in the first minute which would have been flagged for offside if it hadn’t been tamely passed straight at Fabianski — but we were also pretty abject going forwards once again.
We created 1.07 xG, which doesn’t sound bad, but a huge 0.61 of that was the Benrahma chance in the 84th minute. We were basically unable to handle their press and create anything going forwards, especially before we made our first changes.
I think the big reason for this is that, as I mentioned when discussing the Brighton game, neither Rice nor Soucek are fantastic ball players, and so can’t progress the ball out of midfield. The switch to a back four and Moyes’ general conservative play also meant neither fullback could or would get forwards, and so our forward players were fairly starved of the ball.
If you add in that Haller really seems unable to get involved in these games at all, it meant Fornals, Lanzini and Yarmolenko trying to create attacks all on their own when they got the ball. If a defender is even mildly intelligent, they know how to defend Yarmolenko (just keep him on his right foot) and so we were just unable to do anything going forwards. 4 of our 9 shots were set pieces, which speaks to the inability to create much in open play.
Things were infinitely better when Benrahma came on, as he seemed happy to actually have the ball and take players on, allowing us to break through their press. Five of our shots came after he was introduced, and 0.82 of the xG. Things improved even further with the introduction of Bowen, who I think offers significantly more than Yarmolenko. Sadly even with this improvement, there was only one actual good chance, which was the Benrahma effort. I don’t think he did too much wrong with the finish, but McCarthy pulled off a fantastic stop.
I think the big problem with this squad is the link up play. With a midfield of Rice and Soucek we’re defensively solid and good from set pieces, but we just can’t really do anything with the ball. This is definitely exacerbated without Masuaku, who is genuinely one of the best dribblers in the league, and Antonio, who is able to get much more involved than Haller.
However Moyes needs to find a solution to this. Masuaku is out for a while, and I don’t trust Antonio to stay fit sadly, so we can’t just rely on set pieces and luck to create our goals. I think the best solution right now seems to be actually playing Benrahma, but I think Moyes views him as too much of a defensive liability sadly. The next best bet is a new LWB to cover for Masuaku and keep Cresswell as the third CB, but who knows if we have any money.
Anyway, the two best moments of the game were the Benrahma chance and Dawson volleying Che Adams in the head, so it wasn’t a thrilling match.
I don’t really know why I’m writing this — it’s lockdown, I’m off work and I’m bored I guess. I’ve considered trying to write some kind of stats based analysis of West Ham for a while now, so this felt like as good a time to start as any. I’m going to try to write these semi regularly, but who knows if that will last. Let me know what you think!
All stats from Understat.