Humbled West Ham Bring Back David Moyes, But Was It The Right Decision?

West Ham have been one of the Premier League teams I was most wrong about so far in 2019/20. After a very inconsistent first season under Manuel Pellegini, I though they would kick on this year after adding Haller and Fornals to their attack. While the opening weeks of the campaign suggested that might be the case, instead they fell apart and ultimately Manuel Pellegrini was let go after defeat against Leicester.

Sure enough West Ham did find some consistency, unfortunately it was the poor defending and lack of ideas in attack that became a constant. By the time Pellegrini was moved on the club found themselves just one point above the drop zone, and I think it would be fair to say it is a decision they should have taken weeks earlier.

Given the situation West Ham found themselves in when the time came to recruit a new head coach, it’s not too surprising they went for the safe, and probably relatively cheap, option in David Moyes. However, the appointment of Moyes is a damning indictment of how the club has failed over the past 18 months.

He had been brought in by West Ham under similar circumstances in November of 2017. They were struggling down around the relegation places when he arrived but he safely kept them in the Premier League. Since then they have invested a lot of money into transfers and Manuel Pellegrini, so to have to return to David Moyes just over two years down the line almost no better off is little embarrassing, to say the least.

What I will say in favour of West Ham is this time I think they have a better squad for Moyes to work with. Earlier in the season I wrote that the Hammers actually have one of the best collections of offensive weapons outside of the ‘Big 6’ and I stand by that now. Encouragingly, it is something we saw glimpses of during Moyes’ first game back in charge against Bournemouth in Gameweek 21.

Before reading too much into West Ham’s 4–0 win at home versus Bournemouth on New Years Day, it is worth remembering that their opposition are seriously hampered by injuries and are in a terrible run of form (two wins in their last 15 Premier League games). Regardless of the opposition though, getting both Haller and Anderson on the scoresheet is huge given they were both on long runs with out scoring a goal.

They were used as the front line of a 442 which helps get support closer to Haller, who has often found himself too isolated this season. With someone playing next to, or just behind him, they are able to make better use of Haller’s ability to hold the ball up and win aerial duels. As for Anderson, he is able to exert more influence on the game from the central position while allowing Fornals to stay over on the left where he has recently found some form.

Another big positive was the work West Ham did without the ball. In the first half their press was suffocating Bournemouth and even when they played deeper in the second half, Bournemouth still struggled to create much, reflected by the fact they only managed three shots in the entire game.

Fabianski was starting in just his second game back from injury, but the truth is he was barely called into action. An encouraging sign considering how many times West Ham have relied on him to save them since his arrival at the beginning of the 2018/19 season. For context, during last season he made more saves than any other Premier League goalkeeper which is never a good sign for a defence.

Focusing now on the decision to bring David Moyes back to West Ham, there has been a lot of criticism of the appointment. Aside from the point I have already made about the lack of progress it demonstrates, there is a widely held view that it shows a lack of ambition. That is especially true when you compare it to the aggressive move made by Everton, who were in a similar situation to West Ham, when they brought in Carlo Ancelotti.

Of course it would have been exciting to see West Ham also go for a more ambitious approach but it is very understandable why they opted not to. First of all, they tried that tactic with Pellegrini and it didn’t turn out particularly well. He was the big name, the proven winner and despite having a better squad, he couldn’t take them any further than Moyes did in his first spell.

Moreover, there is no need to rush into making a long term appointment half way through a season. Moyes, as he proved before, is more than capable of getting enough out of that squad to take them closer to mid-table. That would then give them an opportunity to go for a bigger name that increases the ceiling of this West Ham team at the end of 2019/20, or maybe more likely given the 18 month contract, at the end of 2020/21.

Moyes says he intends to leave West Ham with no choice to extend his deal beyond that, but unless he has them up around the Europa League places, I find that unlikely. My guess would be that this will be another short term project to steady the ship and start extracting a level of performance more befitting of the quality they have within that group of players.

What will be interesting to see is how Moyes is supported in the transfer window, because when you look at their first eleven, there aren’t too many positions that urgently need addressing. Fullback, particularly left back, and central midfield would be the obvious two for me. Something else they should be looking at is a quicker, more direct wide player.

You can always see the impact Antonio has when he comes into the team because he is the only player they have who really has that skill set. I’m not sure he would even need to be a starter, but having an option to change things from the bench would be a big boost for a club who has just one goal scored by substitutes in the Premier League this season.

Even if West Ham don’t attack the transfer market in the manner we have seen them do so in the past couple of years, I would still expect David Moyes to take them to around mid-table. In that case it would be hard to argue that Moyes was a bad managerial appointment, whether or not he can take West Ham much further beyond that is likely to be the more interesting question.

Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on January 3, 2020.

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