Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Perry Littman talks about West Ham United.
THE PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN
West Ham’s final season at their beloved Boleyn Ground was hosted with a new manager and a new style of play that took them to 7th in last season’s Premier League and secured a place in Europe once again. An unforgettable season that also provided and created many more memories and stories.
New signings made an immediate and impressive impact at the club. Darren Randolph, Angelo Ogbonna, Pedro Obiang, Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio.
A young West Ham team made an early exit from the Europa League in August losing 4-3 on aggregate to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu in the third qualifying round. Some believed further progression in the Tournament would have been a distraction and might hinder their league performance. The positive side of the brief European adventure was that the young players got some valued experience and were able to show their quality.
The Hammers managed away wins at Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool as well as beating Chelsea and title-challenging Tottenham at home. A dramatic comeback away at Everton, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the final 15 minutes also happened. For parts of the season West Ham was in contention for a Champions league place until a 4-1 home defeat to Swansea ended all hope of qualification
The club narrowly lost in the quarter finals of the FA Cup replay against Manchester United in a 2-1 defeat but went on to beat them in their last every game at the Boleyn, winning 3-2 in a superb thrilling game inside an amazing and emotional atmosphere.
The Development Squad ensured West Ham ended the 2015/16 season with a new piece of silverware in the Trophy cabinet by winning the U21 Premier League cup.
The 2015/16 season was a huge success with a combination of good signings, management, team spirt and tactics.
Slaven Billic’ arrival at the start of last season was to bring a breath of fresh air to an already strong, organised and capable squad with the main goal of staying in the Premier League. Not only did he achieve over this by gaining the most points any West Ham side had collected in any season in the top division for 30 years (62 points) and setting a new record for goals scored (65), but he also brought an exciting, entertaining style of play that pleased everyone at the club.
Billic might not have had the most spectacular club record of teams he had managed prior to coming West Ham, he wasn’t the first choice as the new manager with pundits claiming the club were taking a gamble in its hugely important final season at the Boleyn. But the Croatian is tactically aware of how to get the best out of his teams and is not afraid to use different formations.
The Charismatic Croatian became a hit on ITV’s coverage of this summer’s European Championships in France as the pundit Bllic could easily highlight any team’s strengths and weakness, as well as showcasing his passion for the game when he celebrated one of his West Ham players scoring by climbing onto the desk in the TV studio when Dimitri Payet scored the winner for France against Albania. Viewers highly missed Slaven’s punditry during the latter stages of the tournament as he went back to West Ham to prepare for pre-season but did become a new fan favourite pundit.
West Ham now attacks and defends as a team unit, they play as a team that will send numbers forward and work together to break a team’s defence and will defend deep leaving the striker and Payet still up field. West Ham has the strength and depth to mix up how they attack their opponents, from attacking set pieces, attacking through the middle, or attempting crosses from the wings. Last season they managed 42 goals from open play, and 16 from set pieces.
Bilic likes to play either a narrow 4-2-3-1 formation, with two midfielders in front of the defence, with the full backs pushing forward, or a 4-3-3 with Payet and Antonio part of the high forward attacking line. Often a consistent first eleven, West Ham was more successful playing 4-3-3. During the 13 times they played this formation, they scored 26 goals.
They generally employ a mixed style of passing with short passes, long ones and crosses. The team has its own identity and game organization. They like to play attacking football; especially at home, they go out to attack the opposition at all times, trying to score at every opportunity, and never really look sit back to defend and frustrate teams. A much used phrase at West Ham is looking to play “The West Ham Way” which can be best described as playing their own brand of free flowing attacking style of football that the fans enjoy, with neat tidy passes played on the ground by creative players with flair. Blilc’ team seem to please everyone at the club with performances and results to match what supporters want to see.
When they do have possession, West Ham almost immediately gets it to the wingers Antonio and Payet, with attacking full backs always over lapping and looking to get forward to send in a cross to centre forward Andy Carroll whose strength and size allow him to hold the ball or to head the ball at goal with sheer power and accuracy. If fit, Carroll does make an impact, with perfectly timed runs into the box towards a decent delivery into him which saw him have a decent season for the Hammers. Normally a handful, physical, aggressive and hard to deal with for defenders. Carroll won the most aerial duels at west ham with 112 out of 200 attempted. He was also joint top scorer last season with Payet, both scoring nine.
Both wide players are hardworking, Payet will look to use his skill to get past players and bring other team mates into the game, organising attacks and having a free role, while Antonio will run all day long, to attack and be disciplined enough to get back and support. Another key trait of Antonio is his ability to send the ball into the box with his giant throw in that has opponents struggling at times. New signing Sofiane Feghouli brings to the team flair and will look to drive forward and send in perfect crosses into the box, which Andy Carroll would appreciate.
With fast players like Payet, Antonio and Sofiane in the team, the purpose is mostly to pass to the forwards as soon as possible. Carroll is a forward who is strong, but not that fast, and so the team press opponents high-up the field to allow the main forward to not have to start far away from the opposing goal.
The two central defenders, either Winston Reid, James Collins or Angelo Ogbonna are strong and fast with good height and aerial ability. They are experienced and will often look to pass the ball either short or long to the attacking players with an urgency to start an attack. Noble and Kouyate are the base in midfield with Manuel Lanzini being the creative central midfielder. Lanzini was the most accurate passer last season, completing 88.9% of his passes in 26 Premier League appearances.
West Ham as a team completed 78% of their passes with an average of 49% possession. They created 14.7 shots with 4.9 shots on target per game.
TRANSFER MARKET ACTIVITY
The big new signing made by West Ham so far this summer was of Valencia winger Sofiane Feghouli on a free transfer. The Algerian created more chances for Valencia than any other player in the last five years. Last season though Feghouli faced injuries and with issues surrounding a contract extension, he missed a few games and the team suffered from slipping from 4th spot in 14/15 to 12th last season without him playing regularly. Fast, strong, with quick feet and a high work rate, Feghouli is a proven talent.
Alex Song’s 2-year loan spell at the club has finished and returns back to Barcelona, his squad place has been filled by experienced Norway international Havard Nordtveit, who arrives with a superb reputation after five seasons in the Germany Bundesliga with Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Turkey international Gökham Töre joins on a season-long loan from Turkish side Besiktas, with a view towards a permanent deal. The winger scored six goals and set up nine assists in all competitions for Besiktas last season, in which they went on to win and become Turkish champions.
The Hammers also shopped from the Premier League, signing Andrew Ayew from Swansea. The 26-year-old had a successful debut season in England, last campaign.
Highly rated forwards Toni Martinez who joins from Valencia and Domingos Quina joining from Chelsea are prolific goal scorers that will initially link up with the Hammers’ development squad.
Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and Carl Jenkinson all return to their parent clubs after their loan spells finished.
Striker Ashley Fletcher joins West Ham on a free from Manchester united. The 20-year-old spent the last half of the season on loan at League One side Barnsley, helping them secure promotion into the Championship via the play-off with a goal inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in a 3-1 win against Millwall. Brought into the West Ham team as a squad player but with Carroll’s history with injuries and speculation surrounding the future of Diafra Sako and Enner Valencia, Ashley Fletcher might be perhaps in for a big season.
Home grown players Elliot Lee and James Tomkins have departed the club, Lee joins Barnsley for an undisclosed fee, and Tomkins joins Crystal Palace. The defender was seen as the 4th choice centre back last season, and other played as right back. Tomkins will be a miss at the club having spent over 10 years with the London team, the player needed game time and a new challenge, Palace now gain an experienced defender and with West Ham getting £10 million for the player proves to be a decent bit of business for everyone involved.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Dmitri Payet: Payet instantly became a hugely creative influence on his team from the centre of midfield or a wide position in his debut season. West Ham’s win rate is much higher when the playmaker is on the field, and the Hammers struggled without him as he suffered an injury half way in the season which made him miss two months. His ability to make perfectly timed passes, close ball control, quick feet, dribbling and expertly taken free-kicks that most othen curls into the top corner of the goal made him West Ham’s player of the season. Payet was involved in 21 Premier League goals for the Hammers, 9 goals and 12 assists. The midfielder also topped West Ham’s charts for most shots (69), dribbles (118) and key passes (119). His outstanding performances also secured a return to the French national team and a brand new contract at West Ham that makes him the club’s best paid player of all time. One of West Ham’s biggest challenges they face is trying to keep hold of the midfielder who also helped France reach the final of Euro 2016.
Mark Noble: Mark Noble has grown into the complete midfielder, managing 7 goals and 4 assists. When he sits deep he will spray passes all over the pitch. The club captain, now 29 years old, is the constant driving force for his team and has been though the highs and lows at the club, being promoted twice, relegated, the great escape in 2006 and reaching the FA Cup final. He uses his experience and will work hard to organise the team and keep it simple in possession, but does know how to unlock any defence with the ball at his feet. Noble has scored 21 penalties in his last 22 taken.
Cheikhou Kouyate: Probably the most underrated player, he can look frightening at times. He made 41 appearances last season, scoring five with two assists. The Senegal midfielder, normally playing as the defensive midfielder, is strong in the air, often dominating in midfield with his physical strength and pace. Kouyate was 2nd behind Andy Carroll in most aerial duels with 87.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Sam Byram: West ham have a few young names with potential to look out for in this upcoming season such as Reece Oxford, Martian Samuelsson, Reece Burke and many others. But with injuries and a shortage of full-backs in the squad, Sam Byram might just have an important season ahead of him.
The Thurrock born full-back, now aged 22, joined the club in January from Leeds United, and has only made 3 appearances for the London team including last Thursday’s Europa league game, still has a lot to learn and improve on as he tries to make his mark. The defender is strong in the air and pretty decent when passing the ball, often looking to play short passes, and winning fouls for his team.
CONCLUSION AND EXPECTATION
A brand new era for West Ham at their new stadium with an exciting season ahead for the Hammers with European football too. They started in the third qualifying round in the UEFA Europa League with the first leg at Slovenian side NK Domzala. West ham lost 2-1 away to a much sharper and fitter team that was already match fit. The Hammers did put a strong team out still even without Payet, Ogbonna and Collins who have time off following the progress in the summer’s European championships in France.
European football last season wasn’t the main priority as west ham focused on just staying in the division. Their last attempt saw them entered into the tournament aa part of the fair play award but now they qualified for the 2016-17 Europa league by finishing 7th last season. With 5th place Manchester United winning the FA Cup, the Hammers gained the spot as the highest placed team not already qualified
The level of support at the club is exceptional as they sold out season tickets at the new ground with more than three months to go until the season started.
Bilic may have an issue of having too many wide players. Antonio, Payet Tore and Enner Valencia are already at the club. They will be joined by new signings Sofiane Feghouli and returning loanee Martin Samuelsen in the team, meaning these players will be fighting for places. Payet will be starting in the team no matter what, Antonio has been filling in at right back so far in pre-season, but did struggle recently. Samuelsen’s best option would be perhaps another loan spell.
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here.
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- Analysis: Why have Southend United struggled in defence? - June 4, 2020
- Hipster Guide 2016-17 : West Ham United’s tactics, key players, and emerging talents - August 11, 2016