David Moyes – West Ham United – Tactical Analysis (2021-22)

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After a remarkable 2020-21 campaign in which the Hammers hunted down a top four finish and ultimately ended up sixth, David Moyes continues to pull off miracles. The former Everton and Manchester United boss lost some degree of credibility after failing to achieve Sir Alex Ferguson levels of wonder at Old Trafford, and has now completely regained his reputation as an excellent man-manager, capable of achieving more than what would ever be expected of his team.

Within the last two years at the London Stadium, Moyes has overseen the rise and development of Declan Rice into one of the best midfielders on the planet; not to mention an excellent recruitment scheme that has brought in the likes of Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and last season’s loan signing of Jesse Lingard. Throughout that time, he’s also inspired improvements in versatility, style of play and attacking output in the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, and Michail Antonio, within an intense style of football that works to combat even the toughest teams in the league. So ahead of a charge towards this season’s UEFA Europa League final, we take a look at David Moyes’ tactics this season. Here is our latest in all things West Ham and David Moyes.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1

Occasionally the Hammers can opt for a defensively minded 5-4-1 / 3-4-2-1 formation, but the hallmark of David Moyes’ time in charge of West Ham has been within a rigid 4-2-3-1 system. In defensive phases, the formation often changes to become more 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 as the attacking midfielder links up with Antonio to press high up the pitch (and yes, West Ham press more than you might think!). In attack, unsurprisingly, the fullbacks often gallop forward one at a time to create additional attacking numbers, pushing the inverted wingers further inside to create magic closer to goal.

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Despite a couple of new faces coming through the door this season, old heads like Craig Dawson and Lukasz Fabianski have continued to hold down a place in the team. Injury to Angelo Ogbonna compounded matters for the Hammers at the halfway point in the season, with Kurt Zouma and Issa Diop battling for a place alongside the 31-year-old. Ben Johnson has also pushed for a place this season even despite Vladimir Coufal’s attacking excellence down the right, with Aaron Cresswell a steady presence down the left. In midfield, Moyes has deployed a partnership of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek 31/33 times this season. The West Ham captain magnificently drives the team on both in and out of possession, carrying the ball forward, spraying long passes, and popping up in all kinds of areas to contribute. As a quintessential shuttler, Tomas Soucek does more of his hard work off the ball, galloping forward to contribute when he can on crosses into the box, but more so holding a defensive role as he shuffles with the play and covers the defensive holes.

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In attack, David Moyes possesses a plethora of options. Jarrod Bowen has been the most consistent in selection and performance, scoring 9 goals with 8 assists in the league this season. Michail Antonio has also been a guaranteed lock whenever fit, contributing 8 goals with 7 assists in his 32 appearances. Moyes can then rotate through Said Benrahma, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals in the other attacking positions, ensuring the Hammers haven’t missed Jesse Lingard’s attacking threat one drop. With so much pace and power in their front-line, not to mention excellent timing of decision making, the Hammers can deploy a free-flowing attacking style of football that massively benefits their ability on the break. No team has scored more counter-attacking goals than Moyes’ men this season (6), allowing the Hammers to continue to sit deep, and then take the game to the opposition upon regains. So with that, let’s dive into their attacking principles, and how they’ve achieved so much success under David Moyes in scoring goals for fun.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

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As already noted, when you think of David Moyes’ team from an attacking perspective, it’s hard not to immediately imagine one of two things: their intense counter attacking approach, or their intense aerial dominance from set-pieces. West Ham can showcase high degrees of elegance in possession, particularly when the likes of Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell and Jarrod Bowen get on the case. But Moyes’ men generally adopt a direct approach in which they eventually look to find their striker, and use his exceptional hold-up play to then involve others closer to goal. On counter attacks, that’s particularly easy to achieve, as Antonio floats toward the side of the ball to receive and pull defends with him, holds it up, and allows others to sprint into the vacated space.

The West Ham striker’s powerful running off the ball can also be used to chase down passes into the half-spaces or wide channels, again as others like Fornals or Bowen drift into central spaces to finish off chances. But it can even be used to allow the 32-year-old to take on defenders all on his own, again as others explode to join high up the pitch. The fact that he’s accumulated 9 assists between Premier League and Europa League matches speaks for itself. He’s not just a ‘Target Man’ but a perfect emblem of our ‘Channel Runner‘ personality, constantly looking to pull defenders out of position and create for others. This intense counter attacking approach becomes all the easier for the Hammers within their defensive stance, particularly when they score the first goal and force the opposition into chasing the match. As the opposition push more numbers forward to grab an equalizer, new spaces open up for the likes of Antonio and Bowen to take advantage of in behind.

But again, it’s not just all-out counter-attacking. The Hammers may sit in the bottom half for possession (47.7%), but they are incredibly efficient in creating chances and turning their lower possession into goals. Crucial to their possession is of course Declan Rice, who drives the team on with ease, breaking lines with his exceptional carrying ability and long-passing range. The 23-year-old captain sets the tempo of the match with his calmness in possession, and can often be the one to start and finish off moves in the attacking third. His neat and tidy footwork combined with an imposing frame makes him particularly difficult to stop in full flow. Additionally, with a little shimmy and shake of the shoulders and elegance in what the Spanish call “La Pausa” you never quite know when he’s going to drive through the middle, or when he’s going to do something more simple and keep the game ticking.

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With Lanzini also drifting toward the ball and using his technical quality closer to the midfield, Tomas Soucek can then take his moments to roam forward and contribute to the attack. The Czech midfielder scored 10 goals last season in his 38 Premier League appearances, making himself a particular threat on set-pieces. With Rice now driving forward more and venturing into the attacking third himself, Soucek has held a slightly more reserved role in 2021-22. But he’s still contributed 5 goals to the team in the Premier League, with the West Ham pairing perfectly balancing one another out. The same could be said of the full-backs. Even within a 2-4-4 attacking shape, they take turns galloping into the attack, with Cresswell more likely to spread long passes from deep, and Coufal more likely to get on the overlap as Jarrod Bowen drives inside. This creates a natural 3+1 rest defense structure at every turn, with Dawson and Diop holding reserved roles to clean up messes in behind and ensure the counter-attackers don’t counter-attacked.

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In addition to Rice and Antonio, Jarrod Bowen has made himself a particular nuisance to opposition teams this season. We touted the 25-year-old as a potential Salah replacement back in January, for his exceptional ability to drive inside on his left foot and score goals. The former Hull City man possesses a touch of class, and magnificently works tight spaces to come out the other side and win fouls for his team. His constant desire to drive inside on his left becomes even harder to combat with Coufal galloping on the overlap and delivering crosses into the box for West Ham’s plethora of aerial threats. Knowing that both Bowen and Fornals can take a touch down with complete and utter poise, the likes of Declan Rice or Aaron Cresswell can then hit long passes or switches of play into the wide channels, as others take flight forward. It’s true that the Hammers have scored a plentitude of goals from counter-attacks (6) and set-pieces (13) this season, but with so many attacking options, they’ve also scored a massive amount from open play. 28 goals from open play puts them level with Arsenal, who are often credited for having one of the best free-flowing attacks in the league this season. So while they may be an excellent counter-attacking team that can always threaten from set-pieces, David Moyes’ men provide so much more attacking thrust in all areas of the game than they have in years, and are so much more than that simplification.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

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While they’ve excelled at the attacking side of the game despite their lower percentages in possession, the defensive side is where David Moyes’ team have outshone the majority of teams since the start of 2020. Out of possession, West Ham United defend in a resolute 4-4-2 mid to high block, that can shift into a 4-2-3-1 to track a talented opposition number six. Without over-complicating matters, their pressing structures can even at times be seen as a 4-2-4, leaving gaps from that high pressing first line to the midfield two and back-four. Within this shape, wingers may press opposition centre-backs, screening opposition fullbacks in the process with their body shape. This in turn forces the opposition to go through the middle, where the likes of Pablo Fornals, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice are incredibly adept at winning back possession.

High up the pitch, Antonio and the number ten on the day buzz around the field to limit central penetration, forcing the opposition out wide. The Jamaican forward has accumulated the third most amount of pressures in the attacking third this season (242) – a testament to his tireless work ethic off the ball. Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals also rank among the top wingers when it comes to pressing high up the pitch (128 and 151 respectively), highlighting West Ham to be a team that press higher than most might think on first glance. Their front four quartet in particular may be responsible for buzzing around the opposition’s build-up, where the remaining two lines situate lower and relatively uninvolved. This often entices the opposition to play passes in front of West Ham’s midfield or to the wide areas on either side of them, rather than more dangerous passing attempts closer to West Ham’s goal, for example in behind their back-line. West Ham hardly ever have a problem for pace, letting their sturdy organization do the bulk of the work instead.

Lower on the pitch, where they may spend a significant amount of time defending, the Hammers adopt more of a 4-4-1-1 shape. This compact shape allows Moyes’ men to keep their narrowness and defensive solidity, without taking away from the numbers they can immediately spray passes into in attacking transitions.

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That said, overarchingly, their pressing numbers as a team are quite low, and it would be true to say that the Hammers spend most of their time out of possession in either a low or mid-block. Their wingers tuck into central areas and then pressure out wide upon passes into the wide channels, keeping that narrow compactness. Fullbacks aid in that approach by remaining within the width of the eighteen yard-box, stepping out to pressure players in the half-spaces as much as out wide. If the opposition successfully progress out wide, West Ham’s defensive line and midfield two will drop as a unit to defend crosses into the box, using their aerial strength to shepherd the ball out of danger.

While he may not love cats, Kurt Zouma has done a fantastic job this season defending the penalty area, with a 73% aerial duel success and 5.9 clearances per 90 – the most in the Premier League. With Declan Rice making more interceptions than any other player in the league this season (87), West Ham have steady heads all over the pitch to aid in their solidity. Then as they win the ball back, their first look is often toward Antonio to immediately release pressure. But they can also utilize their attacking midfielder first and use that player’s on the ball presence to drive up the field, aided by the 4-4-1-1 shape that provides better support to the striker in transition.

CONCLUSION

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David Moyes has pulled off miracles since taking back the mantle at London Stadium in 2019, and now looks set for back to back finishes inside of England’s top seven. Even more monumental, the Hammers remain in the hunt for this season’s UEFA Europa League title – with a semi-final still to play against Eintracht Frankfurt. The 58-year-old Scot has constructed one of the most defensively resilient sides in the country, without taking away any of their attacking threat and gusto going forward. Throughout the past two years, he’s turned Declan Rice into one of the world’s best midfielders, and overseen the rapid improvement of Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals among others, into world beaters. Whether or not West Ham can pull off the unlikely remains to be seen. But regardless of ultimate outcomes, the Hammers will walk away remembering 2021-22 as one of their all-time greatest seasons.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of David Moyes’ West Ham United during their breathtaking 2021-22 campaign. Be sure to check out more of our Manager & Team analyses, and more on West Ham United this season below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> West Ham United 3-2 Liverpool – Tactical Analysis
-> Why Declan Rice is perfect for Manchester United
-> Why Nathaniel Phillips is perfect for West Ham United

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