The season started well for the Hammers with 4 points out of 6, a victory against newly promoted Cardiff and a draw at Newcastle.
Considering the injury to Andy Carroll, that start gave West Ham hope that they could take advantage of a kind opening 6 games on paper and get some early points on the board.
The reality however was a little different with a 0-1 defeat at home Stoke followed by a 0-0 draw at Southampton which saw the Hammers draw a blank for the third game in succession, averaging only 1.5 shots on target per game in those opening 4 fixtures.
Everton then came to Upton Park and a Leighton Baines brace of free kicks and a Romelu Lukaka winner 5 minutes before full time saw the Toffee’s take all 3 points.
In 2012/13, ball retention was something that the East London natives had always pointed to as one of the issues with the team and in those first 5 games of 2013/14, West Ham’s direct style of play was hampered by the completely ineffective Modibo Maiga as their main front player and in turn, a pretty anonymous Kevin Nolan in an attacking sense who struggled to get any real sight of goal ( Only a single shot on target in the opening 5 games, the second goal against Cardiff on the opening day ) and the type of understanding with Maiga like he has with the injured Carroll.
The Hammers also at that stage were on a league low where total and completed passes were concerned, Andy Carroll had suffered a set back in his rehabilitation and all of a sudden there was talk in some quarters about the dreaded ” R ” word but for all of their attacking inefficiency, West Ham had only conceded a single goal in open play in the opening 6 games.
A trip to Hull and the subsequent defeat brought a change in style to the team that would see a style that focussed more on retaining the ball and being much less direct than they had been in previous games.
For that Hull game, Allardyce brought in James Tomkins for James Collins and kept faith for the last time with both Modibo Maiga and Matt Jarvis who were both badly lacking in confidence, which was highlighted were Jarvis was concerned with 39.62% of his passes going backwards ( a league high for any player who has played more than 450 minutes of football ).
In defence of Maiga who took some heavy criticism from certain sections of West Ham’s support, only Marouane Chamakh at Crystal Palace had a better ” Minutes Per Aerial Duel Won ” record ( winning a header every 12.43 minutes ) but Maiga had difficulty in holding the ball up and bringing any midfield runners into play at all.
The new possession based style of play was illustrated with West Ham attempting more than 130 passes than in any game prior and completing almost 120 passes more than in any other game prior to that stage of the season against Hull, as the below graph illustrates.
At first glance, many may question if there has been such a change of style to reflect this conclusion but if we take into consideration the opponents after the Hull game ( by comparison West Ham completed 231/305 at Tottneham in 2012/13 and completed 193/283 against Manchester City at home ), the continued absence of James Collins, the continued playing time of a ball playing midfielder alongside Mark Noble in Ravel Morrison and we start to see a new style of football emerging.
It’s all good and well making more passes however, even against two of the leagues best teams, but what about the end product?
We touched on earlier on in the article the problems West Ham had in the first 4 games where both goals and shots on target were concerned, but had this new possession style of football had any effect where chance creation and attempted shots/shots on target/goals were concerned ?
The graph above illustrates that West Ham have at least managed to create chances to allow them more attempts at goal than in games previously, barring the opening game of the season at home against newly promoted Cardiff.
By comparison the away game at Tottenham and at home to Manchester City in 2012/13 yielded 18 total attempts at goal, 4 shots on target and 1 goal.
Since the change in style too, the Hammers have managed more shots on target in the games against Hull, Tottenham and Manchester City (11 ) than they have combined in the previous 5 games ( 8 ), as well as equaling the goal tally.
Unfortunately the small sample size of games isn’t enough for us to really see a major overhaul in any sense but there is a reason for optimism at Upton Park and with the emergence of the obscenely talented Ravel Morrison who is now a first XI starter, things may well be just starting to take a different shape over the coming months at Upton Park.