With such a flurry of activity going on, old players being sold or released as quickly as new players are being acquired, it can be difficult to grasp just how much the team is improving as a whole. Will the recent loss of West Ham’s most creative player last season, Stewart Downing, be made up for adequately by the arrival of Dimitri Payet? Is the free transfer of Darren Randolph enough to make up for the releasing of his predecessor back-up goalkeeper, Jussi Jääskeläinen? How exactly – and we can look perhaps to compare the relevant statistics for further help – will Pedro Obiang fill the gap that Alex Song occupied in the starting lineup? And where are the net losses, areas in which further addition is needed just to break even?
Firstly, let’s split the pitch, as is customary, into the three appropriate sections; defence, midfield and attack. Next, we need to identify the key facets that the players who operate in these departments contribute. Finally, we need to subtract the amount of key statistics contributed by players who will not appear next season, and compare them with the statistics that their replacements managed last season for their old clubs, keeping in mind the effect the relative differences between leagues, teams and playing style might have.
Two players have left the club in this area of the pitch, both of them men who filled only secondary roles last season; Guy Demel and Jussi Jääskeläinen. After starting four of the first six games of the 14-15 season, Demel was to appear only twice more during his final term for the club. At 34, the Ivorian was quickly finding himself out of his depth at the top level. Demel’s attacking play was adequate, always a willing forward runner, with a surprising amount of pace and trickery in the final third. His defending, however, was rarely assured, and he was too often out of position and ill-disciplined with his marking. Once the Arsenal loan signing Carl Jenkinson established himself as the obvious first choice at right-back, Demel fell completely out of favour. He did not possess the sort of trojan endurance Jenkinson provided, and would have been a liability in the run-heavy, winger-less formation under which West Ham flourished when playing. With Joey O’Brien a better understudy for the returning Jenkinson next season, no measurable net loss here can be found.
Jääskeläinen played 28 minutes in total last season; such is the life of an understudy goalkeeper, destined to warm the pine at length when a team’s first choice keeper is fit and available. The Finn’s powers had wavered in the last two seasons, with his speed across the line highly suspect – the two goals that Leighton Baines scored in Everton’s 3-2 win during the 13-14 season are good examples of the Finn’s ailing footspeed, both free kicks that Jääskeläinen could get nowhere near. What Jääskeläinen did still have in his locker was an astounding ability to pull off close-range reaction saves, the kind where instinct rather than athleticism are required. In Randolph, West Ham have brought in a goalkeeper of similar ability, one who made the second-most saves in the Championship last season, including the equal-first most saves with his feet. Randolph’s age, being 12 years younger than Jussi, alone indicates a net gain here.
The defenders that have arrived so far have made the relatively insignificant personnel losses even less important. The re-signing of Jenkinson was crucial to this however; the Englishman made only two defensive errors last season – league-wide, only two full-backs who played as many or more matches than Jenkinson made fewer errors last term. Adding to this, Jenkinson’s attacking efforts were crucial last season for the Hammers, with the full-back creating nearly twice as many chances (22) as attacker Kevin Nolan did (12).
Also joining the defensive ranks is Angelo Ogbonna, the centre-back who arrived from Juve. There is no shame in being unable to usurp the supreme Leo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, and in spite of Ogbonna playing a back-up role at Juve last season, he still managed to achieve the team’s eighth-highest Squawka rating overall, apparently performing better during his time on the pitch than, for example, Arturo Vidal or Patrice Evra. He passed equally as accurately as Andrea Pirlo did last season (89%), and won 65% of his duels, more than Chiellini managed. He adds vital support to what was at times a beleaguered West Ham back line.
Conclusion – Firmly in the black.
(For the purposes of this review, the attacking midfield will be counted in this area, not in the attacking section, which will be solely for strikers and wingers).
There have been some key losses in this area over the offseason, most notably that of Downing, last term’s most productive player. Downing’s return to his home club Middlesbrough, along with the losses of Alex Song and, to a much lesser extent, Ravel Morrison, make this area wholly in need of reinforcement. To the club’s credit, it has acted quickly and has brought in Obiang and Payet, two players that look highly likely to nullify the absences of Song and Downing respectively. Downing made the fourth most key passes in the Premier League last season (77); Payet made the most key passes in Ligue 1 last season (117), and was the league leader in this regard by a vast amount, with 43 more completed key passes than his nearest rival.
No problem here. Downing provided eight assists last season; Payet provided 17. Downing scored 6 goals in 37 appearances; Payet scored 7 goals in 36 appearances. Downing’s passing was accurate 85% of the time; Payet’s was accurate 80% of the time. Downing won 40% of his take-ons; Payet won 55% of his, and attempted more than triple the amount Downing did. Downing was fouled 27 times last season, always a good indicator of how much trouble a player is causing the opposing team; Payet was fouled 70 times last season, the eighth-most fouled player in Ligue 1. Wherever you look, it appears that Payet is, in most categories, an as-good-or-better replacement for Downing.
Obiang and Song also match up relatively well. Song won 38% of his tackles for West Ham last season, completing 73 out of 190 attempted; Obiang won 42% of his tackles and completed 76 out of 179 attempted. Song committed 52 fouls last term; Obiang committed 53. Song made 805 successful passes; Obiang made 886. Where Obiang pushes ahead of Song is in his shooting; the Spaniard scored three times last season and was accurate with 52% of his shots, whereas Song did not score at all last season, and was largely profligate with his shooting.
Obiang made fewer overall defensive errors last season than Song, even though he made more average defensive actions per game than Song did. Again, taking into account the fact that Obiang is four years younger than Song, West Ham seems to have, statistically speaking, come up trumps once again. Of course, this does not take into account the intangible fact of Song’s greater experience in the English Premier League, but it would be unfair to write off Obiang because of his greenhorns in this respect.
Ravel Morrison’s loss is negligible, as the midfielder played only 34 minutes for the Hammers last year. His is a woeful story, one, by all appearances, of a talent bitterly wasted. His off-field controversies proved far too distracting, and his on-field brilliance was far too stop-start.
Conclusion – Edging happily into the black.
Here, in the all important final third, is where the most decisive footballing actions are made, where match-winners are born, where that sublime currency, goals, usually stem. West Ham was in dire need of more striking talent, in spite of the fine efforts of Diafra Sakho, and the highly occasional sight of Andy Carroll battering his ram through the Swansea back line. With Enner Valencia, Nene and the rest proving dangerously goal-shy, West Ham had a goal difference that ended in the negative figures once again last season.
The loss of Carlton Cole was one that most West Ham fans celebrated, but it was a celebration tinged with a sort of melancholy sadness. Cole had been at West Ham for as long as many would care to remember, a figure of fun for most of that time, but one that always seemed to provide a rugged body, if not the requisite goals to merit the label “striker”. He finally called time on his career as a Hammer, and was released by the club after the 14-15 season finished, a season in which he netted only twice. Ah, Carlton, it has been… well, not fun, but, well… it’s been something.
Losing Cole (as well as Nene) means more in terms of bodies than it does goals or quality, and with Sakho and Carroll both injured for extended spells last term, additional personnel is a must in this department. So, it is worrying that only Martin Samuelson, Mauro Zarate and Modibo Maiga have been brought in so far this transfer period. Both Zarate and Maiga have returned after mediocre loan spells away from the club last season, and neither, particularly Maiga, give much hope that they will transform into important players in 15-16. Samuelson is a 19-year-old, utility attacker from Manchester City, and will be lucky to see much first team time.
So, in this vital section of the pitch, West Ham is weaker than it was last season (and it was pretty weak here last season). A signing here before the transfer period closes is a near certainty, and so a revaluation will have to be done when this occurs. Although the losses up front have not been great in and of themselves, the lack of any incoming talent has made them appear more damaging overall. If a player like, as has been mooted, Javier Hernandez or Charlie Austin, can be brought in, then things will instantly appear more promising.
Conclusion – Firmly in the red.
This article first appeared on Outside90.com