“I’m certain we will achieve it [top-six finish]. If we don’t this season then this is a year of preparing for trying to do it next season.” That was what West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini promised just eight months ago, yet looking at the statistics, they are fortunate not to be in a relegation battle.
The Chilean manager’s appointment back in summer 2018 filled the Hammers supporters with optimism that they could push into contention for a top seven finish. According to Transfermarkt, Pellegrini spent £84.51million in his first summer transfer window – signing the likes of Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko – and optimism swiftly spread across the fanbase.
“I don’t get the impression that he’s going to motivate and inspire the players.” That was the words of Sky Sports pundit, Tony Cottee, four games into the 2018/19 Premier League campaign as the Irons sat pointless at the foot of the table – the jury seemingly already out for Pellegrini.
When you look at the expected stats, there was a gaping problem – defensive frailties – and that appears to be a recurring theme so far this season as the Hammers sit 10th with nine games played.
Pellegrini achieved a 10th-place finish in his first season in charge of West Ham, which on paper is a respectable accomplishment; yet searching deeper, the Irons overachieved.
Throughout the 2018/19 Premier League season, West Ham scored 52 goals, but according to Understat, their expected goals (xG) was only 47.96, which would rank them as the sixth lowest scorers in the division. Marko Arnautovic scored 19% of the Hammers’ Premier League goals last season despite his desire to move to China in the January transfer window.
But what about defensively? Pellegrini made plentiful defensive acquisitions in the 2018 summer. The likes of Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, Ryan Fredericks and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski were brought in to eradicate the recurring defensive issues on display at London Stadium – conceding 132 goals in their opening two Premier League campaigns at their new home.
Pellegrini’s side in 2018/19 conceded 55 league goals, the lowest output since moving to Stratford. So that’s a positive, right?
Well, the expected goals against (xGA) last season for West Ham was 65.66, meaning they massively overperformed in terms of their defensive output. Using the expected stats, the Hammers had the fifth worst defensive record in the league and the largest difference between expected goals conceded and actual goals conceded.
Fabianski was an outstanding performer last season and topped the charts for most Premier League saves (148). The Poland international’s contribution in his first season for the Hammers was so impressive that he was crowned Hammer of the Year, highlighting his significance in the team.
West Ham accumulated 52 points throughout the 2018/19 Premier League campaign yet their expected points (xPTS) was 43.72, which would’ve placed them 13th rather than the 10th-place finish they achieved.
However, Pellegrini’s first season in charge at London Stadium was a transitional period. The Hammers encountered several injury problems throughout the campaign – the likes of Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere and Manuel Lanzini amassing just 27 league appearances between them. Arnautovic’s off-field problems also caused Pellegrini issues, so it would be unjustified to reach a conclusion after one season.
But when you look at the stats for the 2019/20 Premier League campaign thus far, the same themes are cropping up. Before the season started, the likes of West Ham, Leicester City, Everton and Wolves were tipped as the favourites to contest for a top-seven finish, but with the same defensive frailties recurring, any dream of a European finish for the Hammers seems rather bleak.
With nine games played, West Ham currently sit 10th in the league table on 12 points – three points behind Arsenal in fifth. The Irons have netted 11 times thus far, but their xG is 11.91 which suggests they are marginally underperforming offensively, especially with the likes of Sebastien Haller, Anderson and Lanzini at their disposal.
Defensively, though, the same cracks are appearing. The Hammers have conceded 13 goals so far, yet their xGA is 18.35 – the worst in the division – and it’s only a matter of time before they start to descend down the Premier League table.
So, eight months have passed and I wonder whether Pellegrini is still “certain” of achieving a top six finish this season. In fact, the stats suggest that the Hammers could find themselves battling relegation; if the Chilean manager cannot discover a formula which prevents his side from conceding so many chances, he could see his tenure at London Stadium come to a premature end.