Premier League Transfer Review #19: West Ham

2017/18 Season

West Ham will likely be disappointed with their campaign last season. Slaven Bilic was sacked after a poor start before David Moyes gave them a fairly comfortable finish. They finished 13th in the table and 15th for xGD.

Both their attacking and defensive numbers were below average last season, but their defence was the 4th worst in the division.

In attack West Ham were reliant on crosses, with only West Brom playing a larger percentage of crosses in the final third in proportion to passes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as they had the 4th highest xG per chance in the Premier League – despite having the 3rd least chances from within the danger zone.

Forward Marko Arnautovic had the highest xG + xA p90 of all players outside the top six with 0.769 p90 and the 11th highest if you include those within the top six. Being moved to a central role seemed to suit the Austrian forward and the Hammers will be hoping he can recreate these numbers this year.

Another good change from David Moyes was to put Adrian in goal instead of Joe Hart. Using goalkeeper numbers from @FinerMarginsit’s not as though Adrian had great numbers, but it was an improvement on Hart.


West Ham have had pretty mixed recruitment over the years, while they’ve found players like Manuel Lanzini and Arthur Masuaku (who attempted a huge 5.87 take-ons p90) at good ages and for decent value, they also have a tendency to spend significant fees on aging players. In recent years the likes of Jose Fonte, Robert Snodgrass looked poor signings from the off, while Bilic’s last roll of the dice with Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez also didn’t seem great – though Arnautovic did deliver.

With this in mind, plus the new manager at the helm, it was going to be interesting to see if West Ham differed their recruitment this summer.

Incoming

West Ham have been very active in the transfer market, spending just under £100m and bringing in nine new players.

I’ll get the ones I don’t know much about with out the way first. I know absolutely nothing of 26-year-old Fabian Balbuena, while I saw bits of 25-year-old Ryan Fredericks but can’t offer much on him. I would say on a free Fredericks seems to be a decent buy, West Ham haven’t seemed great at right-back (or right wing-back) with Pablo Zabaleta aging, Michail Antonio better further forward and Sam Byram not seeming to make much of an impact, Fredericks on a free looks a pretty shrewd buy.

Starting in attack, West Ham made some big additions. They spent £34.2m on 25-year-old Felipe Anderson, £18m on 28-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko and £4m on 29-year-old Lucas Perez. While only Felipe Anderson has been brought in at a decent age and I think the fees for the first two are pretty steep, there is a lot to like with these deals.

Felipe Anderson had some great dribbling numbers for Lazio last season, while also giving a strong return. The graph below (which I keep using) shows attempted take-ons in central advanced areas and xG + xA p90.

Click to Enlarge

You can see on the above graph he’s in pretty good company, with only Lionel Messi and Neymar being able to significantly better his dribbling numbers, while his xG + xA p90 isn’t lacking either. Looking at all attempted take-ons, only Neymar attempted more than Anderson p90 last season. This all makes it sound great, West Ham are adding a player who has some of the best dribbling numbers in Europe and even has a strong return.

There is, however, one caveat. Felipe Anderson really didn’t play many minutes last season, playing just 1151 minutes with 9 starts and 12 substitute appearances. I think if the fee was considerably smaller this wouldn’t be a big concern and it’d be a good gamble to take, but at ~£35m it feels like a risk. The hope would be that these numbers are reproducible with more minutes and starts and not just either the product of a small sample or skewed from substitute appearances.

The signing of Andriy Yarmolenko is taking the same gamble, though he’s older and cost half the price. Yarmolenko fell out of favour a Dortmund, but his xG + xA was a huge 0.912 p90, the 14th highest in Europe’s top five leagues last season. His xA was particularly impressive as the 9th highest xA p90 in Europe’s top five leagues. The problem is the same as Felipe Anderson’s, he only played 1042 minutes, with 13 starts and 5 substitute appearances.

These two have great numbers, but only from limited minutes, making it a big gamble to spend more than £50m on the pair. Even if their numbers drop with more game time they do seem like an upgrade on their existing options, but it doesn’t seem like an immediate smash hit. It’ll be exciting to see how they get on and if they can produce strong numbers over a more extended period of time, but it also feels as though West Ham shouldn’t be expecting numbers as high as those they put up last year.

The final attacking signing was £4m on Lucas Perez from Arsenal. This seems a nice shrewd buy from West Ham. Playing 2796 minutes for a relegated Deportivo side, Perez still managed an impressive xG + xA of 0.552 p90. His xA of 0.357 p90 is particularly impressive, being the 6th highest in La Liga. He seemed to be let down by his team-mates as his xA of of 11.09 only turned into 7 assists, but that 11.09 xA could only be bettered by Lionel Messi.

Given his last two seasons of regular football have seen him produce very strong numbers, both actual and underlying, I think this is a great signing from West Ham at £4m.

Moving into midfield West Ham added 32-year-old Carlos Sanchez at £4m and 26-year-old Jack Wilshere on a free.

Sanchez seems like a capable defensive midfielder but nothing extraordinary. On loan at Espanyol he was pretty tidy on the ball but with very little risk and a very high median xP. He did complete 69% of his 5.63 attempted long-balls p90 which is pretty good, but nothing else really stands out. At £4m as some depth and to give them a sitter in midfield it isn’t terrible, but it’s also not reason to get excited either.

Moving on, Wilshere is an interesting signing. Of course, Wilshere only played 1187 minutes last season, but he did have some impressive numbers. His xG + xA of 0.334 p90 is strong for a central midfielder, he completed 80.7% of his 4.2 attempted take-ons p90, attempted 2.74 passes into the box p90 and his 4.20 attempted tackles + interceptions p90 aren’t terrible for a possession heavy team. He popped up as having above average numbers in both defence and attack when I did ‘Trying to Find Midfielders’ back in February.

Despite this, he did this in a small amount of minutes in a strong side while there are also physical concerns. Wilshere hasn’t played over 2000 league minutes since the 2010/11 season (though he has played over 2000 in all competitions a couple of times) and didn’t seem to have a big influence on a lot of games with Arsenal last year. With all this in mind, I think the gamble is still worth taking given it’s a free transfer. If he can regain hit fitness and play regularly he should be a useful player for West Ham.

In defence West Ham spent £22.5m on 21-year-old Issa Diop from Toulouse. I’m not good at commenting on centre-backs, but Diop has some strong passing numbers and played 3060 minutes in Ligue 1 last season. He has an xP Rating of 1.051 and, while his 4 attempted vertical passes may not jump off the page, he played 12.0% of his passes vertical, Stuttgart’s Timo Baumgartl was the only under 24-year-old defender in Europe’s top five leagues with a higher percentage. He also attempted the 8th most vertical passes into the final third of all defenders under 24-years-old.

Diop’s still just 21-years-old but has already played 7621 Ligue 1 minutes for Toulouse. While his club didn’t have a great campaign last season, finishing in 18th place, their xG against was around average which isn’t too discouraging.

Diop arrives for a pretty steep fee, but looks like a player with high potential in a position where West Ham look rather short – their centre-back options are 30-year-olds Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna, or 19-year-olds Declan Rice and Reece Oxford. Diop is still on the young side, but has a lot of minutes under his belt already. I feel as though this will be a good move for West Ham.

Finally, West Ham brought in Lukas Fabianski from relegated Swansea for £7m. Fabianski may be 33-years-old, but for £7m this is a great buy. Going back to the tweet at the beginning from @FinerMarginsFabianski was the 3rd best performing goalkeeper in the Premier League and offers a big improvement on Adrian and Hart (who was only on loan anyway). This is another good shrewd move by West Ham.

Outgoing

Selling Cheikhou Kouyate to Crystal Palace for £10m is a good deal, then I don’t know enough about the younger players they sold to really comment.

Conclusion

Should they have done any more business?

A big upgrade in centre-midfield may have been useful, but they can probably get by fine with what they’ve got. It’s surprising not see more sales in attack, with a new attacking trio coming in, but some loans or sales to European clubs could still be arranged I guess.

Verdict

I quite like this West Ham window. There’s some question marks and a few gambles, but it’s clear why they’ve attempted those gambles. Even if they can’t reach the numbers they did last season, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko behind Arnautovic feels like an upgrade, Fredericks and Wilshere for frees are worthwhile, Perez looks a great buy at £4m, Fabianski offers big improvement in goal and Diop offers both potential and an immediate impact.

It’ll be interesting to see how they get on with so many new players and a new manager, but this window feels like a step forward compared to the last couple.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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