Downbeat David Moyes must change tack if West Ham are to improve
West Ham’s approach in their 2-0 defeat by Tottenham was not especially surprising but, nonetheless, dispiriting for supporters.
David Moyes has made a habit of playing conservatively in big games, and his record with West Ham against the League’s top sides is dismal: Sunday’s defeat at Spurs means he has taken three points from 23 matches against the ‘big six’.
Spurs are a good side (the fourth best in the country, as it stands), but they started the game with a midfield of Emerson Royal, Oliver Skipp, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Ben Davies — hardly elite — and have been suspect defensively all season. They were there for the taking by an ambitious side (struggling Leicester thrashed them 4-1 a week earlier), but West Ham barely threatened in Moyes’s turgid 5-4-1 system and he was slow to make changes after Emerson opened the scoring.
The result brought West Ham’s mini-revival to an abrupt halt, and even the 1-1 draws with Chelsea and Newcastle may come to look like missed opportunities, given the stuttering form of both clubs.
Having started the season eyeing another tilt at the top seven, the Hammers are firmly entrenched in a relegation dogfight, but Moyes has been quick to play down expectations, saying before Sunday’s match that anyone expecting the club to consistently compete for Europe lacks “real football intelligence”.
Speaking to Michael Calvin’s Football People podcast last week, Moyes said: “[To] expect [West Ham] to do six, seven years where you’re competing at the top, I think you’re probably kidding yourself, and I think anyone with any real football intelligence will probably go along with that.”
Plainly, Moyes is partly a victim of his own success. When he returned to the club in December 2019, no one expected him to lead West Ham from the brink of relegation to consecutive sixth- and seventh-placed finishes and, in doing so, he has dramatically raised the bar. Moyes has, however, been backed by the club to meet those expectations. Since the end of last season, West Ham have spent more than £200million on new players, including Brazil’s No10, Italy’s No9, a Germany defender and one of the stars of Morocco’s run to the World Cup semi-final. They joined a squad already including Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Kurt Zouma, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio.
West Ham have been unlucky with injuries this season, but Moyes is no longer working miracles with a paper-thin squad. Instead, he is underachieving with a group packed full of internationals, and well equipped for a run in Europe and another solid domestic campaign.
Admittedly, this was always likely to be a season of transition to bed in new players and adjust to the loss of captain Mark Noble, but West Ham should still be comfortably clear of the bottom three.
The Hammers’ wage bill is steadily climbing from mid-table in the Premier League towards the top eight clubs, and they were named the 15th in the latest Deloitte Money League, ranking the highest revenue-generating clubs in the world.
For context, Sevilla, who Moyes’s side beat to such fanfare in the Europa League last-16 last season, were ranked 13 places lower, meaning the result should not have been considered such a shock in terms of sheer financial might. Eintracht Frankfurt, who beat the Hammers in the semi-final, were ranked 22nd.
Aided by their residency at the London Stadium, West Ham also have the second-highest average attendance in the top flight this season, behind only Manchester United.
In short, they may lack a recent history of success, but West Ham have all the other ingredients needed to be considered a big club in the modern game: top international players, strong revenues, a big stadium and a large, engaged fanbase.
Moyes has talked about building “a new West Ham” and changing their “culture of being flaky”, but both his approach to big matches and downbeat comments belong to a club with far smaller means and ambitions than the Hammers.
If Moyes is to prove that this season is the outlier, rather than the last two campaigns, he must start thinking and acting as though he is in charge of a big club.