Julen Lopetegui’s West Ham in-tray: Fix defence and impose a better style than David Moyes

Julen Lopetegui
Julen Lopetegui will officially begin work as West Ham's new head coach on July 1 - PA/Brian Lawless

Julen Lopetegui has vowed to make a “big, big noise” at West Ham United after his appointment as the successor to David Moyes was confirmed on Thursday.

Lopetegui, who has signed a two-year contract with the option of a further year, will officially begin work as West Ham’s new head coach on July 1 after turning down other offers since leaving Wolves in August last year.

“We will try to put our stamp on the club,” said the Spaniard. “I feel that we have a fantastic platform. I think the last few years have been very good years to have this base, of course, but my ambition as a coach is always to be better and better, to achieve more and bigger aims and to encourage and improve the players, the team, and to compete because football is about this – to compete. We are very ambitious about this.

“I am where I want to be. I am here because I want to be here and for us it was a fantastic day when we closed our agreement here, because our commitment is 100 per cent to be here. We had other opportunities but I am very happy that West Ham chose me because I chose West Ham too, so we are really happy about this.

“We came here with the idea and the thought to make a big, big noise. That’s why we came here, and we are excited by this challenge. Of course, we are going to do our best to help the club and the team to achieve our aims. I assure the fans that they are going to be key in all our achievements.”

A former Spain and Real Madrid manager, Lopetegui won the Europa League with Sevilla in 2020.

Tim Steidten, West Ham’s technical director, said: “Julen lives and breathes football. He thinks deeply about the game, he is tactically astute and he has shown he can adapt to work in different leagues, in different countries, with national teams, and in each situation he has shown his outstanding qualities.”

Lopetegui’s in-tray at West Ham

Fix the defence

Only three Premier League clubs conceded more goals than West Ham last season — and all three of those sides (Sheffield United, Luton Town and Burnley) were relegated to the Championship. Moyes has built much of his managerial reputation on making his teams difficult to break down, but that simply was not the case in his final campaign in east London.

West Ham’s 74 goals conceded in 2023/24 marked a worrying defensive deterioration when compared to previous campaigns. Over the previous three seasons, they had conceded an average of 51 goals per season.

The loss of Declan Rice, who joined Arsenal last summer, played a significant part in this defensive weakness. Rice is, after all, one of Europe’s most effective defensive midfielders. But there are also structural issues which Lopetegui must address, and concerns over the form of key individuals at the back.

Full-backs Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell are past their best, while the showings of Kurt Zouma, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Nayef Aguerd have been patchy for some time. We can expect West Ham to strengthen their defence in the summer transfer window.

Solve the No 9 problem

Over the last decade, West Ham have cycled through an absurd amount of strikers in an attempt to either ease the burden on Michail Antonio or replace him as the main focal point of their attack. They have consistently failed to find the right man, and Antonio (now aged 34) remains the first-choice No 9.

Gianluca Scamacca, Danny Ings, Sebastien Haller, Lucas Perez, Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez, Jordan Hugill, Jonathan Calleri… we could go on. All of these players have tried and all of them (to varying degrees) have failed to provide a long-term solution. In truth, most of them failed to even provide a short-term solution.

West Ham’s reliance on Antonio has gone on for too long and must be addressed, either in the transfer window or on the training ground. Jarrod Bowen showed some potential as a striker this season — could he be further developed in that position by Lopetegui?

Work within the club’s new structure

The appointment of Tim Steidten as technical director, in July last year, marked a shift in West Ham’s backroom set-up. It also marked the start of a difficult relationship between the manager and those on the executive level. Moyes wanted things done in a certain way, while Steidten had other ideas.

For much of the campaign, there were sustained whispers of tension between the two men. Moyes has always wanted a big say on transfer dealings and he had his own thoughts on which players West Ham should be targeting.

Those tensions hit new levels at the end of the campaign, when Steidten was actively (and rather publicly) working to find a replacement for Moyes. It was even agreed that Steidten would no longer have access to first-team areas while Moyes was around, which said plenty about the difficulties behind the scenes.

Such friction helps no one. Lopetegui, evidently, must find a way to work more collaboratively with the powers above him. On this front, his experience at Wolves does not bode particularly well – he left the club amid frustrations over the club’s budget and spending capabilities.

Impose a defined, attractive style of play

One of the regular complaints made about Moyes was that his style of football was too “old-school”. Some sections of the West Ham fanbase demanded a more progressive, attacking style of play.

Were such criticisms fair? That depends on your personal view. West Ham supporters certainly were not complaining when Moyes led the team to a gritty 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium in December, for example. It could be argued that such backs-to-the-wall showings should be treasured in a league where the majority of teams now aim to play in the same way.

Equally, it would be reasonable for West Ham to expect a more fluid brand of attacking football considering the attacking quality in their squad. Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus, especially, will surely thrive in a more attack-minded system. The potential problem for Lopetegui is that there is uncertainty over the futures of both players, with Paqueta facing spot-fixing charges and Kudus attracting admiring glances from top teams all over Europe.