Another impressive West Ham performance resulted in a comprehensive victory against a struggling Queens Park Rangers side. It felt like Allardyce’s men rarely had to hit top gear against QPR but West Ham were ruthless when it mattered most.
In terms of the overall stats in Sunday’s game, the two teams looked quite similar on paper at the end of the game. QPR had more possession and the same amount of shots on target as West Ham. Despite what the stats suggest, West Ham looked like the dominant team throughout most of the 90 minutes. The biggest difference between QPR and West Ham is that Allardyce’s team carries a much greater attacking threat.
There is still the sense of the much criticised ‘direct play’ under Allardyce. However, this ‘direct play’ is being substituted with better players, who have the tendency to open up defences with better passes. Rather than opting for a long ball to a striker, a sharper pass along the floor to the likes of Alex Song or Stewart Downing allows West Ham to attack with more precision. It’s unlikely that West Ham will try and pass teams to death, a tactic that teams like Manchester City, Arsenal and Southampton adopt. Instead, there is the sense that West Ham play in a similar manner to Chelsea.
Although some may think that I’m talking complete rubbish, there is that same sense of direct attacking play, rather than looking to thread a ball through the eye of a needle.
So how have West Ham suddenly been able to play like this? A fundamental factor is the change of formation. Allowing two up front stretches the defence and allows creative midfielders like Zarate and Downing to effectively exploit the gaps created by Sakho and Valencia. A greater sense of space and width means that West Ham now have more freedom on the ball and attacking in wide areas is particularly prominent, especially down the left flank with Aaron Cresswell. West Ham attempted 30 crosses on Sunday, compared to QPR’s 16. This shows fans that there is still a great threat from the wide areas and eventually, Valencia and Sakho will start scoring from balls delivered into the box.
Fundamentally, the reason behind West Ham’s good start to the season is Stewart Downing. Although it may feel like pundits and fans everywhere are talking about him, there are many reasons why. Firstly, Downing produced the best passing stats on the pitch against QPR, including the most attacking third passes across the 90 minutes. His corner caused problems for the QPR defence for the Onuoha own goal and he is producing consistent key passes in every game this season. So far, he has played 22 key passes in his seven Premier League games so far.
That’s the same amount as Fabregas and more than the likes of Ramsey (13), Gerrard (17), Di Maria (16) and David Silva (19). He is quickly becoming our most important player in terms of creativity and is at the focal point of most attacks. Although some fans may find it hard to give Allardyce credit, the manager did give Downing the opportunity to express himself in that role and his tactical decision has worked wonders for the team.
Another player who has been an impressive summer signing is Aaron Cresswell. He has been hugely impressive both defensively and going forward. Looking at the stats from the QPR game, Downing to Cresswell was the biggest pass combination over the 90 minutes, with Downing playing 17 passes to Cresswell. This is not a one off either, all of West Ham’s biggest pass combinations in the last three fixtures before QPR involved Cresswell and Downing. This shows fans that the full back is becoming a big part of our attacking play and that there is clearly a good understanding between Cresswell and Downing.
The full back also attempted more attacking third passes than anyone on the pitch, showing his willingness to help his team get goals. However, out of the 21 attacking passes he attempted, only 8 were successful which suggests that Cresswell has the capability to improve even more. The former Ipswich man possesses great technique with set pieces, so there is an overall sense of optimism in the left back position, something that has been a big problem position for West Ham over the years. Downing’s influence on West Ham’s current form has allowed Aaron Cresswell to settle into the Premier League with relative ease as he is clearly seeing a lot of the ball.
The full back’s pace allows Downing to play passes that split the defence, giving the entire team more of an attacking edge. Cresswell resembles the classic modern full back, someone who is willing to get very far forward but has the pace to recover quickly too. Alongside Downing, Cresswell has forced himself into Allardyce’s plans; even the defender himself admitted that he was surprised with his game time under his new manager.
All in all, West Ham have another duo that work well together on the pitch in an attacking sense, helping to transform a side that clearly lacked attacking intelligence last season.