Will Moyes find the inspiration to turn our ship around again?

The manager has never been one for drastic change but he needs to act fast to get us back on course

David Moyes (West Ham manager) at the Aston Villa v West Ham United EPL match, at Villa Park, Birmingham, UK on August 28, 2022.

Moyes’ failure to get a win against his former club Everton made it five defeats from seven and caused doubts in the minds of some West Ham supporters. It’s not that Everton are out of form, or that they’re being managed by Frank Lampard, but the concerns are about Moyes’ decision making. Something is missing and it rests on the manager.

We are observing the same thing: Moyes needs to change formation, use his new signings, and he needs to stop having favourites and play the talent that is actually working.

Moyes also needs to manage his team with a little more care, and stop being so stubborn. When the team sheet is broadcast, fans are moaning because they see a man who refuses to see what we see, that change is needed. But change or inventiveness is not one of Moyes’ strong suits; It never has been.

The same thing that gives David Moyes success, also hurts him. Depending on the swing of fortune, it either makes him the stubborn-suffering Scotsman or the super David Moyes of songs. Having saved us twice from relegation, it was Moyes’ defensive mindset and discipline that made us an efficient unit of the past two campaigns, and brought confidence back to the team.

Structure

He gave us the spinal structure that was lacking in the Bilic and Pellegrini eras, but this strategy has become like a straight jacket keeping us from growing and more importantly – scoring, and the consistency that gave us stability has made us predictable and stale. 

Moyes’ builds from the back, creating a defensive backbone first with his players, believing that if you don’t let goals in, you have an easier chance to win the game. This is not the West Ham Way, but it has sufficed as it has proven successful up until now with a pragmatic wall of defence that allows for counter attacks and mistakes from the opposition to lead to goals and wins.  

Honestly, even though West Ham have been on the losing side this season in the Premier League, they haven’t shipped goals or had embarrassing scorelines; it’s in attacking and progressing the ball from the midfield that we have found difficult.    Oftentimes football managers, like military generals, are known either as excellent strategists, or superior tacticians; A strategist conceives of a brilliant plan that has an over compassing theme or method; a tactician employs a number of more spontaneous methods to deal with an obstacle or enemy.

Klopp is an example of a strategist with his gegenpressing, a resolute attacking and defending plan, and execution of players’ roles as suits his German background.

Counterbalance

Whereas Pep Guardiola is a tactical expert — even criticised for it sometimes — as he constantly changes his team’s playing style and their methods to counterbalance what the other team is doing, or to compensate for perceived weaknesses in the opponent. He employed an inverted fullback tactic against West Ham to confuse our defenders and put pressure in the centre of the field, and before Haaland, he devised different methods to play without a striker, often changing several times in a match.  

I would argue that Moyes is deficient of tactics as is shown in his in-game management regarding formation changes and substitutions. He rarely changes formation, substitutes like-for-like at the last minute, and the only creativity he has had is a last ditch method of subbing on three attacking players in hopes that one will shoot the ball into the net. He leans more towards strategy with his emphasis on defence, and pacy roving wingers and forwards for a counterattack.

But Moyes’ method compared to other leaders makes him neither a pure strategist or a tactician but a third category – the intense disciplinarian. This role of disciplinarian is what has guided us through two relegation battles, and by way of a combination of luck and an odd mix of talent has brought West Ham success.

Why is David Moyes a disciplinarian instead of a strategist or tactician? Moyes’ management is geared more towards creating a sound structure in the individual man and subsequently the team than it is in developing a method of football play, or in adjusting to circumstances with creativity. He concentrates on defence with large centre backs who can stop the ball. He then – like any good drill Sergeant – creates a disciplined unit with extreme fitness and resilience in both body and mentality.

Grafters

The players he brings in are hard-edged grafters: our central European lads, Fornals-like work horses, and attackers like Bowen and Antonio who will see defence as an equally shared duty. He trains, runs, and bootcamps the players into physical fitness, taking West Ham from the last placed in kilometres run per match, to having Soucek, Rice and Fornals being in the top 10 players of the Premier League analytics for covering the most ground in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons.

After Moyes establishes a well defended team with top fitness levels, he then stresses personal responsibility with high expectations, giving no extra graces to his players in the media, but criticism.  He then plays the most current, but tested formation — the 4231 — with the same small tightly woven squad.

Moyes believes consistency is key, and will rely on what is proven to work, until the very thing he relies on starts falling apart, like a worn pair of favourite old boots. There have been glimpses that Moyes can get creative — both in his small attempts to add a 352 wingback formation to the repertoire, signing centre backs who can play the ball out, and his bold moves in the transfer market. But as with the Aston Villa match, when his wingback formation didn’t work, he resorted quickly to his favoured 4231 with his favoured players; that gave us a win but probably set the team back in creativity.

Transfers

We’ve also seen the exciting transfer flurry this summer window, which had been much too long in coming, regressed to him playing the same XI, with an exception for a defender or midfielder where we are lacking. Scamacca is now starting to resemble Haller in his role of an ill-fit Antonio, where expectations are made to Antonio’s strengths and not his own.

Although Benrahma, Downes, and Cornet have all had good matches and have shown slices of brilliance, we have been lacking in our tired starting XI, and Moyes still refuses to give them a chance, even criticising their playing in the media.

Recently Martin Allen passionately suggested that right now Moyes needs the support and backing he has earned from giving West Ham two escapes from relegation, and two seasons of European football.  He urged fans to get behind the manager and team, who know they are underperforming.

While some may question that Moyes’ discipline-minded football may have a cap, we all should know that it has brought us out of relegation position and into success. Let’s just hope he finds the inspiration and creativity that we all see, and grows the game and himself in the process.

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