From cliff edge to climbing the mountain: Our 2023 in numbers

Our points tally was encouraging but the amount of goals conceded is a major concern

West Ham players walk around the pitch pre-match at the West Ham United v Manchester City EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th September, 2023.

Twelve months ago, I wrote that if West Ham ‘in 2023 can get anywhere near the same wins, goals and points as 2021 did then we’ll be on to a good thing’. I then spent some time moaning about how our 2022 form had dropped off the edge of a cliff, but saw signs of optimism for 2023.

And you know what? I was right. I’ve been doing some digging and it’s fair to say that if our form did indeed fall off the edge of a cliff in 2022, we managed to winch ourselves back up the rock face in 2023.  Given that the first half of last year was a real struggle – remember, we had a really difficult time in the league 12 months ago, easily forgotten following the euphoria of the European win – it brings into sharp focus the upturn in form that we’ve had since the start of this season.

First, a quick history lesson. Back in 2021, we secured 73 points (finishing sixth in the annual league table) but in 2022 this dropped markedly to 39 (meaning a 13th place finish) – albeit with a few less games because of the World Cup. It really wasn’t great: whatever way you spin it, a loss of 34 points year-on-year is one heck of a drop-off.

In brutal terms, replicated over a ‘proper’ football season, that points tally would see us nosedive from Champions League contenders to relegation candidates. That’s the bad news. So, what of our 2023 form? Well, I am delighted to report that we are upwardly mobile, climbing to a respectable 59 points from 40 games played. This places us 9th in the 2023 annual league table, with a goal difference of -1.

If you prefer, and to give a more accurate and fairer idea of year-on-year performance, it’s better to calculate points per game. Here’s how the maths works out over the last five years:

  • 2019: played 37, points 44 (PPG: 1.19)
  • 2020: played 35, points 43 (PPG: 1.22)
  • 2021: played 41, points 73 (PPG: 1.78)
  • 2022: played 36, points 39 (PPG: 1.08)
  • 2023: played 40, points 59 (PPG: 1.48)

Whichever way you choose to dice it, the calendar year 2023 saw a marked improvement on the previous 12 months, a considerable uptick in the number of points accrued per game, and the second-best performance overall in the last five years. Twelve months ago, I wrote extensively about why there might have been a decline, suggesting that this was to do partly with the demands of European competition, and partly with our lack of composure in front of goal, although I also said that Danny Ings was an astute signing and would score goals, so maybe I don’t know too much after all.

So, it’s only fair to analyse why there might have been an uptick for the year just gone, albeit not to last year’s levels. And to be honest, it’s not really hard to figure it out: the goals tell the story. Just have a look and see how many goals we scored and conceded across all of our league matches over the last three years. The average number of goals per game is in brackets.

  • 2019: scored 46 (1.24), conceded 57 (1.54)
  • 2020: scored 51 (1.46), conceded 51 (1.46)
  • 2021: scored 73 (1.78), conceded 51 (1.24)
  • 2022: scored 39 (1.08), conceded 48 (1.33)
  • 2023: scored 62 (1.55), conceded 63 (1.58)

Yes, that goalscoring performance is pretty healthy – not anywhere near top scorers Manchester City with 95 – but a very solid upper-midtable performance and a definite improvement on 2022. Bowen’s form, of course, was key to that. But wait. What’s happening defensively? That goals conceded average is creeping up per game, and that’s a big jump on last year. 

It’s also the worst it’s been over the last five years. We conceded more goals in 2023 than all but five teams who were involved in both Premier League seasons, including Crystal Palace, who were dire for most of it. For a David Moyes team, the defensive stats are heading in the wrong direction and that is genuinely surprising, and a concern.

Even so, an overall improvement is still an improvement. And just to confirm our upper mid-table status, here’s where 59 points would have placed us over the last few seasons: 9th, 6th, 10th and 7th.  Now, say what you like about the football sometimes, but we are not in Avram Grant territory here.

I remain optimistic over what 2024 may bring. I’m not sure that with our Europa League demands and injury worries we’ll get to our 2021 league levels – but if we win the Europa League, I’ll happily ignore every single defeat and league goal we concede in 2024.

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