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Everton try to keep rolling against erratic Hammers

Toffees look to exploit West Ham’s leaky defense

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Everton take on West Ham United this Saturday on the back of victories against Leicester City and Burnley. They’ve lost just two league games in 4 months; both were away from home. West Ham meanwhile needed a win against 18th-placed Swansea City and a draw against 20th-placed Sunderland to break a 5-match losing streak. They currently sit in 13th place.

West Ham overview

Despite finishing 7th last year, West Ham have never really looked like anything but a mid-table side this campaign. The best team they’ve beaten was 9th-placed Southampton, and they’ve lost 9 and drawn 2 in 11 matches against the top 7. Goal differential, expected goal differential, and shot differential, have them 14th, 11th, and 9th, respectively. With all that in mind, their current table position looks about correct.

On the attacking side, one thing that jumps out from the numbers is that the Hammers have the worst shot accuracy in the league at 27.5%. Everton, the league leaders in the category, are at 38.9%. This is pretty significant; it means that if each team takes about 13 shots a game, Everton will consistently get about 1-2 more on target. West Ham’s overall shot quality (expected goals per attempt) is about middle of the road, so it seems like they really are just off the mark this year.

Part of this is bad luck, but beyond that there are probably two main factors: lack of good creation and, quite simply, not having a sharpshooter up top. Andy Carroll, Michail Antonio, André Ayew, and Manuel Lanzini all have useful attacking skill sets, but none have been particularly reliable at getting the ball on net this season. Everton’s top marksmen are Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley with 46 and 27 shots on target respectively, whereas West Ham’s are Antonio and Lanzini with 23 and 17.

Regarding creation, the sale of Dmitri Payet to Marseille has been quite tough. I wrote earlier in the season that Payet was the heart and soul of West Ham’s attack, and one can tell watching West Ham now. It seems that Lanzini has mostly been burdened with picking up the slack, and while he is a decent player, he’s not Payet. Here’s the Frenchman’s key pass map from the first half of the season, courtesy of Paul Riley:

And here is Lanzini’s from the whole season:

He’s doing some of the same things, but with less effectiveness and regularity. Still, he seems to be the focal point:

Defensive issues

On the other side of the ball, West Ham have many of the same issues. Opponents are getting high quality chances (3rd highest in the league) and as such are shooting accurately (4th most accurate in the league) and scoring a ton of goals (4th most in the league). According to the numbers, the Hammers don’t block very many shots and don’t force their opponents to cross very often, all of which suggest a side that lacks compactness and defensive shape.

This was evident early in the season against Everton, as noted by Adam here on RBM. In that match, Slaven Bilić used a 5-2-3 of sorts with Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble as the two central midfielders. Everton pulled them all over the place though, partially because neither West Ham’s wing backs nor their forwards offered much defensive help. This meant that Everton found valuable space in dangerous areas (centrally near the top of the box).

Bilić has switched back to a 4-man defense, but he still relies on wing backs for width, still likes using faux/inverted wingers up top, and still will use a target man with one playing off him in attack. In truth this side still has a lot of the same issues that they had back in October, except now they are also missing a key attacking piece. It’s not too surprising that their form for the last couple of months has been indifferent at best.

Matching up with Everton

Ronald Koeman has settled into a 4-3-3 for the last 3 matches, and I think he should keep it going here. Everton can control the midfield and exploit the spaces left by West Ham’s weak positional structure like they did in their first matchup. As always, though, they will need to be aware of the direct threat posed by the Hammers forwards.

Even with Arsenal’s narrow win over Middlesbrough, the race for 6th place remains much tighter than it should be:

With Chelsea next on the horizon, one would think that the Toffees will need another 3 points here if they want to enter May with a shot at Arsenal. Bilić’s men, meanwhile, will have little to play for from a team standpoint. If Everton can’t dig in and grab a result here, they will likely be locked back into 7th. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world but I think most supporters would agree with me in feeling a bit of disappointment.