The Hammers at the Bottom of the Board, Again
For West Ham United, the beginning of the 2017/18 season must be eerily familiar. Last year, they had just moved away from Upton Park, into the eery and cavernous very-much-not-quite-home ground of the London Stadium; this season they are unable to play at their nominal home for several weeks because of the Athletics World Championships. Last year they started the season badly, hovering around and in the relegation places; this year they have started badly, hovering around and in the relegation places.
However, last season their underlying numbers indicated that they were unfortunate to spend so long that low in the table, and they duly rose to finish in 11th. Hammers fans will certainly be hoping that the same happens this year, rather than a lingering slow death at the rotting foot of the table, but the signs may not be hopeful.
It is foolish to compare the first three games of the season for both years, but much of life is foolish. Last time around, West Ham actually picked up points in their first three games, with a win against Bournemouth (though they then drew one and lost four of their next five games). Their other two games were away fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City, and it is no shame for them to have lost both of those games, although the extent to which they were outclassed by City may bring blushes.
In that game, they were outshot 22 to 9, and though only 5 of those City shots were on target (to West Ham’s 2), a whopping 15 of them were ‘optimal shots’ – ones are taken from open play, inside the eighteen-yard-box, without being headers. The Hammers, in response, managed just 4 of those.
Sidenote: Optimal shots are a neat way of dividing chances into those which are broadly of better quality without relying on anything which happens post-shot, as is the case with shots on target.
However, the extent to which Slaven Bilić’s men were outclassed by those two top of the table sides was reversed and bounced back on Eddie Howe in West Ham’s opening home game of 2016/17. Though the final score was only 1-0, the Hammers’ shot line read 16 total shots to 8 and 7 optimal shots to Bournemouth’s 1. Bournemouth had 5 shots on target, but three of those were from outside the box, only one of their attempts from further than 18 yards not on target, which would seem to be unusual.
By eye, away games against Manchester United, Southampton, and Newcastle probably balance out as roughly the same difficulty as last season’s opening three games. From last year’s trio of matches, one would probably expect 3 points, hope for 4, and any fewer than 2 points would be disappointing. Similar upper and lower limit expectations probably apply to this term’s openers too.
And yet, West Ham cannot feel hard done by to still have their points tally virginial. While they outshot Southampton on total shots and shots on target, nine of their sixteen attempts were headers, meaning that the optimal shot count actually swung in the South Coast side’s favor 5 to 3.
Against both Manchester and Newcastle United, they were soundly outshot on all counts. All of this means that their stat-lines make grim reading for both seasons.
2016/17 vs 2017/18 Shot Differences Per Game
Total shots: -4.67 vs -6.33
Shots on target: -3 vs -2
Optimal shots: -3 vs -4.67
For both total shots and shots on target, they both taking and conceding more than last term – most notably their quite pathetic 2.33 shots on target per game from last season is up to 4 per game for this year. However, on the optimal shot count, their attacking production has actually gone down, from 4 per game to 3.
West Ham’s shot stats gradually picked up after the first three games last season, and both Bilic and the fans will be hoping that they do so this time around too, because they make grim reading.
Fortunately for them, they come back from the international break with a home game against Huddersfield, and then, after facing West Brom and Tottenham, they have a stretch of Swansea, Burnley, Brighton, and Crystal Palace.
If their points – and maybe more tellingly their stats – look in similar shape come November, then they’ll truly be in trouble.
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