There could be an unusual sight near the Premier League summit by the end of Monday night. In name, it would be West Ham United, a club not spotted in the top six after 10 or more games since 2015/16, but who will be there if they beat Aston Villa. In many respects, however, it would not be West Ham.
FINAL SALE DAY FourFourTwo subscriptions now half-price
Not as we know them, anyway. Not expensive, overpaid underachievers West Ham. Not the hubristic example of a gulf between ambition and reality, the monument to bad buying. But David Moyes’ West Ham, a team who are starting to bear certain similarities with David Moyes’ Everton, who mustered five top-six finishes, plus three sevenths and an eighth.
Since then, the closest Moyes has come to a sequel is when he was sacked with Manchester United in seventh. And since then it has become easy to mock and malign Moyes, to bracket him among the footballing dinosaurs and to assume the managerial mojo he mislaid when he left Goodison Park will never be found again. Certainly his wretched spell in charge of Sunderland, when his realism manifested itself in defeatism that was followed by defeats, suggested he was yesterday’s man. Even at West Ham, where he did a respectable job in his first spell, he was discarded for a more glamorous option; which, as that more glamorous option was Manuel Pellegrini, was worrying.
But Moyes has been the architect of an early-season surge which feels all the more surprising as, after the summer unrest surrounding Grady Diangana’s sale and an opening performance against Newcastle that was, to use a technical term, hopeless. At which point, it was easy to study the fixture list, see that West Ham’s next six opponents all finished in last season’s top eight, and assume that that they would adopt their usual autumnal position in or near the relegation zone; maybe, that if Moyes won anything, it would be the sack race.
Instead, Leicester and Wolves were comprehensively demolished. Tottenham and Manchester City were held, with a ludicrous, historic comeback of three goals after the 81st minute against Spurs. Arsenal and Liverpool required late goals to beat the Hammers.
CYBER MONDAY 2020 What's in the sales for football fans?
Like Moyes’ Everton, West Ham are hard to beat, exuding a sense of purpose, offering the impression good characters in the dugout and the dressing room have combined to bring organisation and determination. The other most obvious similarity came courtesy of Jose Mourinho, with his mischievous observation that Tomas Soucek is Moyes’ “new [Marouane] Fellaini”. If there is some truth, and a giant midfielder’s aerial threat in the penalty box has been used well from set-pieces, Soucek’s significance also lies in his excellent partnership with Declan Rice.
The Englishman has reached another level under Moyes, making more driving runs into the final third and relishing the added licence to advance a back three has given him. That tactical switch – and Moyes was a byword for a back four for much of his managerial career – shows how he has adapted to the times and his players. Aaron Cresswell’s creativity has been used from the left of the back three, Arthur Masuaku’s defensive deficiencies camouflaged by his deployment as a wing-back.
A manager who long had a reputation for recruiting astutely has done so again in Soucek and his fellow Czech Vladimir Coufal, but also Jarrod Bowen. West Ham’s age-old weakness for big names on big salaries has been eschewed for a Moyes-esque gambit of finding an improving player from the Championship: Bowen has more in common with Tim Cahill than Felipe Anderson or Jack Wilshere. Factor in Michail Antonio’s reinvention as a striker and scorer and a unit has been forged from the mess he inherited.
Praising Moyes has become as unfashionable as appointing him but he could go into a reunion with Manchester United above them. That may be an indictment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but it also illustrates how well Moyes is doing now.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.