Over the past few seasons, West Ham have found themselves switching between two varying styles of play.
Under Sam Allardyce, West Ham were effective but often boring to watch, sitting deep and playing to the strengths of a target man. Then, Slaven Bilic introduced a more free-flowing style which was exciting to watch when it was working; but it left West Ham exposed when it wasn’t working.
David Moyes came in to steady the ship and he was more aligned with Allardyce’s philosophy. After Moyes was Pellegrini and, for the most part, West Ham have played much better football under the latter.
But a recent statistic has shown that Pellegrini is not afraid to revert to ‘long ball’ tactics. Is this a sign that West Ham have progressed little since the days of Allardyce?
Haller: The stats
Last weekend, WhoScored revealed the Premier League players who had topped the charts in various categories. Sebastien Haller made the list despite the 2-0 loss against Everton. The French striker won the most aerial duels (10) of any player in the Premier League last weekend.
This was not a one-off. This season, West Ham have sent a number of long balls for towering striker Haller to deal with. This seems to be a thought-out tactic deployed by Pellegrini.
According to figures provided by WhoScored, Haller has won the most aerial duels of any Premier League player this season. With 60 won (and 64 lost), Haller has competed for more aerial duels than Joelinton and Michael Keane despite playing a game less.
In terms of long balls per game, West Ham rank seventh in the Premier League (via WhoScored). Despite the reputation for playing better football, is Pellegrini reverting to Allardyce tactics?
Allardyce and Pellegrini: Similarities and differences
There are similarities and differences in the managerial styles of Allardyce and Pellegrini. Allardyce always liked a ‘target man’ in the number 9 role and Haller would have been his ideal choice.
Pellegrini axed Javier Hernandez in the summer to bring in Haller. It is clear he wants a target man as well but he needs to find the right number 10 to complement Haller’s style (like Allardyce had with Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll).
West Ham play more long balls per game than 13 other teams in the top-flight but Pellegrini does have a saving grace. With 378 short passes per match, West Ham are trying to mix things up.
Pellegrini wants a combination of short, sharp passes and long balls to Haller. If he gets this right, West Ham can play attractive and effective football at the same time. But this style needs a bit of work before West Ham reap the rewards.