This article originally appeared on SpursStatMan.com.
Saturday’s early kick-off sees Tottenham Hotspur make the short journey to Upton Park to face the Premier League’s foremost rugby union outfit, West Ham United. The home side will be desperate for a win having lost their last four on the trot and played some absolutely abject football in the process, while Tim Sherwood will look to extend his side’s four-game unbeaten run.
That discontent is bubbling at the Boleyn Ground is nothing new. The Hammers’ crowd is famously quick to turn and has been for as long as I can remember, but their dissatisfaction with Sam Allardyce is valid. The basic tenets of his footballing philosophy have been exposed as hollow, his transfer dealings have been terrible and although West Ham were all-but safe for another year relatively early on, football is about more than finishing clear of the bottom three every season.
Allardyce will say that the season was something of a write-off because he was for many months denied the services of his best forward, Andy Carroll, whose aerial prowess is praised to the rafters by all and sundry. However, performances and results have not improved since the talentless battering ram has returned to fitness and the starting line-up.
Actual footballers such as Ravel Morrison, Joe Cole, Răzvan Raț, Antonio Nocerino, and Marco Borriello have been marginalised by the Allardyce regime to accommodate his ineffectual Football League hoofball tactics, which despite his protestations, reap little in the way of results in the modern game.
In their last four games, the Hammers’ first-choice ‘attacking’ quartet – Downing and Jarvis crossing for Carroll and Nolan – has produced a minuscule ten shots on target, from which a total of zero points have been taken. The only goals scored in those matches were by Guy Demel against Liverpool, following a goalmouth scramble and an attempt by Carroll to remove Simon Mignolet’s head, and a Matt Jarvis header against Arsenal following some poor attacking only made good by some characteristically slapstick defending from the Gunners.
The paucity of West Ham’s attacking figures in those games is representative of their season and Allardyce’s style. They have on average taken 11.1 shots taken per game, the Premier League’s fourth lowest figure, and only had 3.2 shots on target, the division’s lowest figure.
In Allardyce’s mind, of course, it is better to take a few shots from ‘good positions’ than lots of shots from poor ones – which is logical to a point – and as such 8% of West Ham’s shots have been taken inside the six yard box and a further 53% from inside the penalty area. Both of these are relatively high figures and would suggest that high-quality chances were being created and finished. However, as anyone with two brain cells to rub together will tell you, proximity to goal is not everything.
To Big Sam, of course, it is, and all of West Ham’s possession is used simply to get the ball closer to the opponents’ goal. West Ham’s figure of 25 crosses per game is second only to Manchester United’s 27; their 67 long passes per game is the league’s fourth highest figure, while their average of 275 short passes is second lowest.
For a team that supposedly is at its best at set pieces, they do very little to win them. They only make 7.5 dribbles per game and only win 9.6 fouls per game. As such, they have only scored 9 set piece goals in 2013-14.
The atrociousness going forward would matter less if they could restrict the number of chances available to their opponents, but they cannot. This season they have conceded an average of 17.7 shots per game, the second highest figure in the league. They do very little to stop their opponents: their averages of 17.2 tackles per game and 10.9 interceptions per game rank among the league’s lowest. Despite this inertia off the ball, they are no saints: 60 yellow cards and 5 reds gives them the division’s fourth worst disciplinary record.
To summarise, then, Tottenham can expect to find themselves under a predictable hail of long punts and high crosses towards Carroll, while Nolan looks to win the second ball. Unless Michael Dawson and Younès Kaboul make a total hash of it – quite a significant caveat, admittedly – they should not face any significant problems. At the other end, superior individual quality should prise open a defence usually more than willing to show attackers towards the goal.