Manuel Pellegrini arrived at West Ham to much fanfare in the summer of 2018. In his justifying his hiring, the clubs joint owner, David Sullivan crowed that Pellegrini was “the first West Ham United manager to have a Premier League title on his CV, and we believe his experience, quality and proven record of taking teams forward quickly will ensure that he is successful here.” Many in the game reflected that West Ham had pulled off something of a coup, in attracting a manager who as recently as 2014, had managed to win the Premier League title with Manchester City. A coup also because the Hammers had limped to a 13th placed-finish via a turnaround in form overseen by the departed David Moyes, the season before. This left plenty of room for improvement on the previous season – but did Manuel Pellegrini manage it?
Statistically, at least, the Hammers appeared to have improved under the Chilean with a higher number points than the 2017/18 campaign. They finished 3 places in the table higher than the previous year, scored more goals and conceded fewer. It was apparent from a fairly early stage of the season that West Ham were unlikely to be seriously involved in the relegation mixer again; an improvement on the year before. Considering that the first 4 league games of the season finished in defeat, a top-10 finish, secured on the last day of the season, does represent an impressive turnaround from West Ham’s early season woes. They were able to rack up 15 wins in the process – the second highest since their return to the Premier League in 2012. Nevertheless, it hasn’t all been ‘singing and dancing’ and inconsistency has been the side’s principal feature this term.
In years to come, Hammers fans will reflect upon the ignominy of exiting the FA cup in the 4th round to an AFC Wimbledon side who were rock bottom of League 1 at the time. To concede 4 goals against such lowly opposition left a dark cloud over the rest of the season, and will be one of the strongest memories in years to come. The result was made even more frustrating as Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham had exited the cup by the end of the 4th round – a real missed opportunity. It also carried on the long wait for Hammers fans to see their team reach an FA Cup final – not done since 1975; a drought that has gone on for too long.
Style of play
Pellegrini was lauded by the East-end hierarchy as being a mercurial talent; able to set up attacking teams that fans would be exciting to watch. Despite the early season blip in results, Hammers fans were given a glimpse of the entertainment they could expect to enjoy under Pellegrini’s management. The combination of newly-signed Felipe Anderson, and Marko Arnautovic proved very effective, particularly on the counter attack – perhaps demonstrated best in the devastating move away at Southampton. Like Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko looked like an astute signing until he cruelly suffered an Achilles tear at the back end of October. With Michail Antonio and Javier Hernandez sitting on the bench, and Manuel Lanzini on the treatment table, they have plenty of ammunition to compliment the way that Pellegrini wants his side to play.
Pellegrini is noted for his love-affair with playmakers, and West Ham are fortunate to have a very talented one back from a serious injury, who could be pivotal in the evolution of playing style moving forwards. Having a Juan Roman Riquelme-like player, pulling the strings from the pocket behind the striker, should allow West Ham to move from a predominantly counter-attacking identity to a patient, passing style that may prove to be more effective against the lesser sides of the division. Manuel Lanzini could well become the focal point of Pellegrini’s new style of play: complimented by the willing runners out wide. If they can source a technically-gifted striker who is able to link the play, West Ham will start to look more like the Manchester City side of Pellegrini’s vintage – in style, if not personnel.
Next season: operation consistency
Perhaps West Ham’s inconsistent 2018/19 season can be best summarised by the following six results:
- Man United (H) – won 3-1
- Arsenal (H) – won 1-0
- Tottenham (A) – won 1-0
- AFC Wimbledon (A) – lost 4-2
- Cardiff (A) – lost 2-0
- Everton (H) – lost 2-0
Reflections on Pellegrini’s first season in charge amongst the Hammers faithful seem to be, on the whole, reasonably positive but with a tinge of frustration at their side’s inability to string consistent runs together. From a neutral view point, West Ham have a talented squad; in particular attack, that could and should, improve their fortunes next season. If the board choose to support Pellegrini financially as they did last season (net spend of £81 million), this summer could see the arrival of players capable of taking West Ham to the next level. Like all clubs, they will need to ensure their squad is not bolstered at the expense of their best players and keeping the likes of Anderson, Arnautovic, and Rice will be crucial for Pellegrini to be able to deliver the results promised by the West Ham owners hyperbole. I for one, can see West Ham being in the mix for a top 7 place. Good luck to Pellegrini and his players.