In this article, The FPL T explores the turn-around at West Ham United Football Club, whether it is sustainable, and what this means for your Fantasy Premier League squads for GW23 and beyond.
It’s late evening on 12th September, the final whistle has just gone at the London Stadium, West Ham 0-2 Newcastle.
The players leave the pitch in eerie silence, the disappointment of such a lackluster opening day amplified by the emptiness of the capital’s largest club ground.
Having avoided relegation by just five points in 2019/20 the expectations were bleak for David Moyes’ side ahead of 2020/21.
Defeat to the Magpies, who outspent West Ham in the summer, only exasperated things as tensions between supporters and the board once again flared up.
West Ham fans could be forgiven for not viewing the upcoming campaign with much optimism. A summer of discontent had preceded the Newcastle match, punctuated by a perceived lack of investment in the first team squad and the sale of highly rated prospect Grady Diangana (£5.1m).
Indeed club captain Mark Noble took to social media to voice his anger at Diangana’s sale.
Whilst the board insisted the money would be reinvested, the permanent signing of Tomas Soucek (£5.3m), low cost addition of Vladimir Coufal (£4.7m) and loan-to-buy of Said Benrahma (£6.0m) were the only significant purchases of the window.
Few could have foreseen the season that has unfolded for West Ham as they find themselves in fifth place, two points behind champions Liverpool.
An unbelievable position considering the Hammers’ highest finish in the last 20 seasons is seventh, with the club’s very survival coming under threat in 2010.
What are West Ham on track to achieve?
Moyes’ team are currently on track to achieve 65 points, their highest total in the Premier League era, a stunning transformation that has meant relegation is an afterthought and attention now turns to a possible spot in Europe next season.
Here is where 65 points would land you in the table in previous years:
|League Year||Position (with 65 points)|
This demonstrates that in almost every season over the past 5 seasons, their projection of 65 points would land them a European spot.
Despite this incredible run there are many that still doubt whether it can be maintained. West Ham have long struggled to deliver on potential and Moyes is still repairing a reputation that has suffered in recent years.
The statistics and underlying numbers strongly indicate that this is no fluke – West Ham are where they are on merit.
Their GW22 win away to the heavily praised Aston Villa is just the latest indicator that this is a team on the rise. With only two defeats in ten, the Hammers are right in form.
The aforementioned Soucek and Coufal have been revelations both in FPL and real life.
The Czech pair have contributed 13 goals and assists between them and a total of 174 fantasy points, two assets with a combined cost of £10m.
Their influence has been complemented by consistency all over the pitch: Aaron Cresswell (£5.6m) is the joint highest scoring defender in FPL, while Jarrod Bowen (£6.2m) and Pablo Fornals (£6.0m) are both likely to surpass 150 points this season.
Michail Antonio (£6.6m) is averaging five points per gameweek since his return from injury, and uber differential Craig Dawson (£4.5m) actually betters that with an average of 5.4 over the same period.
The value is undeniable and with appealing assets in every position West Ham absolutely justify attention from FPL managers.
Is it sustainable?
Although West Ham fully deserve their league position, they were not expected to be there.
The worry, despite current optimism, is that they will fall away. Certainly we are in uncharted waters, in recent history West Ham have rarely looked as promising and have for the most part either flirted with relegation or disappeared into mid table mediocrity.
It appears as though faith in Moyes is being rewarded. After all, his Everton career was the epitome of consistency and his second spell in East London has yielded a team that bears strong similarities to his late 2000’s Toffees side.
Tomas Soucek is channeling prime Cahill and Fellaini, Antonio is showing the same power and pace that made Yakubu and Saha so fearsome; and a free kick taking, cross-happy, English left back is the side’s chief creator, sound familiar (Baines and Cresswell)?
Moyes has been here before and now he’s taking a West Ham side, that appears to finally be shaped in his image, with him.
The signs are there that they can keep it up. West Ham have morphed into one of the league’s meanest defences, conceding the fifth least shots in the box (SiTB) across the season, averaging only 6.27 per game.
They are also joint second best for defensive errors, having only committed three so far.
Their minutes per expected goal conceded (xGC/90) is a solid 80, putting them eighth overall and marginally below Man United and Arsenal. Over the last six gameweeks they rank second for this metric, only behind Man City, and are also second best for xGC accumulated in that time (4.75).
This is a defence that has been good all season and is continuing to improve.
Their underlying defensive numbers track close to reality, with 28 goals conceded versus an xGC of 26.15 for the season, here lies the clue to sustainability.
With no great variance in the stats or outcome we can bet that West Ham will remain at a similar level of defensive output. Injury, fatigue, bad luck or an unlikely change in tactics are probably the only reasons to fear a drop off.
It’s a similar story at the other end as well. West Ham are ninth for xG (31.16) and big chances (42) for the season.
Although only upper mid table, these numbers carry the caveat that they were achieved without frontman Michail Antonio for eight matches.
Since his return in GW16 West Ham rank second of all teams for expected goals, with an xGC/90 of 56.4 and a total xG of 11.76. They are only topped by City over this period, again West Ham are improving on already good underlying numbers.
With appealing fixtures against Fulham, Sheffield United and Leeds in their next six there are a number of opportunities for goals and clean sheets.
West Ham also have a great run to finish the season from GW34, with their run-in averaging just a 2.4 difficulty rating on the official FPL site.
It has to be mentioned that West Ham have a mixed record against the sides around them, in the 11 games played versus sides in the current top ten West Ham have won four, drawn two and lost five.
To their credit they scored in all but one of these, the anomaly being a 3-0 away defeat to Chelsea.
It would be harsh to label them as flat-track bullies, although the Hammers’ record of seven wins, three draws and one loss to sides in the current bottom half suggests their easier fixtures are a safe source of points.
With their fixtures between GW23 and GW33 looking decidedly mixed we may have to accept some regression in output from their assets. However, they have proven that they can still maintain enough value for money to be trusted throughout the tougher periods.
The popular Antonio, Cresswell and Soucek have been covered extensively by threads across the FPL Twitterverse, I don’t need to sell them to you. Most managers already own one or more and all three are once again in the top ten for ‘most transfers in’ ahead of GW23.
For those on a budget Dawson and Coufal are superb options.
Dawson in particular is posting enviable numbers, his 0.79 SiTB/90 over the last six gameweeks is the seventh best of all centre-backs, and barring Lascelles (£4.2m) he is the cheapest at that level.
His total of 0.32 big chances per 90 is ahead of the likes of well known threats such as Wily Boly (£5.4m), Harry Maguire (£5.5m) and Lewis Dunk (£4.8m).
FPL managers will have fond memories of Craig Dawson at Watford, and once again he is displaying a knack for scoring goals.
Coufal lacks the goal threat of his defensive partner but has been a creative force all season.
His 25 chances and 5 big chances created put him seventh of all defenders for the campaign, only slightly behind teammate Cresswell and he is also the cheapest player in the top ten for both statistics.
Coufal’s output has remained consistent, with his 0.48 big chances created per 90 in the last six virtually on par with his season average. In other words, once again there is sustainability.
Further forward there is also value to be found, as mentioned Bowen and Fornals are both likely to threaten the 150 point mark this season.
Their five and six big chances respectively are only slightly behind the likes of Grealish (£7.8m) and man of the moment Gundogan (£5.9m) for the season.
Bowen’s five goals puts him joint seventh in the top scorers table. While both are good options they are overshadowed by the cheaper and higher scoring Soucek, the all action midfielder is currently the fourth highest scorer in the league.
While Dawson and Coufal provide a cheaper alternative to Cresswell, there is no need to overthink the midfield position as Soucek continues to make a mockery of his price.
It is probably too early to count GW22 headline grabber Jesse Lingard (£5.9m) as a legitimate option, however, in his first Hammers start he scored twice and his six shots totalled second highest of all midfielders for the gameweek.
A forgotten man at United, perhaps this is Lingard’s opportunity to cement himself as a Premier League starter and challenge for a place in the England team. One to keep an eye on for now, but a promising start for sure.
Can we trust this new incarnation of Moyes’ West Ham? The simple answer is “yes”.
They have demonstrated consistently good numbers throughout the season and their assets have continued to provide returns.
Antonio and Soucek seem the obvious two to own, if your budget can accommodate Cresswell then he is also a stellar pick, but the cheaper Dawson and Coufal are more than viable alternatives if you wish to save money.
That being said, the time for a triple up is arguably ending.
The next two fixtures against Fulham and Sheffield are great to target but thereafter the fixtures turn and both or one of Soucek and Antonio may well be sufficient.
You could decrease your investment in West Ham for the period around double gameweek 26 but ensure that you have a route back in for the final five to six games of the season.
If West Ham do start to fall away we are fortunately blessed with similarly priced options from Leeds, Everton, Aston Villa and Burnley who can be easily swapped in, but for now Moyes’ boys are the real deal.
Much has been said of Villa, Leicester and Everton’s forays into the upper reaches of the table, it’s time we gave West Ham their due.