Compared to the last campaign, West Ham United had a much more difficult season and were troubled in the relegation battle. Manuel Pellegrini was sacked despite the club investing €89.7m in the summer. David Moyes became the manager of the team in December, and the only outfield permanent signing was Jarrod Bowen, a 23-year-old winger from the EFL Championship.
Born in Leominster and playing for Hull City in recent years, Bowen was one of the most exciting wingers in the second-tier. The received €21.3m transfer fee from the Hammers, which made Bowen the most expensive departure of the team.
After a short adoption period in the Premier League, the player was fully trusted by the manager. Bowen already played 12 out of 13 games for West Ham, started 10 of them, also contributed a goal and four assists. So far, he was mainly deployed as a right-winger, or as a right attacking midfielder or a left-winger sometimes. Below is the heat map of Bowen, reflecting his strong coverage on the left flank – ranging from the central third to the offensive third.
The first part of the analysis is analyzing data. Bowen was very impressive, especially in the post-lockdown period. Not only registering four assists, but other creative metrics also suggested the fantastic display of the 23-year-old winger. We compared all Premier League wide players since June by using xA per 90 and Deep completed crosses per 90 as the metrics. Bowen was outstanding, as reflected in this scatter chart.
Even with the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Marcus Rashford and Sadio Mané on the list, Bowen still ranked the best in terms of deep completed crosses, which he provided 1.23 per game. According to Wyscout, this metric refers to a cross that is targeted to the zone within 20 meters of the opponent’s goal. Bowen ranked fourth in this metric, reflecting the player’s ability to cross in chances for teammates.
In terms of xA per 90, Bowen is the best of the league, recording 0.37 per 90. Only Willian was close. This suggested his ability to create the chances, and the actual number of assists was no exaggeration.
In the EFL Championship, Bowen has been a prolific winger who bagged a crazy amount of goals each season. Even leaving in the winter transfer window, Bowen still ranked seventh of the top goalscorers – scored 16 in 29 games. We compared some related stats with his counterparts by using the below scatter chart.
Bowen’s xG per 90 was 0.42, the joint highest of the league with André Ayew. But, his eagerness to take a shot was higher than Ayew, recording 3.05 shots per 90 minutes. Only Saïd Benrahma had a higher figure than the former Tiger.
Bowen stood out on the top-right quadrant of the above scatter charts, which was very impressive in terms of the ability to score or provide an assist. To investigate the role and performance of Bowen at West Ham’s tactics, we compared other wingers with him in this bar chart.
A clear pattern was observed, what Bowen provided was the threat in the final third. He was the top in the metrics related to goalscoring and crossing, such as xG per 90, shots per 90, xA per 90 and crosses per 90. In terms of ball progressing and passing creativity, it seems these were not Bowen’s main job as the likes of Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko were better.
In general, Bowen’s arrival has boosted the offensive performance of West Ham, helping the team to climb out of the relegation zone. In this section, we investigate his role and attributes demonstrated in this phase.
Under Moyes, the Hammers were not complexly playing out from the back. Instead, they reverted to more classic English football, using some direct plays to access the final third. This allowed Bowen to stay and operate on the right flank without roaming his position too often. All he needed was to receive a diagonal pass from the opposite flank, as Aaron Cresswell’s side had more potential to develop the attacks.
Bowen was good at exploiting the blindside of defenders. Staying in the outer zone allowed him to do so when receiving the cross-field balls, including this example. He stayed on the left-back’s blindside, timed his run to go forward and this almost led to a 1 v 1 opportunity. Bowen was not gifted with a good first-touch like Mahrez, sometimes this hindered the control of a dropping ball.
On the right flank, Bowen was able to create the dynamics because he was competent using both feet. Although describing him as another Arjen Robben was an exaggeration, the 23-year-old winger really got something.
Bowen tended to use the overlapping right-back as a decoy and shift the ball to his left foot. The timing was quite good in these temporary 2 v 1 situations against the defender. When the supporting right-back joined the attack, he fixed the attention of the defence and this was the timing for Bowen to go inside.
Although he was yet to demonstrate the cut-in shooting ability like Mahrez, the inswing crosses often reached the players at the far post. He also bagged an assist with this against Watford. The below image was another example. The same concept, Ben Johnson overlapped, fixed the attention of Adam Masina and this was the right timing to go inward and whip in a cross. A few Hammers were waiting for this.
The dynamism was created because Bowen was also able to use his right foot. The left-back would feel difficult to constrain him as showing either side led to a shot or a cross. We saw how he checked onto his right foot and assisted Michail Antonio in the Chelsea game, Marcos Alonso could not control him.
Another example we were showing here was moments before a shot that tested David de Gea. Here, Brandon Williams has closed the in-corridor and forced Bowen to drift forward, using his right (less preferred) foot. But, Bowen was quick and did not hesitate to accelerate, also used the less preferred foot to shoot within a second.
As mentioned, Bowen was very good at using the blindside of the defence. He was also pacey to exploit spaces behind a defensive line. Combining these attributes would help him to get into the goal scoring positions.
In this example, West Ham were attacking from the centre, with Bowen staying on the left-back’s blindside. Until the moment for the releasing pass, Bowen appeared in front of the defender and arrived nearby the penalty box.
Note that he has curved his run to ensure staying at Javier Manquillo’s blind zone as long as possible. This would make his forward run a surprise to the defender and buy him the time and space for the next move. An assist was registered in this attack.
So far, Bowen only scored one goal for West Ham, but it was a very trademark Bowen goal. The former Hull winger was good at running between the horizontal gaps of defenders – a way to move into goalscoring positions. Combined with his pace, blindside runs and sprints, these were the elements that made Bowen a prolific winger.
In this image, Bowen kept staying on the centre-back’s blindside, did not sprint early until the carrier was ready to pass. With a slightly curved run, he was able to receive the ball and shoot before the defender arrived.
This was why we said Bowen had the dynamic superiority in an attack. Apart from using both feet competently, the exploitation of blindside helped the winger to attack as an unpredictable force to the defenders. Even in the set-pieces scenarios, this trait of Bowen was a huge asset to the team, especially in the corners.
Bowen already assisted once from a direct corner. What we were trying to show here was the dynamism in the short corners. The winger was assigned as the kicker often. Soon after he played a short pass, the teammate could release Bowen in multiple ways, depending on the situation.
Taking this situation as an example, the return pass could be placed into different angles, corresponding to where the spaces were available at. Will Hughes was close to the receiver, so space was available near the byline and Bowen was also fine to cross with his right foot. In case the defender was close to the byline, then, laying-off to Bowen’s left foot could also generate a crossing opportunity (the shorter arrow in the image). This means the short corners could vary across situations, potentially delivering both outswing and inswing crosses.
As mentioned, Bowen’s pace was a rare weapon in the entire West Ham team. Apart from Antonio, who was a striker under Moyes, the wingers in the squad lacked this attribute. This was vital to the Hammer’s counter-attacks. For managers like Moyes who tended to set a low block when defending, the travelling distance to reach the opposition’s goal was large. Therefore, the team needed a player who could carry the ball forward, entering the final third by himself.
Bowen was the man possessed of this ability – quick and able to carry the ball forward. This would help West Ham to initiate the counter-attacks. In this example, Bowen could do everything himself without the supportive overlapping runs. This means the rest of the attackers could focus on sprinting forward and continue occupying the three vertical zones. Even Bowen might be trapped at flanks, he could still win the fouls for the team – another source of West Ham’s attacks.
Although Bowen could be a hardworking player defensively, he could flexibly adopt different tactics, depending what the manager needed. Maybe, in some better teams that could afford a gambling winger when setting the block, Bowen could fulfill this role and creating the counter-attacking opportunities in the transitions. The pace of this 23-year-old winger was a good weapon against high defensive lines.
As a reference, my thought was generated from this example, where Chelsea committed men forward and was poorly structured. Bowen did not immediately drop to the defence, instead, he positioned himself behind the midfield. He was the gambling winger in this case. When West Ham cleared the ball, Bowen was soon connected, and he quickly drifted forward, indirectly created the second goal of the game.
Disciplinary when defending
Defensively, Bowen was a hardworking player if the manager expected to see the off-the-ball efforts. Although West Ham were not pressing high often, Bowen knew some basic principles when this happened. If the teammates were pressing on the opposite side, Bowen could be disciplined to move narrowly to maintain the compactness.
This also helped him to get into better positions in case the Hammers regained possession high, Bowen was closer to the goal and was able to make the forward runs quickly.
In this example, Bowen was good at maximizing to control two free targets by staying between them. With the pace of the player, he could access either target if they received the ball as another wave of pressure.
When facing stronger teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United, who committed the left-back in the attack, Bowen could serve as an extra defender to prevent the right-back being overloaded. The €21.3m winger did well to track Alonso and Williams to minimize their offensive threat.
Apart from mingling into a part of the defensive block, he was quite disciplined despite not sticking to the target tightly. For example, Bowen was miles away from Alonso in this example, and it seemed Andreas Christensen’s diagonal pass would reach the Spanish left-back. However, Bowen was still in the game, he sprinted and intercepted the ball before Alonso.
Weaknesses and potential development
Bowen is a decent player for West Ham, but he was not ready to play at teams requiring much detailed planning on positional plays yet. Bowen did not have the gift from a technical point of view, not the type of Mahrez who could control the ball under extreme conditions. At times he tried to use his weaker foot to take the first touch, but the interaction with the ball was too heavy and nearly being dispossessed.
However, we still see the potential of this player. Bowen could be an important individual as he possessed the qualitative superiority. United were quite aware of him and near the end of the game, they knew only leaving Williams alone was unable to deal with Bowen. More players were placed around him and this suggested the player’s ability to absorb pressure – created a 2 v 2 separation in the penalty box against the centre-backs.
Physically speaking, Bowen was pace, but his body softness and agility were not the best. His footsteps were not tight enough to create the dynamics like Mahrez and Wilfred Zaha, as continuous changes of directions was not the strength of Bowen.
We should also expect to see Bowen scoring more goals for West Ham next season. As suggested by the data analysis, his xG record in the EFL Championship was the joint best in the league. His goalscoring records and xG records were summarized in the below bar chart.
It was impressive to see Bowen exceeded the xG by around four to five goals each season. This suggested the 23-year-old is also a quality finisher. Accomplishing this in one season might be a coincidence, but for three consecutive seasons, Bowen was consistent on scoring goals. Since the goals were not the “Robben type” cut-in efforts with his left foot, in fact, Bowen needed his teammates’ deliveries to finish the chances. If Pablo Fornals and Anderson were fit next season, they could create the opportunities for Bowen.
Fitting as a right-winger was not a problem for Bowen, probably he would also try playing as a striker in the future. The strong finishing and pace of this player would attract Moyes to put him as the highest point of the attack.
Bowen would be a very good winger at West Ham, not only in terms of pace injection but also the dynamism he offered the team. The playing style and qualities of Bowen were irreplaceable – especially other key players such as Fornals and Anderson were false-wingers. As a new arrival, Bowen quickly adapted to the team and his displays has helped the Hammers to survive in the Premier League. If he could boost the goalscoring ability in the Premier League next season, maybe, Euro 2021 is waiting for him.