After scoring 19 goals in all competitions last season, most of the fans associated with Brentford were fearful of the fact that Said Benrahma would be snapped up by a top-six Premier League side with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea having been rumoured to be chasing the player’s signature. Of course, following his absolute wonder goal against Fulham in the Carabao Cup this season – where he nutmegged Micheal Hector outside the 18-yard box with a sublime Cruyff turn and found the bottom corner with a curling effort that oozed class – he would have expected he had passed the audition to play for the top clubs in the first division of English football.
It wasn’t until the deadline day of the Championship transfer window that Benrahma got his dream move to the Premier League. But to a lot of fans’ surprise, it wasn’t Arsenal or Chelsea who managed to convince the flamboyant Algerian to join them, but it was another London based club that did – West Ham United. David Moyes has had a relatively quiet transfer window but with the initial loan to buy acquisition of Benrahma and a good run of form in the league, West Ham fans hope that Benrahma can settle in quickly and set the Premier League alight just like he did the Championship last season.
This analysis aims to explore the strengths and weaknesses of Benrahma and understand how he is going to fit in Moyes’s system at West Ham United. During this tactical analysis, we also try to take a look at whether he would be an upgrade on the current left-winger at West Ham and if Benrahma can add another dimension to the West Ham attack.
Benrahma is one of those players who makes the fans stand up on their seats whenever he gets on the ball, so it does not come as a surprise that he has been dubbed as the ‘Algerian Messi’, drawing comparisons to the Barcelona legend. During last season, Benrahma completed a total of 203 successful dribbles out of the 291 he attempted. It is worth noticing the fact that 42% of his dribbles were against the opposition right-back and central midfielder, showing that he takes on players in the final third while he also drops back during transitions to help out the midfield. Noticeably, he was able to complete 70% of his dribbles and scored a total of 12 goals.
Benrahma’s superior ability on the ball is justified by this very goal where he Cruyff turns through the defender’s legs and slots the ball in the bottom corner with a curling effort from a fair 25 yards out – a kind of goal Brentford fans talked about for weeks. Out of 203 successful dribbles, he was able to take 71 shots proving a genuine threat whenever he’s running with the ball and taking players on.
Benrahma has a decent right foot and he usually likes to shoot from distance, as we see from the instance above where he has just turned on the defender. He sees space and unleashes a venomous curling effort that results in a goal. Out of his 63 shots on target last season, Benrahma had 28 efforts on goal from outside the box, finding the back of the net on four separate occasions. His 0.39 xG and 3.89 shots per 90 minutes denote a decent return for a wide player.
With a relatively lower centre of gravity and a blistering turn of pace, Benrahma finds himself getting better of defenders on multiple occasions and more importantly, marking his successful dribbles with the notable end product.
Strengths: Positional play
Benrahma usually plays at the left-wing position, cutting onto his right foot and unleashing shots or crosses towards the far post. Having said that, most of the work that he does off the ball often goes unnoticed and there’s little to no praise attached to his name about that. Benrahma usually tends to drift inside from the wide right and attack the channel between the opposition full-back and the centre-back. He has attempted 143 dribbles against the opposition right-back and centre-back out of his 291 total attempts. One could definitely argue that he doesn’t put enough crosses into the box, but his strengths do not lie in aim for a teammate’s head inside the box as he attempted just 83 crosses from open play last season, out of which only 24 were met by a teammate and just one converted into an assist for Benrahma.
But he provides extra support drifting inside to receive the ball, clearing the space for the wing-back to run into and deliver balls into the box. Benrahma is also an asset during the team’s transition from midfield to attack, as seen in the instance below where he usually comes deep to receive the ball, turn and take on an opposition player.
Notice how deep he receives the ball on the halfway line where his now ex-teammate Rico Henry who plays at left-back barges down the touchline to provide an option for the pass. The yellow lines in the frame above denote how far away he is from the touchline and he manages to find space while receiving the ball so that he has enough time to turn.
Again during an attacking instance, Benrahma receives the ball and straight away looks to attack the channel by taking on the opposition left-back or the centre-back, backing on his ability to beat a man. As he drops inside, Rico Henry the Brentford left-back makes an overlapping run towards the corner flag which gives the opposition left-back an extra threat to deal with. This two on one situation is created only because Benrahma shifts inside, looking to attack the channel and Henry attacks the byline. The move would not have been possible had Benrahma been on the byline himself. This area of his game is often overlooked but is just as effective if not more than his dribbling ability.
Benrahma is a progressive passer of the ball and always looking to play forward passes to his striker or the advancing full-back. He averages an impressive 11.47 forward passes per 90 minutes. He also managed to rack up an average of 37.82 passes per 90 minutes, which means that he sees a lot of the ball over the course of a full game. Quite an impressive statistic for a winger. He is often seen beating players around the halfway line and switching play to the other side or finding the striker to keep the attack moving.
He also sets up the advancing full-back on his side for the first time crosses in the box, thus playing to his strengths and utilising the maximum of his abilities. The graphic below shows the various directions Benrahma can pick out a pass in, and one can see he tends to find his attacking partners more often than not during the attacking phase of the game.
Weakness: Losses in the final third
Benrahma lost the ball on an average of 13 times per game, which was on the higher side of the league average last season. He lost the ball a total of 451 times for the entirety of last season, out of which 31 losses were inside his own half which often put his team in trouble. 151 were from the central area and 269 times in the final third. Considering his dribbling ability and his willingness to take players on, losing the ball is an attribute that Benrahma could do without.
The graphic below shows all the places where Benrahma lost the ball due to an inaccurate pass of a failed dribble attempt. Notice how most of them are in the final third and towards the edge of the 18-yard box.
Benrahma is not a type of player you would associate with whipping crosses on the platter for the strikers to attack as he is more of a player who relies on beating his man and taking on the shot at goal. Having said that, he could only manage a total of 83 crosses throughout the entirety of the last season which is quite abysmal from a winger’s point of view. 29% of his crosses found a teammate but he could only manage one assist through them.
Adapting to West Ham’s system
West Ham United under manager Moyes have deployed a 5-4-1 formation this season with Declan Rice and Souček acting as the double pivot in midfield. They have the Spanish attacker Pablo Fornals who would challenge Benrahma for the first-team spot. Fornals is a decent player himself, but he sees himself as more of a number 10 rather than a left-winger, which is quite evident in his positional play and where he ends up. Fornals has an xG of 0.16 per match which is less than half of Benrahma’s 0.39 xG per match. He also averages 0.11 goals per 90 minutes whereas Benrahma’s average of 0.43 is almost four times that of his compatriot. Fornals can be seen as a more creative link between the midfield who is used to unlock defences playing with a low block rather than an explosive winger such as Benrahma. Having brought left-footed Jerado Bowen from Hull City in January for the right-wing, who is a more Benrahma type player rather than a Fornals type, it is safe to say that Benrahma will take Fornals’ position in the upcoming weeks in the Premier League.
West Ham have averaged 14.2 shots per game this season out of which four have been headers. But to everyone’s surprise, it isn’t the full-backs or the wingers who have delivered the maximum crosses and racked up the maximum assists. Aaron Cresswell, the experienced defender, has shifted to a new role at left centre-back under Moyes and has delivered 17 crosses and managed to get three assists to his name. Cresswell plays the balls from a relatively deeper position into the box with the left wing-back Masuaku supporting from the flank.
In the instance, we see how Cresswell with loads of space curls the ball into the box which was met by Antonio who scored. Towards the byline, Masuaku could be seen making the overlap and providing an extra passing option. Here West Ham could benefit from having Benrahma on the pitch as he will circle around the area marked in red and provide another option for Cresswell to pass, thus adding another dimension to West Ham’s attack.
Benrahma could also do much better with playing alongside Masuaku and Cresswell who are both defensively strong and cover West ham’s left side well. In the instance below, we see how Cresswell and Masuaku both press the opposition player with possession high up the pitch.
In the gameplay of majority teams, this task would be given to the winger but as Cresswell underlaps and Masuaku overlaps, they are both eager to win back possession high up the pitch.
Benrahma showed the world that he could do it in the Championship, but the question in every fan’s mind would be whether he is a genuine world-class player in the making or just another Championship star who could not cut it in the Premier League. West Ham’s system seems to be perfectly suited for him to express himself on the pitch by taking players on and beating them without having the fear of losing the ball and putting his team under necessary pressure.
He also has solid players in Masuaku and Cresswell covering his tracks on the left-hand side of West Ham. Benrahma has now earned the stage after setting the Championship on fire last season but they do not call the Premier League the toughest league in the world for no reason. West Ham fans would be hoping he can adjust to the blistering pace of the league and sprinkle some of his magic he showed last season at the London Stadium this time around.