5 forwards David Moyes and West Ham should be targeting this summer – data analysis
West Ham’s transfer window has been slow so far. Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper, Alphonse Areola, who spent last season on loan at Fulham, has joined the Hammers on loan with an option to buy. He is expected to compete with Lukasz Fabianski who looks likely to be entering his last year at the London Stadium. But that’s it so far. And for a squad that looked heavily depleted by the end of last season, as well as with the forthcoming extra commitment with the Europa League, it is no doubt concerning for West Ham fans that they haven’t added any more players as of yet.
Realistically the most important positions that need adding to are centre-back, central-midfield and centre-forward. With the centre-back position both Nat Phillips and Kurt Zouma are linked with a move, in midfield both Alex Kral and Matheus Pereira are names which have been heard a fair amount too.
Whether or not any of these players actually make the move to east London is another matter altogether. As for the forward position, there is less clarity. This a position that West Ham have notoriously failed to recruit well in under the ownership of David Gold and David Sullivan. According to the Daily Mail, since January of 2010, when Gold & Sullivan took over the club, they have spent a total of £223 million on 49 different forwards.
They will need to find another option once more. Michail Antonio had an exceptional season in 2020/21, however, he does have regular fitness issues and West Ham were lacking in options up front when he was absent, with Jarrod Bowen or Jesse Lingard often filling the void. This data analysis will look at the various statistics of players from around Europe to list five different options that would fit Moyes’ style of play, and compete with Antonio for a starting berth. It will then give a brief analysis of each of these prospects.
Antonio – Abraham – Wood
Two of the names that have been linked, among many others, are those of Tammy Abraham and Chris Wood. Both of these players would represent expensive transfers. Wood would likely cost around the £30 million mark given his outstanding season last year, whilst Abraham is likely to be north of that value. However, they are players with plenty of experience in English football. They also tell us a lot about the type of forward Moyes is in the market for. We can delve into this criteria by looking at the data of Premier League forwards from last season, specifically highlighting the performances of Antonio, Abraham, and Wood.
First of all, it’s important to look at the aerial duels, in terms of volume and win percentages. West Ham don’t actually play a large number of long passes. Their 40.76 long passes per 90 was only the 14th highest in the league. Nevertheless, with their favoured 4-2-3-1 they need a centre-forward who can play by themselves, who can hold the ball up when isolated too. West Ham used counter-attacks to get in behind many teams last season, and in these moments Antonio’s physicality and energy were vital, despite him often competing by himself against two centre-backs for a period of time. The wide runners like Bowen, Lingard and Benrahma would also frequently make runs off of Antonio, with the forward flicking the ball in behind for these wingers to run onto.
Moyes clearly wants a physically imposing centre-forward, who can hold their own aerially.
Looking at the graph below, aside from ex-West Ham forward Sebastien Haller, Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie and Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke, Chris Wood was involved in the most aerial duels in the league for a centre-forward with 10.84 per 90. His win percentage of 30.16% is slightly below the league average, however, questions could well be raised regarding the quality of a lot of these aerial passes played forward.
Abraham gets involved in far fewer aerial duels with only 5.19 aerial duels per 90, but wins a highly impressive 45.16% of these. As for Antonio, he sits somewhere in between the aforementioned duo, with a win percentage of 35.81% on 7.02 aerial duels per 90.
Aside from aerial duels, it’s important for us to ascertain the overall productivity of these players in front of goal. To do this we can look at four metrics: touches in the box per 90, shots per 90, xG per 90, and goals per 90.
With touches in the box per 90 and shots per 90, we are able to see their productivity in shooting positions, with most centre-forwards taking the bulk of their shots inside the 18-yard box.
With xG per 90 and goals per 90, this is obviously more self-explanatory, and generally give us a rough idea as to whether these forwards are over-performing, under-performing, or performing as expected in front of goal.
Wood noticeably manages fewer touches in the box, although it’s worth noting that Burnley averaged 40% possession last season, so therefore just had less of the ball to structure attacks with. But what’s more important is are they taking a high number of shots from the number of touches they are registering in the box. Antonio’s 2.533 shots per 90 from 4.348 touches in the box per 90, means he is taking on a shot per 1.72 touches in the box. This shows he is quick to get shots away and is more in the mould of a poacher. Abraham’s 2.207 shots per 90 come from 4.156 touches in the box per 90, meaning he is taking a shot every 1.88 touches in the box. Still quick and not too different to Antonio’s. Whereas Wood is taking 1.955 shots per 90 and taking just 3.261 touches in the box per 90 means he is taking on a shot every 1.67 touches. All three are relatively similar but do point us in the direction that Moyes is looking for someone who is going to be making runs inside the box and looking to take on shots off of one or two touches. He isn’t looking for a forward who can create their own shots necessarily, but someone who is likely going to be a threat from latching onto crosses, pull-backs from the by-line and through passes.
If we look at the shot maps of the three forwards mentioned we can see that Abraham is potentially more similar to Antonio in his shot locations, with a more noticeable threat in or around the six-yard box. Wood is more varied, albeit very central with his shot locations, however, whilst he has scored on numerous occasions inside the six-yard box, he takes the bulk of his shots directly on the edge of the six-yard box all the way to the edge of the area.
What should be noted with all three forwards is their obvious physicality, and their pace too. Moyes wants a player who can hold the ball up, but who is also a threat making runs in behind. All three of these forwards fit this bill.
Antonio stands at 1.8m, but is very well-built, whilst Abraham is 1.9m in height and Chris Wood, 1.91m.
To find a shortlist of forwards, we have looked at leagues outside of the UK, but within Europe, where players have previously moved to the Premier League from and generally adjusted well. The leagues looked at are the German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1, Belgian Jupiler Pro League, and the Dutch Eredivisie. The level of competition in Ligue 1 and particularly the Bundesliga is generally going to be stronger than in Belgium and the Netherlands, so the data will be skewed slightly, however, it should still do a good job of working as an indicator. Players included have had to have played over 1000 minutes last season, and with a price tag under 30 million euros. The players selected also represent a variety of different price points, with their value shown later on in their individual player profile viz.
To begin with, Moyes is likely looking for a forward who at the very minimum is involved in 5+ aerial duels per 90, although it’s worth remembering that Antonio averaged around seven per 90. As for the win percentage, obviously the higher the better, but he will want them to be above the average for the data set. All but one of the forwards highlighted below falls into this set of criteria. Paul Onuachu and Georgios Giakoumakis are standouts here, whilst Sasa Kalajdzic’s 49.7% win percentage is the most impressive of all highlighted players.
Next, we look at the trade-off between touches in the box per 90 and shots per 90. Moyes seems to have a preference for forwards who are going to be efficient at taking a high number of shots off of few touches. Terem Moffi takes few touches in the box per 90 with just 3.315, however, taking 2.329 shots per 90 means he is getting a shot away every 1.42 touches, which is incredibly efficient. Giakoumakis’ own 2.985 shots per 90 from 4.107 touches per 90 is even more impressive, taking a shot every 1.38 touches. Finally Onuachu, just about tops them both with 3.026 shots from 4.143 touches per 90, meaning he takes a shot every 1.37 touches.
Finally, if we look at goals per 90 against xG per 90 we can see that all players highlighted are minimally outperforming their xG, but their xG is still at a high level. Onuachu and Giamoumakis are obviously the standouts once again with Onuachu almost averaging a goal per game.
If we look at their shot locations, Onuachu is potentially the most similar to Antonio’s, however, Kalajdzic and Giakoumakis aren’t too dissimilar. Guirassy and Moffi are more varied in their shot locations, with Guirassy taking a number of shots from long range.
Sasa Kalajdzic – Stuttgart
Kalajdzic is a gargantuan-sized forward from Austria who is understandably dominant aerially. However, unlike many tall “target men”, Kalajdzic possesses impressive pace, and shows sharp movement to make runs in behind, or find space as he crashes the 18-yard box, looking to get on the end of a cross. He is an easy target to hit during build-up play, as well as an outlet on counter-attacks.
The 24-year-old has threatened potential for some time now, but with his debut season in the Bundesliga last year with Stuttgart, he truly arrived on the big stage. Kalajdzic scored 17 goals and made 5 assists in all competitions for Stuttgart last season, and played an important role in a team that finished in 9th place in the league. Given his height (2m) he is a threat from set-pieces, something which West Ham were so devastating with last season, but on the whole, his heading ability is of the highest level. He wins a high number during build-up, but importantly in the final third too, with excellent accuracy. Kalajdzic is left-footed, but finishes well with his right too, and is able to score a variety of goals. He has a deft touch in attacking areas, and can be expected to lay the ball off to players making runs off him, displaying quality technique and vision as he does this.
Paul Onuachu – Genk
Onuachu has in fact been linked with West Ham, among other clubs, on a few websites and rumour mills already. However, he had to make this list given his talent and fit to Moyes’ set of criteria. The 27-year-old Nigerian forward is similarly tall to Kalajdzic, standing at 2.01m, and is again dominant aerially. He is less agile than Kaalajdzic, but he is physically stronger and has quality in holding the ball up. He has excellent movement in the final third and can create a yard of space between himself and his marker, using misdirection, before showing timing to meet a cross or through pass with a first-time finish.
He has an impressive top speed and doesn’t just play with his back to goal. His runs made in behind against a higher line show good timing and he has a respectable top speed that combined with his frame and strength make him a difficult prospect for defenders to chase.
In all competitions for Genk last season, he registered 35 goals and made five assists, making him the most potent finisher in this shortlist. He is clearly ready for his next step but at 27 he needs to make this move now as he is entering his peak years.
Terem Moffi – FC Lorient
Moffi is the second Nigerian forward on this list and at 22 he is the youngest player mentioned here. With three years left on his contract, Lorient are in no rush to sell and this may be reflected in any potential transfer fee.
He is another physically imposing centre-forward, who possesses an electric change of pace, and high-level top speed. A lot of his goals come from the quick break and he varies his positioning in this moment. He can play on the shoulder of the last man and simply beat his opponent in a foot race if the ball is played over the top. However, he can also drop into deeper areas, starting his run from this area and timing his run where he can be at full pace as he hits the last line of the defence, to again be played in behind.
He is the least aerially dominant forward on the list, however, he has plenty of experience leading the line by himself with Loreitn greatly preferring to play with a lone striker last season. He performed well for Lorient, scoring 15 goals and making three assists in all competitions.
Serhou Guirassy – Rennes
Guirassy may present an easier option to sign, particularly with Rennes looking to raise funds this summer. He stands at 1.87m in height and is another forward who possesses the ability to compete well aerially, hold the ball up, but still hurt teams with his pace in behind.
His quality in the final third with his ability to head towards goal, showing an outstanding leap, good timing, and accuracy to direct towards goal with power. He shows composure in shooting positions and won’t rush the shot, making late adjustments or will look to pass up the opportunity to shoot in order to beat another defender and get a better shooting angle.
He is potentially less of a poacher than the other forwards on this list. Guirassy does latch onto through passes and crosses, but is a confident dribbler, and will drop into deeper areas before turning, taking on a player and looking to get a shot away. He creates his own chances, but can take shots on from further out than the others on this list.
He scored 11 goals last season in all competitions for Rennes, and failed to make an assist. However, he played only 1924 minutes of football, the lowest amount of any player on the shortlist.
Georgios Giakoumakis – VVV-Venlo
The Greek forward would represent the cheapest option on the list, and the easiest to sign given West Ham’s close relationship with the Dutch side VVV-Venlo. However, he would potentially be the biggest risk given the hit-and-miss nature of forwards moving from the Netherlands to the Premier League – for every Robin van Persie there is an Afonso Alves.
He is impressive aerially, winning a high number of aerial duels as the ball is played forward, where he can find nearby teammates with some regularity. He is a threat in the final third too, scoring from crosses and set-pieces, but also providing knockdowns from which those around him can latch onto themselves.
The 26-year-old scored 27 times in all competitions last season and made two assists proving to be one of the biggest surprise packages in the Eredivisie last season, let alone across Europe’s top divisions.