West Ham's attacking football hides surprising change from last season

Sam Allardyce Press Conference Disappointed 12/02/2014

The Hammers have been praised for their decision to stop playing route-one football this season.

Sam Allardyce was a loathed man at the Boleyn Ground last season, with his decision to play Andy Carroll as a lone striker causing the Hammers to play unattractive, and fairly unsuccessful, route-one football.

His main job was to hold the ball up for Kevin Nolan to run on to, or the lay it off to the midfielder in an attacking position - allowing him to been the main goalscorer. Whilst a very traditionally English style of play, it has been going out of fashion in recent years, and Allardyce is the last real Premier League manager to stay with such a style.

That is, however, until this season.

The summer arrivals of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have allowed the coach to set-up his team in a 4-4-2 diamond, with increased pressing from the strike partnership allowing the midfield four to flourish as creative outlets.

They have been lauded for their start to the season, winning four of eight league fixtures - including a memorable 3-1 victory over Liverpool - and moving into the top four. Not only are results going the way of the Irons though, the style of football has changed, and they have become a joy to watch for the early part of the campaign.

Their close range passing seems to have tightened up, and they are looking to be more creative - rather than relying on the long ball style used last season.

However, the attractive on-pitch displays have hidden a surprising statistic, with the club actually playing more long balls this season than last.

  SeasonLong Balls per GameLong Ball AccuracyAppearances
West Ham 2014-2015 62.5 42.4% 8
West Ham 2013-2014 54.2 48.7% 38

The Irons are playing 62.5 long balls per game this season, compared with the 54.2 last season - a remarkably high rise for the side credited with bringing fluid play back to the Boleyn Ground. They are also less accurate with the long range passes, with just over 6% fewer balls finding a target when played.

This is surprising given the fact that the club look more potent as an attacking force than they did last season, with the desire to play more fruitless long balls forward only ever considered a disadvantage to your side. Despite fewer passes reaching their target, the balls are actually more advantageous than they were in the last campaign - with a combination of short and long passes being played forward at a more frequent rate.

  SeasonTotal Pass per GameFinal Third Pass per Game
West Ham 2014-2015 392.1 242.1
West Ham 2013-2014 325.3 228.0

They play more overall passes than they did last season, and 14 more passes per game end in an attacking position in the final third, increasing the likelihood of creating a goalscoring opportunity.

It is impressive to see Allardyce sticking to what he knows, whilst also improving upon his own style to come up to date with the modern trends in football. Many were calling for his dismissal at the end of last season - despite the clubs easy stay in the top flight - and it is great to see the board kept faith in the coach. If he continues to improve West Ham as he has been doing, their current league position may remain theirs for the taking come May next year.

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