By Jason McKenna
In 2018/19 West Ham were big spenders; they spent nearly £100 million, with around half of that going on wingers Yarmalenko and Anderson. Andrii Yarmolenko had his debut season cut short due to injury, whereas Anderson had a strong start in the first half of his season but from gameweek 20 onward he only managed 1 goal and 3 assists. The main problem for West Ham was that they did not produce enough chances for their forwards. On top of this they have the second oldest squad on average in the Premier League that is somewhat reliant on the ageing, not so committed Arnautovic. The purchase of Fornals is supposed to bring in a more creative midfielder to help the attackers and his youth means he is supposed to grow into the side. But is his purchase what West Ham needs?
West Ham had a comfortable season in 2018/19. Manuel Pellegrini oversaw stability at the helm of the club and the Hammers finished in 10th place only 7 points off the European spot claimed by Wolves and a 10 point improvement of their 2017/18 output. Overall the side had a much improved season with more goals and less conceded than 2017/18. However after their summer of spending the club was expecting a much more significant improvement in attacking output, they scored only 4 goals more than in the previous season but they had spent over £50 million on attacking players.
In 2018/19 the players lining up in attack were of a higher quality but they were not getting enough service. The team only created 48 big chances, the 14th best in the league, and overall were 15th best with 63 big chances in total. Crystal Palace, Fulham and Burnley players produced more chances for their attacks than West Ham. West Ham managed 325 chances created (13th best), from this they managed 277 shots in the box (12th best) and 154 shots on target (10th best). The top goal scorer for the season was Marko Arnautovic who scored 10 goals and managed a measly 41 shots in the box. What is even more worrying is that his Expected Goals Data (xG) of 8.94 means he technically over-performed.
Therefore, on the face of it, Fornals seems to be a step in the right direction as the team needs a midfielder who is going to create the chances for Arnautovic, Anderson and Yarmolenko. The Spanish midfielder is comfortable playing with either foot and enjoys getting forward for shots. Also something that will make West Ham fans happy is the fact he has an excellent injury record, rarely missing a match.
But his data suggests he is not the creative type of midfielder they need. On average he managed 32.3 passes per game in La Liga over last season which was not even the top 10 for Villarreal players. Fornals managed 1.3 key passes per game, the third best in his side, but not impressive in the context of the league as 38 La Liga players managed more than this per game in the whole season.
Also in comparison to his new West Ham team mates his data is not extraordinary. Fornals managed on average 55 minutes per chance created and a total of 36 chances in the season in La Liga whereas Snodgrass managed 38 mins per chance created/ 59 chances total and Anderson 48 mins per chance created/ 64 chances total, thus they managed better numbers than his. Fornals did match Anderson for big chances created though with 10, which was also 4 better than Snodgrass. Although Snodgrass is the player the new signing will be competing with on the right side of midfield Fornals numbers are not much better. This data is also from a league that is less physical and not as combative; Fornals will have to adjust to the different play styles within the Premier League.
The numbers have to be properly contextualised though. The tactical play style of Villarreal may have restricted his output. The team mostly played 4-4-2 throughout the season and relied on Fornals to have a defensive approach. A huge problem for any Villarreal players data is that they spent much of 2018/19 trying to fight off possible relegation. Midway through the season the team were in 19th place and 4 points off relegation, thus the onus on key players like Fornals was to be involved in defence as much as attack. This also explains his drop-off in attacking output. In 2018/19 he produced just 2 goals and 3 assists for Villarreal but in 2017/18 he had a more impressive three goals and 12 assists. This season Fornals had a more defence minded role which can be reflected in the data of increased pressure regains from 2017/18 to 2018/19 from 3.4 per match to 3.8 per match on average plus more blocks, interceptions and clearances per 90 than in 2017/18. But even when he has played in a more defensive role his attacking stats have improved. His shots per game, shots in the box, Expected Goals and passing completion rate increased. It therefore seems he may have been unlucky not to have produced more.
The addition of Fornals may also mean that Anderson can focus more on his attacking output. The Brazilian record signing last season was the main creator for the West Ham side, so less creative duties for him can mean he can focus his efforts in front of goal. Also the Hammers have a favourable start to the season so this may be a good time to if Fornals adjusts well to his new team and the Premier League. West Ham probably have no worries of going down so his attacking side may be allowed to flourish especially in matches against promoted Norwich and Sheffield United at home plus games against the poor defences of Bournemouth and Brighton away.
Overall though the numbers seem to initially indicate that FPL managers should be cautious and cannot be certain of a huge improvement in the output of West Ham’s attack. Fornals will probably have a reasonable price but Anderson should be the asset you focus on from West Ham at the start of the season, if you want to invest your money there. The new signing is a good all round midfielder and will be a positive addition to the squad. At 23 he is still young enough to learn and improve but his numbers at the moment are of a good midfielder, but as of yet not a highly creative one that West Ham needs to succeed. However the freedom of playing in a more attacking side and with less defensive duties may allow him to replicate his output of 2017/18.
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