Thursday, 17 July 2014

New Signing: Enner Valencia

Enner Valencia

DOB: 04/11/1989
Age: 24
Position: Forward

Previous Club: CF Pachuca
Previous Division: Liga MX Clausura

Transfer Date: 17/07/2014
Reported Fee: Anywhere from £7.9m to £15m

Well, there's your big money move.

In the tradition of the past two summer transfer windows, West Ham United have once against strengthened the squad with a big money signing (Matt Jarvis 2012, Andy Carroll 2013). The difference this time, is that most people hadn't heard of Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia before his excellent performance for his country in the World Cup.

The rumour mill has been spinning about Valencia for some time now, with the likes of Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Valencia all linked with him at various point, and by sources of various reliability. Over this time, it has emerged that this isn't a flash in the pan sort of signing based on 3 good performances, but that the Hammers have been tracking their new man over the course of the last six months.

But other than his World Cup cameo, what do West Ham fans know about the newcomer?

So what does Valencia offer us that his new teammates don't?

Well, the obvious difference is that Valencia has been in top goalscoring form in the last year. The forward bagged himself 18 goals in 23 league appearances, and a further 3 in 3 at the World Cup. In comparison, Carlton Cole, Andy Carroll, Ricardo Vâz Te and Modibo Maïga managed 11 league goals between them.

Clearly, there is a difference in standard between the Mexican and English premiere divisions, but signing a striker in form can never be a bad thing.

Aside from scoring significantly more goals than his new colleagues, Valencia also attempted far more shots. Andy Carroll was West Ham's most prolific shooter last season, with an attempted 4.21 attempts on goal per 90 minutes, with a shot accuracy of 33%.

Valencia, on the other hand, attempted a whipping 6.27 shots per 90 minutes, with a shooting accuracy of 52%.

An area in which Valencia is less capable than his new team mates is aerially.

Although he did manage to bag himself four headed goals last season, the Ecuadorian managed an aerial duel success rate of just 33%, less than all but Ricardo Vâz Te's effort of 30%. What this suggests, is that Valencia is not a like-for-like competitor with Andy Carroll.

Last season, when the line was led by Modibo Maïga, West Ham failed to adequately adjust our style to incorporate a different type of forward, and served Maïga with the type of long balls and isolation that Carroll is equipped to deal with.

If Valencia is to be a success at West Ham, it seems clear that there must be a varied approach in utilising the new man.

Valencia's main strength is what we bought him for: he scores goals.

In the Liga Mexican Clausura last season, Valencia bagged an impressive 18 goals for Pachuca, making him the division's top scorer by a country mile, as his nearest challenger netted just 9 (though he did get those in just 11 appearances).

Perhaps most interesting though, is the fact that 17 of Valencia's 18 goals came from within the box. It seems to be accepted that Valencia will play as one of the wide forwards for his new side, replacing either Stewart Downing or Matt Jarvis in the side. What the two English wingers lacked last season with the killer instinct to get into the box and score goals. Based on Valencia's predatory record, it seems safe to assume that this won't be an issue the Ecuadorian suffers from.

As mentioned above, it has been suggested that Valencia will play as one of the wide pair alongside a centre forward. This is a role he has played on numerous occasions throughout his career - a career in which he actually started out as a winger, only to be converted to a striker within the past few seasons.

The heat map below comes from Pachuca's game against Toluca in January.

During this game, Valencia officially lined up as a right winger, but, as you can plainly see, he popped up all over the park to contribute for his team.

But Valencia can also shine as the main main, leading the line for his club and country regularly.

Arguably his best performance in the last season for Pachuca came in the 3-0 win over Monarcas Morelia, in which he bagged himself two goals and an assist (his only assist of the season).

The images below show his take ons, and then his goals from that game.

As you can see, Valencia is keen to take on his man and get into the box, completed 6 of 9 take ons, 4 of which were attempted within the penalty area, and another four coming just outside the box.

The second image also gives you a flavour of the type of goals Valencia scored throughout the campaign. Getting in and around the six yard box to finish off moves became something of a specialty for the Ecuadorian last season, and will hopefully be something he can bring to a West Ham side lacking in that finishing touch.

Probably Valencia's biggest weakness is his discipline.

Last season, he picked up 7 yellow cards in 23 league appearances. This is a pretty poor record, that is only made worse by the fact that three of those were a result of talking himself into trouble.

For the sort of money that is rumoured to be tabled for Valencia, we could really do without the forward picking up too many suspensions.

I suppose the thing that currently counts most against Valencia, is his lack of experience outside of South America. Any big money move is a risk, but for a player who has never played in Europe, let alone the Premier League, there is a bit of a fear that everything could go belly up.

However, here is an undoubtedly talented footballer, who has all the ability and potential to be a fantastic signing for this football club. And if Valencia can produce even half of his goalscoring record from recent seasons for West Ham, he'll settle in very nicely.

Enner Valencia, welcome to (East) London.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

New Signing: Diego Poyet

Diego Poyet

DOB: 08/08/1995
Age: 19
Position: Midfielder

Previous Club: Charlton Athletic
Previous Division: SkyBet Championship

Transfer Date: 08/07/2014
Reported Fee: Compensation to be Agreed

Like buses these transfers, aren't they?

In a move that seemed to come from nowhere on last Friday afternoon, West Ham have now finalised the signing of 19 year old midfielder Diego Poyet.

The son of Sunderland manager Gus, Poyet broke into the Charlton team in the second half of last season, and has now decided he sees his future away from the Addicks.

As with the signing of Aaron Cresswell, the shocking speed at which the transfer has been completed means a large number of West Ham fans won't know a great deal about a player who has only been on the scene for a matter of months.

Since bursting onto the scene with Charlton back in January, Poyet has made 20 appearances for the side in the Championship, racking up a healthy 1,768 minutes of action, and making the defensive midfield spot his own.

In terms of style, I know very little about Poyet, but his stats suggest that he is a similar player to Mark Noble. Both posted identical pass completion rates for the season, both made an average of around 50 passes per game, and both put in a high volume of defensive work for their team.

The images below show the pass completion of Poyet in comparison to some of his new team mates, and a man he will be hoping to replace in Matthew Taylor (stats on Cheikhou Kouyaté are not in depth enough to allow a fair comparison at this point), and also the number of passes completed by each player per 90 minutes.

As you can see, Poyet has a better pass completion rate than both Mohamed Diamé and Matthew Taylor, is equal to Mark Noble, and is slightly behind Ravel Morrison. However, as with Mark Noble, the youngster saw far more of the ball that most of the others, attempting 49.07 passes per 90 minutes - more than double the amount attempted by Diamé.

As previously stated, Poyet also contributes a large amount defensively.

In his 20 league appearances for Charlton last year, Poyet attempted a whopping 117 tackles, winning the ball with 55% of these. This number compares favourably to his comparators.

As you can see below, Poyet put in nearly 6 tackles per 90 minutes. The closest West Ham midfielder to this was Noble, with 4.98 attempted tackles per 90.

As with any good defensive midfielder, Poyet's main strengths lay in his defensive work.

As I've already mentioned, the England under 17 international put in a massive 117 tackles last season, winning the ball on 64 occasions.

The image below shows his tackles against Bournemouth back in March. As you can see, Poyet sat in the gap between the defence and midfield breaking up opposition attacks, winning 5 of his 7 attempted tackles.

But Poyet is more than just a hard tackler. He is also an intelligent footballer, who is very adept at reading the game.

On top of those tackles he put in, he also made 49 interceptions in his 20 appearances. For a bit of context, Noble managed 70 in 38 appearances in the same position.

Again, the image below shows Poyet's performance against Bournemouth in March. As you can see, he consistently nicked the ball in the same defensive areas that he produced 7 tackles within, and made a total of 6 interceptions on the day.

Poyet hasn't really been around long enough to get a true flavour of his weaknesses, but it is believed that his main issue is that his concentration levels have been known to drop. In fact, this is the only criticism that SkySports found in a recent player profile.

However, as you can see below, this may not be as big an issue as is suggested.

The youngster made 3.0 errors (defensive error leading to an attempt on goal / a goal, turnovers (miscontrol), dispossessed (tackles), dribbled by) per 90 minutes, which is only slightly more than both Noble and Taylor, but is significantly less than Diamé.

Obviously errors by a defensive midfielder tend to be more costly than those more advanced players, but Poyet doesn't commit too many errors, at given his young age, this is an area in which he will surely improve over time.

The signing of Diego Poyet seems to reiterate the clubs desire to build a more youthful side going into the future. By bringing in low cost youngsters on long term contracts, instead of low cost veterans on short term contracts, the club are building for the future, and giving the fans something to smile about in the close season.

Whether or not Poyet will make a huge mark this season remains to be seen, as he will be competing with the likes of Noble, Diamé and Chiekhou Kouyaté for a starting spot, but the 4 year contract suggests that this is a signing for the future, and not just the now.

Friday, 4 July 2014

New Signing: Aaron Cresswell

Aaron Cresswell

DOB: 15/12/1989
Age: 24
Position: Fullback

Previous Club: Ipswich Town
Previous Division: SkyBet Championship

Transfer Date: 03/07/2014
Reported Fee: £4.0m

In a move that came completely out of the blue, Ipswich Town left back Aaron Cresswell joined West Ham yesterday for a fee of around £4m.

Yesterday morning, it appeared that we were about to sign Timothée Kolodziejczak from OGC Nice, then we were linked with Andrew Robertson of Dundee United, and we supposedly also bid for Martin Olsson of Norwich City, before the news that Cresswell was mid-medical suddenly broke.

With a transfer coming from left field like that, it's possible that not many Hammers know much about the 24 year old. Well, fear not, I'm going to tell you all you need to know.

Left back has been a problem area for West Ham for as long as I can remember now. Stop gaps like Pablo Armero and Rǎzvan Raţ have been and gone, as have longer term signings like George McCartney (twice, in fact). As a result, the club will be hoping that Cresswell can make the step up to the Premier League comfortably and really make that left back slot his own for the coming years.

If we look at his performances for Ipswich last year in comparison to the collection of left backs that West Ham utilised, we can see that the Englishman is a bit of a mixture between the more conservative McCartney and Joey O'Brien, and the adventurous Armero and Raţ.

Cresswell enjoyed a tackle success rate of 59% last season, equal best of the comparator group. However, he did make significantly less tackles per game than any of his rivals, with just 1.75 attempted tackles per 90 minutes. All of Raţ, McCartney and O'Brien attempted more than 2 tackles per 90, whilst Armero put in move than 4 per 90 minutes.

An area where Cresswell completely outstrips West Ham's last cohort of left backs is in the offensive side of the game. Between them, O'Brien, Armero, Raţ and McCartney created a combined 27 chances in 4,536 minutes of football. Cresswell, on the other hand, created 68 chances in his 3,653 minutes. Just for a bit more illumination on this, Stewart Downing was West Ham's most creative player, making 62 goalscoring opportunities.

Cresswell also attempted 0.99 take ons per 90 (only Armero can better that, with 1.67 per 90), scored 2 goals, and attempted 38 shots on goal. As you can clearly see below, none of the other left backs got close to that, attempting a combined 12 shots between them. And Cresswell also had the best shot accuracy of the lot, with 40% of his attempts hitting the target.

I've already touched on Cresswell's main strength - his attacking prowess.

It has not been unusual in recent years to see the Liverpool-born fullback bombing on down the left flank like a flying winger, creating chances and putting in cross after cross. The image below shows an example of a typical Cresswell performance.

This heatmap is taken from Ipswich's 1-0 win over Birmingham City back in March. Cresswell was up and down the touchline relentlessly, putting a shift in all over the park. During the game, he created 3 chances for his team mates, made one interception, and got back to make five clearances.

The attacking side to Cresswell's game paid dividend for Ipswich over the course of last season, with the young fullback registering 12 assists. And, as you can see from the graphic below, only three players managed more assists than Cresswell, and two of those were attacking midfielders Craig Conway and Craig Bryson.

Despite the obvious positives of this signing, there remain some potential question marks.

Firstly, Cresswell's ball retention leaves a little to be desired. Last season he managed a pass completion rate of just 68%, worse than Armero (75%), McCartney (79%) and O'Brien (83%). He also attempted more long balls than most of his comparators, with 20% of his attempted passes going long. 

The image below shows his attempted passes in the 4-4 draw against Derby County in October. As you can see, he completed just 68% of his 47 passes, and 12 (26%) of these were also long balls.

So despite the the fact that Cresswell will undoubtedly provide West Ham with another string to their bow by adding an extremely competent attacking fullback to the side, his previous record suggests he may struggle to positively influence the side in an area that we have previously had issues.

The other area where Cresswell will need to improve slightly, is his discipline.

Whilst he doesn't have an horrific disciplinary record, the fullback received both yellow and red card as a result of verbally abusing referees last season.

According to the BBC Match Report from the game against Barnsley in November:

"Cresswell was sent off on the final whistle for foul and abusive language... The match ended with Cresswell sent off on the final whistle when he confronted the referee."

To be fair to him, this is the only red card he has received in his career, but when James Tomkins talked himself into a red card against Cardiff last season, there was a huge amount of frustration and anger directed toward him from the West Ham faithful, so Cresswell should be advised to steer clear of any future indiscretions.

On the whole, this is a very exciting signing for West Ham.

Cresswell is regarded as one of the brightest prospects outside of the Premier League, and some Ipswich fans have described him as the closest thing to Leighton Baines.

Really, this is exactly the sort of signing we should be making. We haven't broken the bank here, but we've finally got a left back who, all being well, has time and ability on his side in order to make the position his own for the coming years, not just for the next few months.

Welcome to West Ham United, Aaron Cresswell.