Talking Tactics

Can Paqueta's return offset West Ham's defensive issues?

By Adrian Clarke 26 Feb 2024
Moyes and Paqueta

Adrian Clarke analyses the Hammers' problems at the back and why Brazilian's return can help David Moyes

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be influential in Matchweek 26.

Team analysis: West Ham United

Winless in six Premier League matches, West Ham have been way below their best with and without the ball in recent weeks, as they prepare to face Brentford at London Stadium on Monday.

Failing to score in their last three outings, we have seen a lack of drive and sharpness from the Hammers as an attacking force.

Out of possession they have fared even worse.


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Tentative in their duels, sluggish in their decision-making, and far from compact in their shape, David Moyes’s side are too easy to create chances against.

West Ham will require a big improvement if they are to end this slump with a victory against bogey side Brentford, who have won all five of the previous Premier League meetings between these teams.

Out-of-character lapses

When the Hammers beat Arsenal 2-0 on 28 December, they produced a defensive masterclass, showing extraordinary levels of resilience.

Since then, they have lacked the same conviction, conceding several avoidable goals.

Worryingly for Moyes, opponents have expressed more desire than his own players at key moments, and this has proved costly.

West Ham have conceded five goals in their last five matches either by being caught in possession, or on their heels. 

Loan signing Kalvin Phillips was robbed of the ball against AFC Bournemouth and Manchester United, who both profited from his sloppiness in possession to find the back of the net from the resulting turnovers.

Phillips' error v Bournemouth
Where Phillips lost the ball v Man Utd

James Ward-Prowse has been guilty of making similar mistakes. He was slow to react to pressure from behind him from Ben Brereton Diaz at Sheffield United, and again at Old Trafford, when Casemiro won a pivotal duel to set up Rasmus Hojlund to score.


In West Ham United’s 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest last weekend, Nayef Aguerd also came out second-best when failing to fully commit to a 50-50 challenge with Neco Williams. From that lost tackle, Callum Hudson-Odoi converted a cross delivered to the far post. 

Aguerd's tentative defending

In fairness to their manager, these errors were not of a tactical nature. Moyes would rightly expect a higher level of awareness and determination from the individuals involved.

Worrying numbers

West Ham have faced more than 20 shots in four of their last seven matches.

They have been too passive in their off-the-ball shape and not as compact as earlier in the campaign, meaning opponents have not had to work hard enough to create attempts on goal.

In the 6-0 defeat by Arsenal, Bukayo Saka slipped in through a huge gap between the Hammers' left-back and central defender for his second goal.

At the City Ground, Taiwo Awoniyi received a straight pass on the half-turn that easily dissected the two West Ham centre-backs.

And at Old Trafford, Emerson made little effort to put pressure on Alejandro Garnacho inside the area, for a chance he duly converted.

These numbers paint a picture of a team struggling to contain opponents' attacks.

West Ham stats per 90 mins
2023/24 MW1-18 MW19-25
Shots faced 15.66 19.70
Expected Goals Against 1.70 2.29
Goals conceded 1.6 2.0
Missing Paqueta

Lucas Paqueta has missed the last six Premier League matches through injury, and the Brazilian's absence has been felt.

His style often sets the tone for team-mates to work just as hard off the ball, with his aggression a natural trigger for the rest of the side to follow.

Despite his absence, the 132 times Paqueta has regained possession is still a figure higher than any West Ham player this season.

His influence on their attack has also been sorely missed.

West Ham with and without Paqueta
2023/24 With Paqueta Without Paqueta
Matches 18 7
Wins 10 0
Goals/90 1.7 0.7

West Ham are yet to win this season without Paqueta in the starting XI, and they score an average one goal fewer per match when he is missing.

Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus also suffer when his quality passing is not supplying them with regular ammunition.

Both Hammers stars love to run on to through-balls, and at the time he picked up his injury, Paqueta's total of 19 was the best in the division.

Tellingly, no one else in the current squad has managed more than three through-balls this season.

In open play, Paqueta has created 26 chances, nine more than team-mate Vladimir Coufal.

He is irreplaceable to West Ham, who are nowhere near as dangerous when he is unavailable.

So, Moyes will be happy to have his star man back in the mix for Monday's match. 

"It’s an easy thing to say, but I think we’ve missed some really senior players," Moyes told the club's official website. 

"Lucas Paqueta is back in training and very close to returning. Hopefully that will give us a huge boost.

"He’s certainly in contention for Monday night. I’ll need to find out exactly where he is, but overall we’re so pleased that we’ve got him back in as it has been a while."

Back to basics

In the short term Moyes and his side must simply work harder to make things happen in the final third.

They have enough talent to score goals, with or without Paqueta, but they must rediscover their lost drive.

Out of possession they must do the basics much better by pushing themselves to stifle their opponents’ space as a defensive unit.

Their reaction to dangerous situations has been unusually sluggish and Moyes has plenty to work on.

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