The intriguing West Ham statistics telling us whether they are genuine top four contenders

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West Ham United are in the top four already - but are they getting lucky, or are they serious contenders for the top four? We dig into the stats to find out.

Three wins and a spot in the Champions League as it stands – few seriously expect West Ham to contend for the top four come next May, but it’s been the dream start for David Moyes and his charges to life after Declan Rice, and the Europa Conference League champions are absolutely bouncing.

But how good have they really been? Are they candidates for further European qualification or are they a 40-point side punching above their weight? Have they really improved so much from their 14th-place finish last season despite the loss of their best and most influential player?

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The obvious starting point when answering that is to note that they are definitely overperforming the statistics so far. They’ve scored 9 Premier League goals from 6.9 expected goals, and conceded 4 from 6.7xG against. If results had followed xG they would most likely have five points, not the 10 they have in actuality.

Purely from the perspective of how many goals they were likely to score or concede, they were distinctly fortunate to get a 3-1 win out of Chelsea and were outperformed by both Bournemouth and Luton Town away from home. And they’re struggling for creative impetus – their average of 12 shots per game is less than all but five teams while only four teams are conceding more shots every match, and all of the teams doing worse by such metrics are those you would expect to be serious relegation candidates – the promoted trio of Luton, Burnley and Sheffield United are below the Hammers on both metrics, for instance.

Of course, outscoring xG can reflect exceptional finishing rather than simple luck – but that doesn’t seem likely. Michail Antonio hasn’t outscored his xG once since joining West Ham but his two goals but him ahead of the game. Jarrod Bowen, the current leading scorer with four, is also comfortably out-doing his own historical marks for finishing.

From an attacking perspective in particular, West Ham should – as a team and individually – regress to the mean sooner rather than later. They’re on hot form and getting the benefit of both the rub of the green and some fine finishing, but the Hammers would have to either significantly improve or spit in the face of statistical expectations to maintain a top four challenge.

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So where would West Ham’s play put them compared to the rest of the league? Their expected points would have them in lower mid-table, which is more or less where they wound up last season – while a side-by-side comparison on some of the basic attacking numbers seems to back that up.

Compared to the 2022/23 campaign, West Ham are getting slightly fewer shots in per game, albeit at a notably better xG, while their possession and progressive play stats are pretty similar – the implication being that their general play in attack hasn’t improved much, but they are perhaps creating slightly better-quality chances.

On defence, meanwhile, they’re shipping nearly 18 shots on goal a game compared to 13 last year – a big and somewhat worrying difference. It could be explained away as a statistical quirk of playing Chelsea and Brighton, two very shot-happy teams, in a small sample size, but could also suggest that they have some defensive frailties.

Which, on the face of it, would make sense – in losing Rice and replacing him in the starting line-up with James Ward-Prowse, they’ve traded some defensive steel for a player with exceptional chance creation and set-piece play. If they are now presenting their forwards with better chances while giving more up to their opponents seems to, that seems to check out.

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Mohamed Kudus scored 11 goals for Ajax last season and could add to West Ham’s goal threat.Mohamed Kudus scored 11 goals for Ajax last season and could add to West Ham’s goal threat.
Mohamed Kudus scored 11 goals for Ajax last season and could add to West Ham’s goal threat. | ANP/AFP via Getty Images

On the other hand, West Ham did a lot of their business late, and we aren’t necessarily getting a clear look at the finished article. We haven’t seen much from Edson Álvarez yet and new arrival Mohammed Kudus has quite literally played one minute so far. They may change things.

But Moyes is not the most flexible manager, and the broad tactical sweeps are likely to remain the same. In terms of quality of possession and the way that they use it, it’s hard to drive much of a wedge between the West Ham we’ve seen so far this year and the team that came 14th in 2022/23. The much prayed-for striker never arrived this summer, and a rather ageing defence is largely the same with the exception of Kostantinos Mavropanos, who has yet to feature. The likelihood is that West Ham will turn out to be slightly better in the attacking third, and perhaps a little more vulnerable coming the other way, and that their sensational start to the season is, bluntly, not representative of how good they are.

Perhaps they’ll grow as the season progresses, and perhaps the new signings will help to strengthen the side in key areas. Maybe they’ll rejig the midfield to better adapt to Rice’s departure, and maybe individual performances by players like Bowen and Ward-Prowse will be enough to earn a higher position that the stats suggest we should expect. But based on the numbers we have so far, it’s more likely that West Ham gradually nudge their way back down the table and finish a fair distance from the top four. Still, even if Hammers fans would perhaps be advised to enjoy it while it lasts – that shouldn’t make it any less fun.

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