It is clear that West Ham must hire a striker.
They have had to sign a striker for the best part of 12 months, but as is often the case at London Stadium, it has been a pretty significant period of “doing”.
Truth be told, it was hardly a disaster not to sign one during that period. West Ham completed their primary goal last season to avoid relegation, and this season, miraculously, are the real contenders for Champions League qualifiers.
Whether West Ham can keep their form until the end of the season remains to be seen, but Sebastien Haller’s sudden departure to Ajax in early January has further highlighted the need, not the desire, for a new striker to join this summer.
Sebastien Haller now thrives in the Eredivisie with Ajax | Soccrates Images / Getty Images
Jesse Lingard’s versatility has somewhat mitigated the blow of losing Haller, while Jarrod Bowen and Andriy Yarmolenko – to a much lesser, lesser extent – have shown that they are capable midfielders. But being able to remove some of the pressure from the largely inconsistent Michail Antonio will not reduce it in the long run, so it’s no surprise to see a number of strikers linked to a move to the club.
Boulaye Dia, Adam Armstrong and Youssef En-Nesyri are among the players who have been discussed – and continue to be discussed – in media circles, but the new name on everyone’s lips is Tammy Abraham from Chelsea.
A top scorer with 15 Premier League goals last season under Frank Lampard, it had seemed to the whole world that Abraham was the chosen one as Chelsea’s leading striker for many years to come.
But a significant summer investment – of around £ 220 million – followed by Lampard’s takeover as manager has seen the club deviate in another direction, and Abraham is currently behind Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner in Thomas Tuchel’s striking pecking order.
Not only is Abraham’s third choice, he has not played in the Premier League since February 20 – when he was hooked at half-time against Southampton – and has just 122 minutes of a possible 990 under his belt since Tuchel took over.
En-Nesyri has been linked with West Ham | Fran Santiago / Getty Images
Abraham is said to be worried about what the future may bring, and it is easy to see why he does not want to discuss a new contract at Chelsea. His current deal at Stamford Bridge has two years left, and on the surface, it seems that any talks about extending that would purely give Chelsea market value, rather than some guaranteed playing time.
At West Ham, you can imagine that Abraham not only wants regular playing time, he wants assurances that the club will continue to invest and strive to be a regular European challenger under David Moyes – more on that another time.
Abraham’s ability to score is not in question, but there is one thing that West Ham fans know better than most – it’s not always about how many you do, it’s about your versatile contribution and whether you would fit in or not.
Now, more than ever, West Ham have a style of play and identity under Moyes – who, despite being out of contract at the end of the season, will surely be offered a new and improved long-term deal.
Abraham struggles to impress Thomas Tuchel | Marc Atkins / Getty Images
That style, and it has served Hammers so well in 2020/21, has been about structured defensive organization and direct, aggressive forward play. Successful when using three, four or five at the back, West Ham have found a way to get the best out of the players they have – but they too would be the first to admit that they are still heavily dependent on what Antonio, the club’s primary center forward, takes to the table.
That begs the question, would Abraham fit in as an alternative?
With a little help from WhoScored and FBRef, statistical digging has shown that the 23-year-old’s style of play is in some respects not that different from the striker West Ham sold, Haller, rather than the all-action Antonio.
By combining the 2019/20 season and the 2020/21 campaign to this point (Haller’s figures only including his time at West Ham, not Ajax), Abraham leads the way in goal and is a close second in minutes played. He has recorded 3,240 minutes in Premier League football, Antonio has 3,328 under his belt after battling hamstring niggles, while Haller played 3,188 minutes before leaving for Amsterdam.
The Chelsea striker also leads the way to 21 goals, Antonio has 17 and Haller tracks both by a considerable margin, after scoring just 10.
So what’s the problem?
Nothing when it comes to efficiency in goals. Abraham has had the most shots from the trio (119) and also has the best shots at the goal conversion rate (17.6%). But the devil in detail shows that it is the construction phase – perhaps because of who Abraham plays for – where he differs so much from Antonio.
The 30-year-old Antonio has averaged 4.5 dribbles per 90 minutes since the start of last season and has covered 4,799 meters with the ball at his feet. 2880 of these laps have come forward and account for 60% of the distance he has covered.
Abraham has on average only 1.5 dribbles per 90, the same as Haller, and has traveled only 2330 meters with the ball at his feet – a shadow over 200 meters less than the recently retired Ivorian. His progressive distance is marginally better than Ajax’s 20 million pounds, but he is 14% behind Antonio when it comes to moving forward with the ball.
It is precisely this aspect of Antono’s play that has made West Ham so successful. He comes short when needed, hits the ball when needed and also runs the channels until his hamstrings are ready to run. In addition, he has been the main attack outlet – before Lingard’s arrival – which relieves pressure when West Ham are deployed and has often been the source of leading counter-attacks; something that Abraham is obviously not used to doing.
Abraham scored against West Ham earlier in the season | CLIVE ROSE / Getty Images
This is not to say that Abraham cannot run the ball regularly, he has just not shown it at Chelsea because of the environment he is in. With the naked eye, he is more of a goalkeeper striker who relies on his predatory instincts; you just need to look at the numbers from his previous loan spells to show his qualities in front of the goal.
Antonio does not work quite the same way, his success is more the reward of out and out hard work and endeavor, as well as his continued desire to further learn the role of the center.
What Abraham will do, and it is really ironic because Haller was so often criticized for his obvious laziness, is to work hard. He has tried 582 pressures on an opponent since the beginning of last season, while Antonio uses his energy sparingly. His numbers stood at 526, while Haller – unbelievably – put up 770 pressure during his time at West Ham.
Moyes had to turn to Jarrod Bowen after Michail Antonio’s injury to Wolves | Pool / Getty Images
Admittedly, much of it will have come from Haller chasing other balls after competing for the ball in the air. He questioned a lot of 561 flight duels for West Ham – won 50.8% of them – while Abraham and Antonio barely beat that number together, probably because they are much more mobile and can connect games on the ground.
Of course, these are just statistics and statistics tell only one side of the story. But there is a method to every boss’ madness when they follow a striker, because they absolutely must match the player profile you want.
Abraham, from a number of points of view, is more like Haller in many ways, but there is little evidence to suggest that he could not be like Antonio, or something similar to his style. If anything, he could be an upgrade in many, many ways – and is certainly someone West Ham should keep an eye on in the coming months.
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