West Ham aren’t in the most comfortable position currently. Manuel Pellegrini’s men are just a single point above the relegation zone and find themselves at 16th in the table. The pressure is on the Chilean and rightly so, the Hammers have won just one game out of their last ten games. While Pellegrini is failing, signings like Sebastien Haller are too.
But the failure of signing is sometimes never down to him. And such is certainly the case with Haller and even Pablo Fornals. Both are enduring a struggle, despite being very well regarded players before coming to London Stadium this past summer.
It is Haller’s case which is most interesting. The Frenchman was crucial getting Eintracht Frankfurt’s front three work efficiently last season. His arrival for a club-record fee was a cause for celebration. But the way his signing is panning out this season is a reflection of how West Ham never knew what they were getting out of him.
Before he came to England, Bundesliga expert Kevin Hatchard was full of praise for the Frenchman.
He told Talksport: “There has been a lot of talk about Luka Jovic going to Real Madrid and how important that is, but actually I think Haller leaving Frankfurt will do more damage to them than Jovic leaving because he is such an important focal point in their attack. I’m gobsmacked, quite frankly, that West Ham have been able to pull this off.”
At the Commerzbank Arena last season, Haller was operating in a 3-4-3 shape alongside Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic. Haller wasn’t a typical target man. In Adi Hutter’s possession-based football, he had to do a bit of everything. It was crucial to his overall development as a player.
Playing 29 games in all competitions, Haller had a tally of 15 goals and nine assists in the Bundesliga. In the Europa League, he played nine times and had a hand in eight goals in total.
He wasn’t the highest scorer- Jovic was. He was the lethal finisher in the side and played closer to the goal than Haller or Rebic.
Haller did win as many as 6.9 aerial duels per game in Bundesliga- highest in the league. But he also played 1.3 key-passes per game. He would also complete one dribble per game. Hutter was tapping into his completeness as a player and not just his aerial ability.
His tally of 12 assists in all competitions was the best of his career. Having two more narrow attackers was helping him use those playmaking abilities to very good effect.
At West Ham, he finds himself being used in a rather different way. Filipe Anderson hasn’t scored even once this season, racking up three assists only. Andriy Yarmolenko has one assist and three goals. The lack of form of these players isn’t helping the Hammers’ attack any bit.
For a player who was functioning in a dynamic and fluid front three, the other two firing is a minimum requirement. There is a feeling that Haller is a mere target man who can win aerial battles. Last season’s stats show that it isn’t the case.
This season, Haller has won 6.2 aerial duels per game- more than any other player in the league. That part of his approach is still there. But West Ham aren’t doing him favours by not using Fornals properly either.
He has been playing in every position possible. From the central midfield to the attacking midfield and the wings. Pellegrini doesn’t know what his position is. For Villarreal last season, Fornals was a regular in the number ten spot but could do a job elsewhere.
For the Spanish Under-21s this past summer, Fornals was a star in their win of the Under-21s European Championship. In an attacking system when Spain had a lot of possession, he was a number ten or a left-winger who could come inside. He contributed to three goals in five games.
And he was never a prolific scorer or assister. That is one aspect that he is yet to improve. Playing him in all sorts of positions will never help. And it helps no one, let alone him.
Before blaming the player, West Ham fans should bat an eye at how the club is using the new signings. They have shown immense quality before, but it can’t be a coincidence that both of them are struggling at the same time at the same club.