The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer investigates why West Ham players suffer most, by a staggering margin, from fouls.
There has been a lot of noise from Manchester city about the rough treatment their hugely expensively assembled Galacticos attract. Guardiola appealed to Referees to protect his stars whilst both Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva complained of butchery and targeted violence.
Whilst city has endured their share of injuries it is a pale shadow of the squad shattering injuries West ham have endured. The FA Cup squads West Ham prepared only had a passing resemblance to a Premier league outfit. These injuries, including Carroll’s fractured ankle, suggested that they may be attracting as much, if not more, rough play.
Fascinatingly this theory was born out by the BBC’s investigation into City’s claims of fouling martyrdom. Using Opta statistics the BBC compiled a League Table of the teams suffering most. City’s claim for targetted treatment was not born out. The Table is reproduced below.
Pos Team Fouled against
1. West Ham 324
2. Bournemouth 291
3. Man UT 287
4. Chelsea 280
4. Burnley 280
6. Crystal Palace 276
7. Tottenham 275
7. Swansea 275
9. Watford 269
10. Stoke 267
11. Southampton 261
12. Man City 258
13. Arsenal 257
14. Newcastle 255
15. Huddersfield 253
16. West Brom 247
17. Everton 242
18. Leicester 236
19. Liverpool 207
20. Brighton 195
Whilst statistics can invite as many questions as they answer, these figures are dramatic. Teams are not all of a muchness and there is extensive variation in records. West Ham is not only the most fouled against team, they attract more fouls by a comparatively massive margin. West Ham in first place suffers 33 more fouls than Bournemouth in second. This is easily the biggest gap between teams. In contrast Bournemouth leads a pack of clubs with very similar records. They have attracted only 4 more fouls than Manchester United, whilst Chelsea is only 7 further behind. In fact the gap between West Ham and the rest is startling. To reproduce the gap between West ham and Bournemouth you would have to cover the records of a further 10 PL Clubs, ironically then you would arrive at Manchester city who suffer a paltry 258 fouls, a huge 66 fouls less than West Ham. city are in fact very average in this table of suffering, alongside Arsenal, another complainant despite these statistics. Liverpool who also make similar complaints suffer a staggering 117 less fouls than West ham.
This table gives insight into why West Ham are also consistently high in the injuries table. There is a widespread myth that match impact injuries are cleanly separated from muscle strains. This leads to the inaccurate belief that West ham’s strain injuries must solely realate to poor training conditions. In fact muscle strains can be just as related to match trauma, uncontrolled forced falling, the wear and tear of consistent rough treatment and the direct impact of muscle weakening impact. I have personal experience of this. For the last 2 years I have a history of hamstring problems. This arose initially after a silent electric car, undetectable to a Blind person, pulled out to strike me whilst I was crossing the road. THE UNPREPARED FALL CAUSED ME TO PULL MY HAMSTRING. West Ham players endure these forced, uncontrolled falls more than any other in the League.
These bald facts cannot be ignored. They can of course always be qualified and refined. Fouls could be graded in terms of seriousness; they could be graded in terms of where they occur on the pitch. However these margins alone insist opponents deploy a premeditated fouling tactic. The sheer torrential volume of fouls West Ham suffer require some explanation.
Theory 1. – The High Press
I believe it has been a conventional wisdom that it is possible to dominate West Ham with a high press and encamp them in their own half. Watford attempted this last weekend. Such an approach has the advantage of forcing defensive mistakes in vulnerable areas, certainly a feature of our earlier season form. Of course the risk of the high press is that teams are vulnerable if they lose possession. The recourse then is to foul as soon as possession is lost, if possible in a niggardly way which does not attract referees attention, if necessary, in a cynical way whilst high up the pitch to minimise any threat from the resulting free kick. The crucial aim is to break up play and allow midfield and defenders to recover, retreat, and prevent any break on their goal.
Theory 2. West Ham’s Main offensive Threat Comes from runners.
Theory 2 is connected to Theory 1. In the face of the high press West Ham rarely deploy intricate passing, instead relying on forceful runners to releive pressure. The main weapons in this regard have been Arthur Masuaku, Antonio when fit, and of course Marco Arnautovic. Lanzini is also likely to have attracted more brutal attention. it is a high probability that these players would figure most highly on any breakdown of most fouled against.
Theory 3- West Ham Midfield is Pedestrian
A more unflattering explanation is that it is relatively easy to foul West ham midfielders. This focusses on the sometimes slow play involving players such as Noble and possibly Obiang. These players are fouled more simply because they are easier to track. The run of injuries to other faster players would exacerbate this problem. There is no doubt that Noble becomes much more effective when able to release a pass to a player like Marco Arnautovic, Lanzini and more recently Mario.
So over to you. The facts are clear. Why do teams foul West Ham more than any other team?