By J Hutcherson (Jan 2, 2020) US Soccer Players - It wasn't a surprise that West Ham United became the latest Premier League club to replace a manager. If anything, the timing was the only issue. In the middle of the crammed holiday schedule, the club decided Manuel Pellegrini was out and former manager David Moyes was in. That's what four losses in a row will do, even if Pellegrini's last loss in charge was against Leicester City. West Ham responded on the field with a 4-0 shutout of Bournemouth, the kind of "new manager bounce" that's an established ritual in English soccer.
West Ham is in 16th-place with 22 points. That's two points better than 18th-place Bournemouth. They have a clear and obvious way forward when their Premier League schedule resumes on January 10 at Sheffield United. Get something from games against teams in the lower half of the table and don't expect much against the upper half. It's abundantly clear that this isn't West Ham's season, and it's highly unlikely a break and an open transfer window is going to change that.
Moyes is the type of manager who can figure things out just enough to avoid disaster. So is Pellegrini, which will eventually beg the question why that 2-1 home loss to the club in 2nd-place in the Premier League was his finale. Pellegrini may have had plenty of chances in the mind of his bosses and the fans, but this is a club that will eventually need multiple transfer windows to turn itself around. That's difficult in a season where teams like Wolverhampton, Sheffield United, and Crystal Palace are in the top ten. All that does is add pressure to situations where the results don't match ambitions.
"I want the football to improve," Moyes said following the win over Bournemouth. "I've got a lot of work to do on the defensive stuff because I still feel we gave up a couple of chances that I didn't like. But we've been in for a day and a half and I can't take any credit for the result. I have to give it all to the players because their attitude today was good. I did say to them, 'I think you have got to show the supporters you care, you want to do something different and be better'."
With all due respect to shutting out Bournemouth, "different and better" will have to wait for a tougher opponent away from home. That doesn't mean listing West Ham's away dates with teams currently in contention for the Champions League spots. It means the expectation that this team can compete on the road against the teams most likely to cause them trouble in a potential relegation fight. That's West Ham's current situation underlined.
Moyes returning to West Ham happened days after Everton hired Carlo Ancelotti to replace Marco Silva. Since December 4, Everton had been under interim manager Duncan Ferguson. His emotional responses on the sideline helped fuel a resurgence following the 5-2 loss at Liverpool that resulted in Silva's exit. Ferguson's Everton beat Chelsea at home, drew away to Manchester United, exited the League Cup to Leicester City on penalties, and drew at home with Arsenal. Moyes was also reportedly under consideration for a return to Everton, with the job ultimately going to Ancelotti. His early returns are a 1-0 home win over Burnley, a 2-1 win at Newcastle, and a 2-1 loss at Manchester City. That run has Everton in 11th-place, top of three teams tied on 25 points.
The problem for both clubs is that this version of the Premier League table is easy with the flattery. Everton spent big on Ancelotti and will likely need to spend even more in the January window. They'll also need some help from the bigger clubs. If one of the stronger teams in the Premier League can destabilize a surprise contender, that has a knock-on effect across the table. Should Palace end up in a situation where the business outweighs performance and Wilfried Zaha leaves, that's good news for Everton three points behind them. That's the realistic take of the situation Everton is in rather than say expecting points against a club like Manchester City.
"Of course, we want to improve, but now is a period where we play a lot of games," Ancelotti said. "We have no possibility to train a lot. "We have to wait to have the possibility to train and to improve the quality of our play."
Switching from the Premier League to the FA Cup over the weekend isn't going to help. West Ham is at Gillingham where any slip will be a major problem. Everton is at Liverpool where the expected result against the Premier League leaders is the likely result. Both teams are in a situation where the new manager needs to have a clear understanding of how to balance expectation with the situation. The jobs they've taken didn't open up due to underperformance, at least not completely. These are both teams with the kind of flaws easily exploited.
This is an era in the Premier League and across Europe where younger coaches combined with analytics point to a different job description. That hasn't meant closing the door on the kind of older motivational managers that can turn a game with a halftime talk. Sticking with what worked or going with what's new are both risks, sizeable considering the money at stake in the Premier League. Any coach would look at West Ham or Everton as projects, with Ancelotti saying as much when he took his new job.
For both clubs, that's the clearest way forward. West Ham's expectations might be clearer right now than Everton's, but the end point is the same. Get the team in the conversation for Champions League spots as soon as possible. A look at the current top ten shows that doesn't necessarily take a complete overhaul of a Premier League level squad. It does take a clear understanding of the difference between what's working for those apparent overachievers and what isn't for their clubs. Figuring that out in real time is the job, full stop. That doesn't make it obvious for two teams where league position may be a long way from matching ambition.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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