How the 'old guard' have revitalised West Ham, Everton and Crystal Palace
Pedro Obiang’s goal for West Ham against Tottenham on Thursday was a thing of beauty. Gathering the ball from 30 yards out, the midfielder took aim and unleashed a shot of improbable power towards the top corner of the home side’s net. It left goalkeeper Hugo Lloris hurling himself across his goal, but his efforts to keep the missile out were in vain.
No doubt, it was a goal of the season contender, yet it also stood at odds to the performance the Hammers turned in as they secured a valuable 1-1 draw at Wembley that has seen them continue their progress away from the relegation zone. West Ham were grim and gritty; their goal was a rare moment of beauty.
As spectacular as Obiang’s strike was, it is in complete contrast to the manner in which David Moyes has set about rejuvenating the club after a miserable start to the season that saw them start the season rooted to the foot of the table under Slaven Bilic.
Tellingly, Moyes is one-third of an old guard of managers who have all used a tried-and-trusted formula to reinvigorate ailing clubs.
A tale of 3 clubs
At Crystal Palace, Roy Hodgson has brought hope where for a long period, it appeared there was none, while Sam Allardyce has set about pulling Everton up the table after a shambolic start under Ronald Koeman left them in danger of going down.
All three clubs previously had managers who were eager to play football ‘the right way’. In a competition as fast-paced and competitive as the Premier League, that is no easy feat.
When a club like Manchester United is willing to adopt a pragmatic approach – even in the face of widespread complaints from supporters – it represents concrete evidence that playing quick, offensive football is not necessarily effective for teams of the very highest level, but only for sides designed to play that way.
While West Ham have a reputation of being a side that likes to play a passing brand, neither Palace nor Everton, who thrived for years under Moyes, have both been typically more pragmatic sides.
Hodgson and Allardyce are both, therefore, playing to their sides’ traditional strengths, while Moyes has given the Hammers the type of steel that they were previously lacking.
Similar ideas, different methods of execution
The blueprint for all three experienced coaches has been the same; build a strong defensive base and then progress from there.
It has been Moyes, perhaps, who has been most effective at doing this. Wildly criticised for his lack of success during an ill-fated spell at Manchester United, when he lacked both the quality in his squad that is now available and the means to strengthen, the Scot is rebuilding a damaged reputation that was further hit when he took charge of a miserable Sunderland side last year.
At the London Stadium, though, there was a strong whiff of underachievement this season and the Scot has been the man to act as a spark to get the team going again. After a slow start – three defeats in four – West Ham have lost only one of seven in the league, beat Chelsea, and very nearly, did the same to Spurs in midweek.
Allardyce’s task at Everton was perhaps a little more straightforward given the talent in his squad, but his back-to-basics approach has thus far paid dividends, despite a run of three straight losses in all competitions.
Prior to that, ‘Big Sam’ had not seen his side lose in seven, including draws against Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premier League.
The Toffees have simply started playing to the strengths of their squad and have ditched the ideals of Ronald Koeman.
Wayne Rooney personifies the change in the squad, netting six times in seven league appearances since Allardyce’s arrival, albeit for the first of which, the ex-Bolton boss was not officially in charge.
For the first time in months, the former England captain finds himself playing under a manager who is ready to install his faith in him, and he is reaping the benefit.
Meanwhile, at Selhurst Park, Hodgson was left with what was simultaneously the hardest and easiest of the three jobs. It was the easiest because Palace were so bad in the four matches they played under Frank de Boer that they simply could not get any worse, but the hardest, because the pit they were in appeared so great.
Seven Premier League matches passed without a goal, but when they returned from the October international break, apparently already consigned to the Championship, they shocked Chelsea 2-1. Since then, only Newcastle and Arsenal have beaten them, and while they are not out of the woods by any means, they are grinding their way up the table.
Again, their veteran manager has appreciated that fancy football was not the way forward; what was key was playing to the team’s strengths – something they are continuing to do.
Trust in the 'Old Guard'
Three months ago, it was difficult to see Everton, Palace and West Ham not being involved in a relegation scrap, yet all three are going into January out of the relegation zone and with their momentum moving in the correct direction.
Scorn may be cast upon the Premier League’s ‘Old Guard’ of managers, but they have shown there is still plenty of life left in them when it comes to firefighting roles. Unlike Obiang’s strike, they may not be spectacular, but more often than not, they get results.