Allardyce's Hammers play just like Real Madrid and Barcelona… but not how you think
22:44 GMT, 2 October 2012
Take a look at these statistics and see whether you can spot a trend: Real Madrid 67. West Ham 65. Barcelona 59.
At first glance it is difficult to think of a single reason why Sam Allardyce's team could possibly be mentioned in the same sentence as two of the biggest clubs in world football.
Some would even say it is deeply offensive for Sam Allardyce's long-ball merchants to even be mentioned in the same breath as Jose Mourinho or Tito Vilanova's eye-catching teams.
Just like watching Barca: Allardyce's side were comfortable victors at Loftus Road
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After watching West Ham's impressive and stylish victory over QPR at Loftus Road from the halfway line on Monday night, it is easier to make sense of the numbers.
The figures above for the three teams represent the average number of long balls that the teams have played in their respective leagues this season.
For the purposes of this analysis, produced by Opta and freely available on the excellent website whoscored.com, any attempted pass which is 25 yards or more constitutes a long ball.
They are surprising figures, particular for two Spanish teams who pride themselves on short, incisive passing to slice through the opposition.
The purists will claim that Gerard Pique can change gear at will, picking out Lionel Messi and sending a ball from one half to the other with his superior skills.
The reality is that even Barcelona and Real Madrid, in times of trouble, will resort to the outlets up front and send something long for Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi to chase down.
Perhaps this is the reason that Allardyce, in an interview in September 2010 that brought much mirth and derision in football, claimed he could manage Real Madrid.
At the time he claimed he would walk
away with league titles year in, year out if he was given the chance to
manage one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
Even last weekend, Allardyce’s protests
continued in an extensive interview with the Observer, when he argued
for ‘winning football’ as opposed to ‘pretty passing’.
Aerial route: With strikers as big as Carroll and Cole it's understandable why they could favour the direct towards goal
His case is helped by the number of long balls his rivals in the Barclays Premier League are playing.
Liverpool, who are supposed to be taking the short passing game to another level under Brendan Rodgers, average 66 long balls every match.
These are the average number of long balls played, on average, this season by the teams who finished in the top four:
Champions Manchester City (54), Manchester United (56), Arsenal (49), Tottenham (61).
As for the rest of the Premier League, there are some eye-catching statistics among the other sides.
Newcastle (78), Everton (69), Reading (67), Wigan (67), Chelsea (65) Fulham (64), West Bromwich (64), Aston Villa (62), Sunderland (62), Norwich (60), QPR (59), Stoke (59), Swansea (55) and Southampton (51).
Pity Rodgers, Alan Pardew, David Moyes,
Brian McDermott, Roberto Martinez and Roberto Di Matteo when people
become aware of the statistics.
With the exception of Arsenal,
Southampton and Swansea, it would be easy to argue that the rest of the
Premier League is made up of hit and hope teams.
Facing facts: Real and Barca play The Beautiful Game – but aren't afraid of finding a long route out of trouble
Clearly that is not the case, with teams refining their systems to suit the demands of skilful players and a demanding public.
No manager likes negative Press, particularly Allardyce. Although he has strengthened the team for the Premier League, he has refined the pattern and style for the Hammers’ return to the top flight.
At Loftus Road they looked like an established Premier League team, pouncing on the defensive deficiencies of a team who are afraid to play at home.
Rangers are seizing up at Loftus Road, a legacy of their 5-0 opening day defeat against Swansea and their failure to win in the Premier League this season.
Allardyce has a specific system in place designed to hunt down the opposition and take advantage of teams who want to play The Beautiful Game, but play it badly. At this moment, QPR fall into that category.
The idea that Allardyce takes training at Chadwell Heath each day with full-backs launching endless long balls towards Andy Carroll or Carlton Cole is a myth.
Culture club: West Ham's pressing style of play paid dividends at Loftus Road
At the beginning of the week, his coaches Neil McDonald and Wally Downes take training and Allardyce has input from the sidelines.
They are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but they play small-sided, passing and pressing games to take time away from the players and put them under pressure.
As they build up towards matchday, Allardyce’s role becomes more prominent and he is heavily involved on the training pitches.
On Thursday and Friday, like most teams across the country, they practise set-pieces ahead of a Saturday fixture.
Even then, for a team tagged ‘long ball’, they have won only 50 per cent of their aerial duels this season.
Allardyce has always been prickly about the accusations that his teams know only one way to play, but he has adjusted to the demands of modern football.
At times they might kick it long, but on Monday night they joined the culture club.