Alvarez, Ward-Prowse & Kudus: The New Look West Ham

West Ham

Declan Rice’s rise was meteoric. A ten-year career with the Hammers saw him rise from the ‘Academy of Football’ to the first team captaining the club and representing England at Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. 

His £105 million move to Arsenal meant David Moyes’ side was losing one of the best ball winners and – in recent seasons – ball carriers in the Premier League. As well as wearing the armband, Rice was crucial to Moyes’ hard-to-break down, physical defensive unit and progressing the ball quickly for a trademark counterattack.

Ask Spurs fans about what happened post-Gareth Bale, Liverpool fans what happened after Luis Suarez left, or (to a lesser extent maybe) Aston Villa supporters about Jack Grealish’s departure. Losing your best player can have a detrimental impact on a team, no matter how many signings you make to better the squad.

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However, in the early stages of this season, West Ham hasn’t faltered at all without Rice. In fact, they’ve merely kept the momentum that brought them a Europa Conference League trophy last season and look set to continue improving.

The key difference between those Bale and Suarez sagas and West Ham’s excellent start to 2023/24 is the quality of their recruitment. Instead of looking for a like-for-like replacement (which would be nearly impossible), or filling the squad Nottingham Forest style, they have concentrated their efforts on improving their midfield, particularly that fluidity between defence and attack that Rice was able to provide.

Edson Alvarez

Their first signing in that department was Edson Alvarez from Ajax. A former target for Chelsea (but who isn’t nowadays?), the Mexico international offers a strong presence as a holding midfielder, winning 200 duels in last season (the third highest in the Eredivisie) and ranking 15th for successful tackles in the Dutch top division. Impressive for a defensive-minded player in a team that dominates possession.

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Additionally, he managed 2.54 progressive carries and 7.76 progressive passes per 90, so he certainly offers the tenacity and bullishness to begin those all-important Moyesian counters from deep. Alvarez is also prolific from set pieces, which feeds perfectly into West Ham’s second midfield signing.

James Ward-Prowse

Possibly the best set-piece taker in the league, Ward-Prowse has endless quality from dead-ball situations. West Ham was the almost ideal destination for the Englishman given corners and free-kicks are such a large part of their goal threat. Or he can provide a direct goal-scoring opportunity from free kicks in particular. Something he’ll likely be keen to do since he’s two free-kick goals away from beating David Beckham’s record.

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Captaining Southampton from 2020 until he left for the capital, Ward-Prowse’s work ethic and stamina operated well in Ralph Hasenhüttl’s high-pressing heyday. His evolution into a box-to-box midfielder further fills the transitional gap left in Rice’s absence as he will be more advanced than Alvarez. And even in a struggling Saints side last year he had a knack for goals, chipping in with nine and often being the only bright spark in a dismal season.

Having filled the holding role and added a hard-working, progressive player in the midfield, the next focus was improving the end product after the industry in the middle of the pitch. Though there is talent there already in Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma and Lucas Paqueta, the addition of a more electrifying attacker could bring West Ham to the next level.


Mohammed Kudus

A quick No. 10 with mesmerising dribbling and an eye for goal, Kudus would, again, compliment a counterattack style but also add a physicality behind the striker, or even be able to play up top as an alternative to Michail Antonio or Danny Ings. Kudus attracted a number of suitors after a string of impressive performances in the Champions League and 2022 World Cup for Ajax (alongside Alvarez) and Ghana respectively, but West Ham was the lucky club in the end.

West Ham’s attacking midfielders (and forwards even) haven’t been very productive when it comes to goal-scoring, bar Bowen perhaps. Along with his physical, ball-glued-to-his-feet style dribbling, he has a shot-happy, clinical nature in front of goal. In 2022/23, he overperformed his 9.91xG by netting 11 Eredivisie goals in 17 matches and averaged 3.31 shots per game.

He certainly has the attributes to make it in the Premier League. Be it gliding/muscling past defenders or appearing in the final third as the finisher in waiting, Kudus could be exactly what West Ham have needed for a number of years. And if he’s anything like he was on my FIFA 22 Career Mode save at Barcelona, £38 million will be a steal.

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This is smart recruitment in action. Using funds to keep within the manager’s vision whilst also upgrading the level of the first eleven, rather than exhausting them on fancy buys without rhyme or reason. Moyes’ attempts to change to a more ‘attractive’, possession system didn’t warrant results last season. It’s clear that the more pragmatic way of playing works for them, which doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t go to a higher level.

These new additions and seven points from nine, with marquee victories over both Chelsea and Brighton, has shown there is not only light at the end of the Declan Rice-shaped tunnel for Moyes’ men, but there could be a new road to go down altogether.

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