Pablo Fornals has been an ever-present player in David Moyes’ starting line-up at West Ham this season with the playmaker starting all but one of the Irons’ 17 Premier League fixtures.
In his 16 top-flight appearances, the former Villarreal attacker has scored two goals and supplied two assists. While those numbers don’t exactly spring up off the page, Fornals’ impact in the Hammers squad and improvement under Moyes has gone relatively under the radar.
There’s a reason why the 24-year-old has played so much for West Ham this season.
According to stats by WyScout, Fornals ranks joint-17th with Wilfried Zaha for the number of smart passes completed in the Premier League this season , while he comes in at seventh for the accuracy of smart passes [50%].
There’s been a marked improvement in the efficiency of Fornals’ passing over the course of this season compared to his debut year in London last time out.
Wyscout shows that while Fornals’ overall pass accuracy was better last term, as was his dribble success-rate, there’s been a huge improvement in the accuracy of both Fornals’ passes into the penalty area and his cross accuracy.
Fornals is finding team-mates less often in the attack but when he does, there’s a greater chance of him setting up a goal – or even scoring himself.
As you can see from the stats below, Fornals was averaging more shot assists per 90 minutes last term but his xA (expected assist) is higher this season.
Fornals is also seeing more of the ball inside the penalty area and firing more shots at goal himself.
We can see in a recent match just how good Fornals has been at finding West Ham team-mates inside the penalty area with his pass to Vladimir Coufal one of our favourites of the campaign.
When the Irons lost 3-1 to Manchester United at home last month, Fornals at least was able to provide us with a good example of the player he can be when he’s allowed to play in a free-role in the attack.
West Ham’s starting line-up suggests that Fornals starts as a left-winger more often than not but Arthur Masuaku and Aaron Cresswell’s dominance down the left allows the Spanish playmaker to drift inside, process the full picture of the attack and launch key passes into the box.
As you can see below, Masuaku finds himself in a compromised position. He’s been closely marked from behind and another Man United player is ready to track Cresswell.
Fornals spots this and drops back into the space behind him and allows Masuaku to play his way out of trouble by handing the ball to the 24-year-old.
By the time Fornals gets the ball, Man United’s defence and midfield hasn’t managed to fully keep up with what is happening over the other side of the pitch.
Coufal has acres of space to run into ahead of him and even though Fornals is surrounded by players, there is no one close enough to him to apply pressure.
Man United players weren’t handed the chance to close him down due to his clever backwards step away from the goal to get the pass from Masuaku.
With Fornals being Fornals, he found the pass to Coufal on the right-hand side of the penalty area.
By the time the ball touched Coufal’s right boot, Fornals was already charging into the penalty area. Unfortunately, the attack came to nothing but this is an example of what Fornals can do when he has time and space to process the game ahead of him.
Fornals’ vision and ball-playing ability is something that we cannot continue to underestimate.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on him in recent weeks and the role he plays in Moyes’ attack.
Let’s hope opposition players don’t start to keep as close an eye on him as well.
In other West Ham news, the Irons have reportedly made an approach for a Ligue 1 midfielder.