Lopetegui to West Ham: How might the new Irons boss set up his side?

Fresh reports this afternoon from the BBC have all but confirmed that Julen Lopetegui will be West Ham United’s new manager heading into next season.

David Moyes’ contract expires at the end of the current campaign, and the BBC report that former Wolves boss Lopetegui will take charge of the Hammers.

Though nothing is signed yet, the 57-year-old Spaniard will be West Ham manager next season. The Irons have opted for Lopetegui over other candidates such as Ruben Amorim, who reportedly turned down Liverpool for the West Ham job.

Julen Lopetegui to West Ham is imminent – Photo by Icon Sport

Lopetegui to West Ham: How did he set up at Wolves?

Julen Lopetegui has serious pedigree. The Spaniard has managed his nation from under-19 to senior level, Porto, Sevilla and even had a stint at Real Madrid. He reportedly turned down Bayern Munich to accept the Hammers’ proposal.

His most recent job in management, and his first outside the Iberian peninsula, came at Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

Wolves had courted Lopetegui for some time, but finally got their man in November 2022. The Black Country club were rock bottom of the Premier League, with just two wins.

Lopetegui’s spell in charge hauled them well clear of relegation, finishing 13th, despite limited resources. But due to the Spaniard’s concerns over the financial health of his employer, he made the decision to step down before this season began.

Lopetegui was very flexible at Wolves. He had common principles, such as preferring possession and short passing, but was unafraid to adapt for specific opponents and to mask his squad's deficiencies.

Wolves largely lined up in a lopsided 4-4-2 under Lopetegui. The left of the two strikers, often Matheus Cunha, would be tasked with drifting wide into the channels. The right striker, usually the ever-combative Diego Costa or Raul Jimenez would play as a more orthodox striker.

Matheus Nunes was excellent under Lopetegui – Photo by Icon Sport

Out wide, Lopetegui would generally select one tricky, traditional winger on the left, such as Pedro Neto and on the right was usually the then-star of the Wolves show, Matheus Nunes.

Nunes’ role allowed him more space to use his impressive ball-carrying, but Nelson Semedo’s overlaps from right-back meant that the Portuguese was never stuck out wide.

Ahead of a fairly orthodox back four, Lopetegui’s first choice midfield pairing was Mario Lemina and deep-lying playmaker Ruben Neves.

There are some West Ham players that look tailor-made for this kind of 4-4-2 system. Jarrod Bowen would thrive in a wide striking role, alongside Michail Antonio or a new striker.

Lucas Paqueta and Mohamed Kudus have already shown themselves to be an excellent lopsided wide pairing. Lopetegui would likely look to bring in a more technical central midfielder in such a system.

Paqueta and Bowen could benefit from Lopetegui's style – Photo by Icon Sport

Lopetegui to West Ham: How the Spaniard has fared elsewhere

Though Lopetegui’s Wolves spell is instructive, in that it shows us how he adapted to the unique demands of the Premier League, it is worth looking at how his spells closer to home have gone. 

West Ham are undoubtedly closer to previous employers Porto and Sevilla with regard to player quality, than the squad he inherited at Wolves were.

Looking at the big picture, Lopetegui’s stats are impressive. Since 2010, he has averaged 2.01 points per game, and during his 170 game tenure at Sevilla, only lost 36 matches.

Sevilla is another interesting case study. Lopetegui finished fourth in three consecutive seasons. He developed players such as Joules Kounde, Diego Carlos and Marcos Acuña along the way, and won the 2019/20 Europa League.

Jules Koundé thrived under Lopetegui – Photo by Icon Sport

His spell at Porto was even more focused on developing young players. Under his watch, a teenage Ruben Neves was made captain, Casemiro earned his European chops, Ricardo Pereira was brought in, and Alex Sandro became a top-class left-back.

At both clubs, Lopetegui played an attacking 4-3-3, with an emphasis on attacking full-backs providing width to allow wingers to cut inside and create havoc. Out of possession, he employed a very compact defensive block, high up the pitch. 

The Spaniard demanded quite a lot from his centre-backs, both with and without the ball. With the full-backs pushing on, they had to defend lots of space in transition, as well as taking more responsibility in build up. This would suit someone like Konstantinos Mavropanos very well, but perhaps not Kurt Zouma. 

Lopetegui’s set-up at West Ham will likely be between these two ways of playing. He can be more expansive than he was at Wolves, with West Ham’s squad at a higher level in their domestic and continental standing, but will still need to adapt from his Sevilla and Porto principles to make it ‘second time lucky' in the Premier League.

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William Evans

William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.