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When Andriy Yarmolenko was added to West Ham United’s list of new signings for the 2018/19 season, their supporters bombarded social media with a mixture of messages ranging from the incredulous and celebratory through to open-mouthed emoji shock.
Not yet attuned to the rigours of the Premier League and everything that England has to offer, including the odd inhospitable welcome from uncompromising opponents, he does nevertheless arrive with some pedigree.
Back in his homeland, he’s been known as the “next Shevchenko” for the best part of a decade and is one of the country’s most popular players.
Ukrainian Player of the Year in four of the last five seasons, he’s odds-on to receive the accolade again, and at 28 years of age, he should now be in his footballing prime and getting even better.
It’s certainly the right age for him to try and crack the toughest league in the world.
Handed a four-year contract by the Hammers, it’s clear his new club see his impact as being long-term, and given his relative failure at Borussia Dortmund, perhaps Manuel Pellegrini and Co. will find their purpose is better served by judging him over a 12-18 month period rather than the first six.
Many is the time that a foreign player has taken time to settle for a variety of factors. Not least trying to learn a new language, getting to understand the cultural norms and generally ‘fitting in.’
Though the team have moved away from it at various stages, the ‘West Ham way’ is clearly defined.
Keep the ball on the deck, accurate short or long passing, give 100 per cent . . . and entertain.
That’ll be the sum total of the brief from the stands in any event. A wide man that can beat his opponent on a consistent basis will be taken to the bosom of the east London massive in a heartbeat.
It’s predominantly why Michail Antonio was so popular. Not prolific on the goal-scoring front, with just three in 21 league appearances (including five as sub), he did at least average 2.4 successful dribbles per game.
Essentially, what he lacked in execution, he more than made up for in effort and endeavour. And boy do they love a trier in that part of the world.
In roughly the same time frame at Dortmund (17 appearances, seven as sub), Yarmolenko also scored three but was significantly poorer in his dribbling output, managing just 0.9 on average per match.
That’s still a significant upgrade on Pablo Zabaleta, who was played in the position as a stop gap at the end of last season when Antonio was injured and suspended.
As a starting point, Pellegrini will insist the Ukrainian gets back to doing what he does best, but which was lacking during his stint in Germany. When at Dynamo Kiev, for example, Yarmolenko consistently had a dribbling success rate of almost three per game.
Goals will need to be his currency, but it’s difficult to see that he’ll match his ratio at Kiev of almost one in every two (99 goals in 228 games, 27 as sub).
Intelligence in play isn’t something that, with respect, one would associate with Antonio.
More a workaholic than a creator supreme, his key passing stats of 0.7 per match are a chief reason why so little of West Ham’s attacks down the right side were successful.
Furthermore, with only 18.3 passes per game and a paltry 67.8 percent completion rate, it’s understandable why Pellegrini has looked to strengthen there.
Yarmolenko can at least boast a creditable 1.6 key passes per 90 minutes, 22.2 passes on average and with a successful completion rate of 78.5 percent.
In truth, it’s still not outstanding, but assuming he maintains his consistency, it’s better than what West Ham have been used to.
A key feature of the way the Hammers’ play has been for their wide men to get to the byline whenever possible and ideally connect with the man at the back post. A header or a shot back across goal will force a save at worst, allowing those in close proximity to pick up the pieces.
It’s a tactic that goes way back to the 1960s and the Ron Greenwood ‘simplicity is genius’ days, and though Pellegrini will have his own ideas, complete ignorance of what has become the bread and butter won’t win him many friends.
With both Antonio and Yarmolenko posting figures in 2017/18 of 0.6 successful crosses per game, it’s an area the Ukrainian can work on.
Having said that, he does differ significantly from his contemporary in that the former enjoys a footrace down the channel, taking his opponent on predominantly round the outside.
Yarmolenko is also quick, but his preference is to cut inside his man whenever possible and unleash venomous shots with his favoured left foot.
The Ukrainian just shades Antonio in the tackling stakes, with 0.9 per match compared to 0.7.
As might be expected, the latter is busier when it comes to interceptions with 0.6 per match over Yarmolenko’s 0.4.
Given that Zabaleta was predominantly the right-back for much of last season, it’s wholly unfair to use his 2.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game as the yard stick.
Looking at Yarmolenko’s highlight reels, it’s understandable why West Ham fans are excited, and he does offer enough in an attacking sense to at least give himself a honeymoon period.
But they’re a tough bunch to please at the London Stadium, and they’ll let their new signing know if he’s not pulling his weight.
The likelihood is that he’ll have to get used to playing with more emphasis on defensive aspects, but given he is hungry to prove that his time in Germany was just a blip, it’s possible that Pellegrini may have done some decent business.