With 11 games of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign elapsed, West Ham United are rubbing shoulders with the elite in third place, just three points behind leaders Chelsea. With Hammers fans dreaming of a Champions League spot or, better still, a title tilt, it’s important to look at why things have gone so right for David Moyes and his troops so far this term.
Cresswell’s first two seasons in a West Ham jersey earnt him a call-up to the England senior fold, and he eventually made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Spain in November 2016. However, he suffered a severe drop-off in form the following couple of years. In the last 18 months, Cresswell has started to recapture his confidence at both ends of the pitch, and this has proven to be a major factor in West Ham’s resurgence.
The fitness of Cresswell and Declan Rice are equally important this season
It’s a measure of how much Aaron Cresswell has become such an integral part of David Moyes’ system that he was substituted early along with star midfielder Declan Rice during the Hammers’ comfortable Europa League win over Belgian outfit Genk. The left-sided defender has proven himself adept at playing on the left of three centre halves, or as a conventional left back with carte blanche to bomb up and down the flank. Resting his legs for league matters underlined his importance to the team.
The effects of a Europa League campaign are certainly felt alongside the domestic campaign. Former Spurs boss Jose Mourinho was a firm believer in having to prioritise competitions and field weakened sides in the Carabao Cup to properly compete in the Premier League and Europa League. An academic study in 2020 found that players who get less than four days to recover between games experience an inability to run at the same levels of intensity as those with more than 96 hours of post-match recovery. For someone like Cresswell, whose ability to provide additional width on the left side has become a key weapon, rest and recovery is integral to the Liverpool-born man.
One of the main aspects of Cresswell’s game that attracted the Hammers to him as a youngster with Ipswich Town was his set piece delivery. Now aged 31, Cresswell has shown no signs of his dead balls becoming any less dangerous. In fact, since the start of the 2020/21 Premier League season, only three more players have created more chances from set plays than him – Brighton’s Pascal Gross, Man United’s Luke Shaw, and Chelsea’s Mason Mount. Cresswell is second in terms of Premier League set piece assists since the start of last season, with six to his name.
Although Cresswell’s natural ability from set pieces is undeniable, his impressive figures in the last 18 months owe much to the long hours put in at the training ground by United’s first team coaches Kevin Nolan and Paul Nevin. Nolan was a set-piece specialist in his own playing days, while Nevin is another highly regarded coach, having been part of Gareth Southgate’s England senior coaching staff in recent months.
Cresswell lucky not to be missing a host of Premier League games through suspension
Cresswell played a key role in West Ham’s recent 3-2 victory over Liverpool – a real statement victory against the former Premier League champions. However, he could and perhaps should have been sent off following a knee-high lunge on Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson. Reds boss Jurgen Klopp described it as a “reckless challenge”. However, the VAR Stuart Attwell deemed that Cresswell did not use the “required force or intensity” to deserve a sending off.
The decision is ultimately West Ham’s and Cresswell’s gain. Cresswell escapes an almost certain three-game ban, enabling him to feature against Wolves, Manchester City and Brighton – with the latter two some of the most in-form teams in the league at present.
With qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League all but assured, Moyes may consider resting Cresswell again for their clashes with Rapid Vienna and Dinamo Zagreb, particularly with eight Premier League games scheduled in a hectic December. Keeping ‘Cressy’ fit could be a ticket to European qualification once again for the Irons – and possibly even more so in 2022.