West Ham and Everton meet tomorrow in the Premier League in similar positions.
While five places and six points separate them in the table ahead of Saturday’s fixture at the London Stadium there is plenty of common ground between the two sides.
The Hammers and the Toffees are the 18th and 19th richest clubs in the world respectively, according to Deloitte’s latest Football Money League, despite neither currently enjoying the financial rewards of playing in the Champions League or Europa League.
They are both established top-flight sides steeped in tradition and boasting large fanbases who have endured sustained periods of perceived underachievement.
The most recent stage of those poor results came to a head in December, when West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini and his Everton counterpart Marco Silva were both sacked.
That is where the comparisons end, however, because the following appointments have sent the two teams on different courses.
Safe pair of hands
With the threat of relegation looming large, West Ham, who had previously opted for the high-profile, high-expense option of Pellegrini, made a U-turn and called for David Moyes.
The man who had kept them from the drop just 19 months beforehand only to be deemed unworthy of a new deal was reinstated on an 18-month contract on 30 December.
Despite Moyes’s best efforts in his first press conference – “I’ve got the biggest win-rate out of a certain number of managers. That’s what I do: I win” – this was not a bold, progressive move. Instead it was one which bore the hallmarks of the West Ham hierarchy looking for a safe pair of hands to get them out of a mess.
Under Pellegrini the Hammers had gone soft. Their play lacked intensity. Players looked low on motivation as their poor run of form lengthened to two wins in 14 games across all competitions. The situation was drifting – and drifting towards the unthinkable of relegation.
Recruitment question marks
So in came Moyes and although there has been a 4-0 league win over out-of-form Bournemouth and a 2-0 win against Gillingham in the FA Cup it is too early to judge how much of a difference he has made. Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat by Sheffield United was most notable for the intricacies of the handball rule which denied Robert Snodgrass a late equaliser.
Since then one area of obvious weakness has been addressed, with Darren Randolph returning to the club for £4m from Middlesbrough this week to fill in for injured goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. Randolph hasn’t played since November but, after passing a drawn-out medical, he should replace David Martin, who was at fault for the only goal last weekend.
Although a solid shot-stopper is important, there are other issues to resolve. More is needed from West Ham’s three most expensive ever signings, Felipe Anderson, Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller.
The future of Declan Rice, the perennial fitness issues of Jack Wilshere and finding a long-term right-back are other items on Moyes’s to-do list.
On the face of it Everton’s hiring of Ancelotti, formerly of AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich among others, was the antithesis of West Ham’s move for Moyes: ambitious, aspirational, idealistic.
The Italian is not used to relegation battles. He has been brought in – at great expense – for what the Toffees’ hierarchy hope is a push towards greater things.
While Everton are 11th and just four points adrift of the top six, their project demands more. The club announced record losses of £111.9m in their accounts for the 2018-19 season, largely due to the lavish investment in players who are not performing.
Everton have a squad which contains seasoned internationals, England’s No1 goalkeeper, two former Barcelona players, a 2018 World Cup winner, a £50m Brazilian forward and a £45m playmaker. But so far owner Farhad Moshiri’s millions are not having their desired effect.
Unlike West Ham, though, there is a feeling Ancelotti has the pieces in place to trigger improvement. Although Everton signed 17-year-old defender Jarrad Branthwaite from Carlisle this week, the move isn’t likely to be a sign of more to come in the January transfer window.
Instead the new manager has been instructed to make the most of what he’s got. “The first team has to have a strong relationship with the academy,” Ancelotti said last week. “We have to work together to improve the players from the youth system.”
So while Everton may have the higher-profile manager, it is West Ham who have more cash at their disposal this month. They are two clubs of a similar stature, in a similar predicament, but implementing contrasting strategies.
Their success or failure will be judged over the coming months and years, but on Saturday we will see who comes out on top in the short term.