When Sebastien Haller joined West Ham for a club-record fee in July 2019, his signing was meant to help usher in a new era for the Hammers.
Having finished in 10th place in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season, the club were looking to push on towards Europe. At a £45 million outlay, Haller was seen as the man to get them there.
After all, the Frenchman had just enjoyed a superb season at Frankfurt. His 15 goals in 29 Bundesliga appearances was an excellent return, but arguably even more impressive was his form in Europe. He formed a potent strike partnership with Luka Jovic. Haller netted five goals in 10 games as Frankfurt reached the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Things started well initially. After netting a brace in a 3-1 win over Watford on matchday three, he followed that up with his first goal at the London Stadium in a 2-0 win over Norwich.
Unfortunately for Haller, his goals – and West Ham’s form – were intermittent after that. After Pellegrini was sacked in December, the Frenchman only scored once for the rest of the season. That was despite starting the majority of games.
It was a similar story last season. And after three goals in 16 Premier League appearances – most of them starts – Haller was sold to Ajax last January. West Ham’s ownership believed he did not fit the template David Moyes wanted.
However, since joining Ajax, the forward has gone to a new level. His league form has been impressive, with 18 goals in 30 Eredivisie appearances since signing. But again, it is his European goal tally that has caught the eye. Prior to matchday four, no other player had scored more than the six Champions League goals Haller has struck this season.
What has changed for the Frenchman, who has gone from a West Ham struggler to a Champions League hitman for Ajax?
Shots on goal
One reason is that Haller is having more shots on goal during matches.
During his first season at West Ham, the Frenchman had, on average, 1.8 shots at goal per game in the Premier League (via WhoScored). That figure dips to 1.6 for last season.
At Ajax, however, Haller has had 3.4 shots per game in the Eredivisie this season – in the Champions League, that figure rises to 4.3.
Predatory inside the area
The above statistics can be placed into context when looking at how many shots Haller takes from inside the area. For Ajax this season, he has taken an average of 0.6 shots per game from inside the six-yard box, with 2.7 from inside the entire penalty area. That certainly is evidence of his predatory finishing ability from close range.
When it comes to the Champions League, three of the five goals scored by Haller have come from inside the six-yard box.
Against Sporting Lisbon on matchday one, Haller scored an incredible four times.
Whilst his first goal involved some luck, with the ball hitting the post before redirecting towards Haller’s path, the Frenchman was still in a position to head over the line.
His second goal came after he met Davy Klaasen’s cutback. He then showed excellent movement to get between the centre backs and poke the ball past the ‘keeper for his third, before producing similar movement, controlling the ball and finishing expertly for his fourth.
The perfect striker for Ajax’s style
For many years dating back to Rinus Michels and the ‘Total Football’ philosophy of the 1970s, Ajax have been known for their fluid playing style and comfort in possession.
When it comes to successful passes this season, three Ajax players make up the top five in the Eredivisie. According to FCTables, Erik ten Hag’s team has racked up an average of 66.73% of ball possession in their 11 games this season. That’s more than any other team in the division.
What Haller brings in this regard is a number of key attributes. His height – 6ft 3in – means he has the size and strength to hold up the ball and bring others into play.
But the big advantage is that he is mobile enough to charge into the box, move briskly between defenders and put the finishing touches on chances.
In the Eredivisie this season, Haller has completed 72.9% of his passes (via WhoScored). That is the highest figure he has recorded in a single season in his career. In the current Champions League, that figure rises to an impressive 86% per game.
With his goals and all-around impressive play, Haller has returned to form at Ajax in a big way.
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