Premier League
West Ham United 4 Leicester City 1

Monday, 23rd August 2021
by Chris Wilkerson

West Ham went top of the league this evening, winning their opening two games of a Premier League season for the first time since 1997 and taking a 4-1 victory.

In a dominant display, the Hammers controlled both the game and the visitors Leicester City, who were second best even before a first-half red card.


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With a full capacity for the first time since the pandemic started, the West Ham faithful were treated to a near perfect display.

David Moyes sent out an unchanged side for the first home game of the season, and after completing the double over the Foxes last season, there was optimism that this side could beat Brendan Rodgers?EUR(TM)s charges once more.

The game started slowly, with Leicester allowed the ball at the back, passing it back and forth across their own backline as the Hammers held their shape and waited for their moments to pounce.

Pounce being the operative word. It was almost like hunting, the trio behind Antonio eager to suddenly snatch the ball and spring the team forward. Whilst Leicester dominated possession, it was the hosts who carried the greater threat.

It worked throughout, and the manager Moyes should be given a lot of credit for playing Fornals centrally and Benrahma on the left for this game. It allowed the aggressive, snappy and hardworking - and clearly annoying - Spaniard to hassle the Leicester playmakers and force mistakes.

The game itself had little in the way of chances. It wasn?EUR(TM)t until the 25th minute that the goal was really threatened, and it was then that West Ham took the lead.

Declan Rice started the move, intercepting a lazy Vardy pass and instantly giving it forward for Bowen. The winger did excellently to slip it on to Fornals and then the move opened up. Fornals was brilliant, letting the ball roll across him to open up the space in the middle, carrying it well and using the outside of his boot to lay the ball in front of Benrahma down the left.


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The Algerian looked up and crossed first time, perfectly weighted into the path of Fornals who had held his run quite deliberately. He took it first time too, passing the ball into the far corner with his left foot and celebrating joyously as he gave his side the lead.

The goal was this West Ham side at it?EUR(TM)s best, in many ways. Hard work, defensive awareness and then the desire to spring into action once the ball is won. It?EUR(TM)s what makes this team one of the more likeable in West Ham history; they?EUR(TM)re not just good, they earn the right to play with tireless effort and determination.

From there, Moyes?EUR(TM)s men ran the game, almost unchallenged. Aside from one opening for the full back Pereira, who skied a chance when inside the box, Leicester offered little. A good side though they are, some teams just negate the qualities of their opponents and this West Ham team has a hold over Leicester at the moment.

Soucek and Dawson both headed wide with half chances, but the game really turned in West Ham?EUR(TM)s favour when VAR intervened to punish an Ayoze Perez challenge,

It was somewhat innocuous, but there?EUR(TM)s no doubt the tackle could easily have broken Fornals?EUR(TM)s ankle. It came from sloppy play, Schmeichel driving a low ball into the middle of the park for Perez to control. Under pressure from Cresswell, the forward mis-controlled and chased for the ball. As Fornals took it off him, Perez?EUR(TM)s foot stamped down on the ankle of Fornals, studs up and out of control.

The referee waved play on as Cresswell screamed at him in protest, but as the ball went out, Oliver put a finger to his ear and was eventually sent to the screen to watch replays of the incident. Perez was soon sent off, regardless of vociferous argument from the Leicester players. They looked even more ridiculous as the replay showed on the big screen and the whole crowd winced at the slow-motion replay of Fornals?EUR(TM)s ankle buckling under the stamp of Perez.

With five minutes to go until the end of the half, the team kept the ball nicely and moved it around to tire the Leicester players. The use of the ball was clever and patient, with the extra space often leaving a full back spare out wide. One such incident saw a cross to the back post for Antonio that the striker headed down so badly it nearly hit his own toes. Instead of a second goal going into the break, it came to half-time with the score still 1-0.

There were no changes at the break and the Hammers came out with confidence. The plan was clearly to keep the ball and move it around across the pitch to stretch the ten-men of Leicester.


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It worked a treat, and it cannot be denied that West Ham controlled the game with panache and skill that delighted the fans.
Leicester remained the side they are, with Vardy?EUR(TM)s pace always in a threat if he could be found. But the striker rarely was, the service poor and his team chasing shadows as the Hammers managed the game. The striker was eventually taken off with ten minutes remaining having only managed 19 touches of the ball, one less than Fabianski and the same as his red-carded teammate Perez achieved in just 40 minutes.

It is worth mentioning hear the dominance and control that Rice and Soucek had in midfield. The headlines will go to the exhilarating forward line, but the pair in the middle looked a level above their opponents and never under pressure.

With the pressure on, the second goal was eventually given to them after a defensive mistake by the abysmal Soyuncu.

Down the left side of his own area, he looked up to his goalkeeper, looked down to the ball and then passed. Where he passed might be where Schmeichel had been, but when he looked up this time he saw his pass rolling nicely to the feet of Michail Antonio.

Schmeichel was right there to pressure the forward, but Antonio kept his calm and deserves praise for the composure and class to pass across to Benrahma, who passed it into the back of the net past the defender standing hopelessly on the line.

It bears repeating, West Ham were excellent with and without the ball in front of a crowd that really backed the side. Antonio forced a great save, Cresswell came close with lovely volley and the attacking side of the pitch just smothered Leicester.

Rodgers reacted, sending on new signing Patson Daka, a very fast striker. They looked for long balls to counter, but found no joy as Ogbonna and Dawson used all their experience to cut out forward passes.

All until some lackadaisical defending allowed Leicester back into the game. What looked a non-threatening move down the left was uncharacteristically easy for the away side, with little pressure on the ball. A cross from the left fell at the feet of Tielemans, whose first shot was blocked excellently by Cresswell, but unfortunately for the Hammers the ball fell back to the midfielder and he reacted well to poke the ball in with 20 minutes to go.


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A little trepidation could be felt, the flowing football suddenly missing and Leicester looking enthused too. The crowd had their time, but soon came again in support of the side and slowly West Ham took over again.

As the confidence returned, the dominance did too. Dawson again headed wide, this time from a Rice cross. The England midfielder, criticised in the build-up by Gary Neville for being a somewhat limited midfielder, had started to purr. As he often does, Rice started to take the ball on and players on too, his stamina and skill carrying him where others started to fade.

Five minutes later, his ambition was rewarded. It was another mazy run down the left, but this time he drove in a low cross to the near post where Antonio was bullying the Leicester centre back once more.

As he received the ball, Antonio?EUR(TM)s touch was soft, he backed into the defender and then spun away, turning with the ball out of his feet and smashing it beyond Schmeichel from close range to become West Ham?EUR(TM)s leading Premier League goalscorer. Unsurprisingly, the celebration was unique, the number nine grabbing a cardboard cut-out of himself to celebrate with.

Any tension left the ground, the fans confident in their three points and revelling in the joy of this team and their record-breaking striker.
It got even better moments later when Antonio scored once more.

This time, the defenders both peeled away from the forward, and Antonio was ingenuous. With space, he flicked the ball over the defenders and beat them and the goalkeeper to it as he poked it into the back of the net with his studs. The initial cross came from Coufal and was another example of how West Ham moved the ball around well enough to give their wide players time and space to look up and pick players out.

With that, it was eight goals and top of the league for the Hammers, in first place thanks to a superior amount of goals scored. It was a David Moyes performance, made by the way he demands his team play. The players have bought in, seeing their hard work rewarded with wins and goals, and a trip to Europe too.

The thing that will strike us all in claret and blue would be that the joys of one season appear to be continuing into the next. This team genuinely look good. Take it in, but West Ham have consistency and a style that works.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Didn?EUR(TM)t have a chance on the goal and was not tested otherwise. As easy a night as he could have, other than the goal.


Vladimir Coufal
Wasn?EUR(TM)t tested defensively, provided a good outlet and some teasing crosses from the right flank.


Aaron Cresswell
No goal or assist this time out, but his passing was good, he offered an outlet constantly, was unlucky when blocking Tielemans?EUR(TM)s first shot too. More importantly, he pressed players well when up the pitch and it was his work that forced Perez into the mistake that led to his red card.


Craig Dawson
Whilst the defending for their goal was poor, it was not really down to the defence, more the gaps left by the midfield and attack. Threatening in the air from set pieces, he also made a couple of timely interventions that stopped attacks building. The centre backs managed Vardy very well.


Angelo Ogbonna
As above. Just a pair of smart and wily centre backs who knew what to do against Jamie Vardy and were disciplined in how they did it.


Declan Rice
It won?EUR(TM)t go as noticed as the attacking dominance, but Rice moved through that game like a special player. Controlled the midfield, making the most passes of any West Ham player. Has only misplaced two passes in the two games this season. He passed forward well too, which Gary Neville could do with noticing in his lazy analysis. Two crosses were very good, especially on his supposed weaker foot, and it was a deserved assist. The interception from Vardy was crucial in the first goal.


Tomas Soucek
Worked very well alongside Rice but was definitely the support act. Just calmly played his game, drifting around, playing simple passes, linking moves and then making his way into the area. Yet to carry the threat in the air that he did last year, but it is only two games.


Pablo Fornals
Covered the most distance of any Premier League player this weekend (12.3km): is anyone surprised. The intelligence and technique of the lad are matched with an endless work-rate. Moved centrally to disrupt the Leicester midfield, it worked perfectly. Lucky not to have his ankle broken by Perez, Fornals brushed himself down and carried on at the same level of intensity. The way he presses and harries opponents inspires his teammates too. He could be the best player West Ham have ever had in defending from the front.


Jarrod Bowen
Threatening down the flank and an absolute nightmare for anyone in a Leicester shirt who wanted possession of the ball down his flank. Fornals and he just buzz around and snap at the heels of their opponents and it is key to how we play. His corners are nearly all on the mark too, a big weapon in this side. Overshadowed by Fornals and Benrahma so far, but a massive part of that front four that is working so well as a fluid unit.


Said Benrahma
It?EUR(TM)s happening, Benrahma is clicking in this side and looks a star in the making. Oozed class throughout, took is goal brilliantly but even better was the perfect pass on his weaker foot to set up Fornals for the opener. The hints of Payet continue, and any areas he lacks in comparison are made up for with a growing work effort. Deserves the attention and praise he is bound to get, whilst Moyes deserves credit for how he has managed his introduction to the team.


Michail Antonio
Nearly a 9 ?EUR" Dirty Dancing homages will not be rewarded by me ?EUR" but the display was quite complete. Goals, an assist, two terrified centre backs and leading the line in a way that makes a mockery of those who still call him a winger. The number nine went top of West Ham?EUR(TM)s Premier League goalscoring charts, clear by two now, and he now has three assists and three goals in these opening two games. He may well be irreplaceable, worrying considering his fitness record and forthcoming games for Jamaica.



Substitutes

Mark Noble
(Replaced Antonio, 89) Another appearance added to the record.


Andriy Yarmolenko
(Replaced Benrahma, 89) Barely got a touch of the ball.


Alphonse Areola
Did not play.


Ryan Fredericks
Did not play.


Ben Johnson
Did not play.


Jamal Baptiste
Did not play.


Issa Diop
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Pablo Fornals 26 Said Benrahma 56 Michail Antonio 80 Michail Antonio 84            .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Pereira, Amartey, S?y?nc?, Thomas, Ndidi, Tielemans, Perez, Maddison (Soumar? 81), Barnes (Daka 64), Vardy (Iheanacho 81).

Subs not used: Ward, Castagne, Dewsbury-Hall, Choudhury, Praet, Albrighton.

Goals: Tielemans (70).

Booked: Pereira (71).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Michael Oliver.

Attendance: 59,901.

Man of the Match: Michail Antonio.