Player by Player Analysis: Aston Villa 0-1 West Ham Utd

West Ham ground out their first win of the season at Villa Park on Sunday thanks to a deflected Pablo Fornals long shot and an otherwise resolute defensive display.

The frailties of recent performances disappeared with a switch back to a solid back five system that lacked any kind of creative spark but blocked the central spaces effectively for Steven Gerrard’s team and, in second half substitute Saïd Benrahma, David Moyes found the necessary enthusiasm and effervescence to turn the game with one goal enough to take the points.

Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski (6) But for a couple of simple gathers from long range efforts, Fabianski was completely untroubled and largely uninvolved in the match.

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Ben Johnson (8) It was a huge shame to see Ben Johnson come off with a hamstring injury in the first half after a positive start to the season while shifting into various positions across the backline. Starting at wing-back on Sunday, Johnson offered the necessary pressing energy to impede Lucas Digne’s progress and set the tone early in the match, alongside Tomáš Souček, as Moyes’ side got after their opponents in an attempt to unsettle them.

Thilo Kehrer (7) A very one-dimensional Aston Villa side found themselves constantly attempting to progress down their left flank and Kehrer impressed on the right side of a back three in a first half where he was tasked with dealing with most of the opposition threat. Switched to the left side of a partnership with Kurt Zouma in a four at half-time, the German was far less involved in the second half.

Kurt Zouma (8) After a couple of vaguely worrying performances so far this season, we saw Zouma back at his best on Sunday. The Frenchman was outstanding in the second half as Digne careered up and down Villa’s left side and swung cross after cross into the box only to see them all come flying right back out off Zouma’s head. His proactive play in carrying the ball out of defence drew both Ollie Watkins and Emi Buendia away from Declan Rice and provided the time for the pass that made the goal.

Aaron Cresswell (6) Cresswell was completely untroubled as a left centre-half in the first half as Villa funnelled everything down the other side of the pitch and then struggled slightly in the final few 15 minutes as the pressure on his flank increased after Leon Bailey’s introduction. His progression output was crucial as ever and hopefully the slight injury he sustained towards the end of the match won’t affect his availability for the big matches coming up this week.

Emerson Palmieri (6) Making his debut after signing from Chelsea for approximately £14m, Emerson looked a little bit tentative on the left of a back five that never really showed the necessary aggression to become a back three in possession. With time he will learn that Cresswell doesn’t need his assistance deeper in the side while on the ball and he’ll hopefully be able to take up some more aggressive attacking positions. Moyes will have been pleased with some of the defensive skills the Italian showed but it was unsurprising to see him hooked at half-time as the manager opted for a change of system.

Tomáš Souček (7) If not for a final ten minutes where he really lost himself, this was a strong performance from Soucek. The Czech recorded the joint highest number of pressures in the match (23), albeit with relatively poor success (13%), and showed some good anticipation and movement between the lines to combine positively with teammates in forward areas. This was an industrious showing in exactly the kind of battling effort away from home that suits him down to the ground.

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Declan Rice (6) “A game of two halves” is a horrifically overused cliche in football but there’s no other way to describe a Declan Rice performance that contained an utterly insipid first half that lacked any energy, enthusiasm or quality, and an inspired second half where he took control of the midfield and drove his team to victory. It’s been a strange start to the season but West Ham’s form will undoubtedly recover if Rice can perform to the level he did for the final 30 on Sunday.

Pablo Fornals (7) It’s hard to give Fornals much credit for the goal as his long-ranger looped up off Ezri Konsa over Emiliano Martínez and into the back of the net but this was just reward for the Spaniard’s stubbornness in continually trying to make something happen for his team. Although there were far too many cheap giveaways and misplaced passes from Fornals on Sunday, he was the only player trying to make something happen for long stretches and his insistence on trying to break lines and play forwards was key to eventually energising the team and creating positive moments in attack.

Jarrod Bowen (5) This was another misfiring performance from Bowen that lacked the kind of quality on the ball that we saw so often last season. He should’ve scored or squared to Benrahma when played through by Fornals early in the second half but Cash’s exceptional recovery challenge is deserving of credit. Despite his struggles in attack, we have seen a return to form with his off-ball work in recent weeks and he matched the most pressures on the pitch on Sunday (23) with a respectable 26% success alongside five tackles and interceptions (joint highest).

Gianluca Scamacca (5) As we’ve repeatedly mentioned on Analytics United, the team has to be ready for Scamacca as much as Scamacca has to be ready himself. This was another game in which West Ham resorted to a more limited counter-attacking style and couldn’t best support their new Italian frontman. He cut an isolated figure for most of the 65 minutes he was on the pitch and the team performance significantly improved when partnered with the more familiar presence of Michail Antonio up top.

Vladimir Coufal (7) Replacing Johnson midway through the first half, Coufal again failed to bring any composure in possession – underlined by his 56.3% passing accuracy. It has been far too easy to press the Czech right-back for an extended period of time now and his nervousness on the ball does nothing to help settle the team into this season’s attempt to control possession better. However, his ball-carrying on the right was crucial to the attacking intent we saw in the second half as he progressed the ball 88 yards further than anyone else despite playing 23 minutes less. And his titanic defensive work in the final ten minutes, which included a crucial interception to stop Jacob Ramsey from racing into the box with a few minutes to go, deserves credit.

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Said Benrahma (9) An outstanding second half substitute performance from Benrahma that contained all of the necessary energy to inspire his teammates to take control of the match. He lacked accuracy at times and made a couple of frightening defensive errors but his tireless work across the frontline was excellent. Boubacar Kamara ran the game in the first half from the base of Villa’s midfield diamond but Benrahma’s constant movement between the lines dragged Kamara out of the spaces in which he had been so effective and created vital extra seconds on the ball for teammates. He’s not a brilliant defensive option from the number ten position but he does offer something completely different to Fornals and Manuel Lanzini in making far more runs to the flanks and beyond the striker. An excellent substitute performance to continue his brilliant individual form.

Michail Antonio (9) Wow – what an impact off the bench! Add in a goal and this would’ve been the first 10 of the season from Antonio who came on with 25 minutes to go and completely spun the game in West Ham’s favour. Where Scamacca had been outnumbered or not quite mobile enough to escape from pressure when the ball was lumped up to him, Antonio showed a whole lot of additional aggression and speed while bumping players out of his path, carrying the ball out of pressure and playing teammates through. This was a genuinely impeccable showing from the bench that combined off-ball intensity with several pressures forcing turnovers, defensive diligence with vital headers and clearances in stoppage time, and constant chance creation in attack. When the team is dysfunctional, Antonio’s provision of chaos just makes things happen.

Aston Villa: Martínez (6), Cash (7), Konsa (6), Chambers (7), Digne (7), Luiz (6), Kamara (8), McGinn (8), Coutinho (7), Watkins (6), Ings (5); Buendía (8), Ramsey (6).

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