Premier League
Watford 1 West Ham United 3

Saturday, 24th August 2019
by Chris Wilkerson

West Ham United earned their first three points of the season and their first August victory in three years as the Hammers ran out 3-1 winners at Vicarage Road.

In a wide open game that went off at a pace from the first second and rarely relented, Manuel Pellegrini's men had the more clinical touch to win a chaotic affair.

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The side saw four changes, with Noble and Yarmolenko in for their first starts of the season, whilst Haller and Anderson returned to the side with Wilshere, Fornals, Hernandez and Snodgrass dropping out.

Anyone late to their seats was for once punished. No sooner than Watford had had an attack thwarted inside the box by a timely intervention from Ryan Fredericks than West Ham had stormed down the other end to create an opening of their own.

On that counter, Anderson fed Haller in behind. The Frenchman hadn't the pace to run away from the defence, but he is a man of more than just physical stature. Once inside the box, his intelligence was on full display as he turned and played it wonderfully across the face of goal to Lanzini.

It looked the chance had escape Lanzini, but as he turned away from goal and dribbled through the crowded box, clearly awaiting a challenge. Doucoure clumsily gave him what he was after, throwing a leg at him and taking the Argentine down to the ground.

With 90 seconds to gather his thoughts as the penalty was checked, it was Mark Noble who stepped up on his first game of the season, 15 years to the day since his debut for the club. Never flustered, the captain stroked the ball into the corner as goalkeeper Ben Foster flew in the other direction.

It puts Noble four goals behind Paolo Di Canio as the club's top Premier League goalscorer, a record he will continue to eye up as he resumes penalty taking duties.

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The tone for the game was set from here and chances were aplenty. In a game with 39 shots, dissecting each of them is a fool's errand. Inaccuracy in front of goal was more than often on display, and the lack of quality in front of goal, combined with no intention from either side to defend, served up an exciting game. .

Ten minutes in and there could have been four or five goals, with Deulofeu and Lanzini coming closest for their respective sides. A chance at one end was one second quickly missed, and often it was immediately a chance for the other side to counter.

This was the story of Watford's equaliser. As Haller, Anderson, Yarmolenko and Lanzini saw an attack in the Watford box falter, not one of the quartet turned to get back. Inability to defend the transition gave Watford a free path to attack West Ham's box. With numbers short and spread, Hughes had time on the edge of the box to slide in Andre Gray, who got in round the side of his centre back and drove in a powerful finish for 1-1 at 16 minutes.

Question after question will be asked about the best composition of this side, with players and formations to be discussed, but little can be done for a team who refuse to track back after an attack.

With Ogbonna defending stoutly in the air, the away side survived a corner bombardment in a half that ended with ten corners.

And as it came closer to its end, both sides missed glorious chances to take the lead.

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First Doucoure, bursting into the box and meeting a cross from the right hand side, only to meet the ball with a poor connection and then see his header hit the desperate flying body of Fredericks.

A minute later, Anderson darted to the front post to meet a Lanzini corner, only to see his cross goal header hit the base of the post and avert the waiting Andriy Yarmolenko, who likely could have poked the initial header in. His indecision reflected a half in which he lacked sharpness.

It came to half time with the sides even, a fair reflection of a wild 45 minutes. For West Ham, Pellegrini was left to ponder the gaps in midfield and defence, whilst wondering whether Yarmolenko's better control of the ball and his passing was worth losing out on the more untamed physicality and pace of Antonio down the right flank.

Coming out for the second half, the game changed little.

As both sides frenetically went about their games, Will Hughes soon failed to change the course of the game in a way that both sides can look back at and see where things were decided.

The persistently threatening Gerard Deulofeu played Andre Gray in behind the defence once more, only for Fabianski to fly out of his goal to close down the Englishman. Gray had the balance and poise to round him, but was forced wide. As he played it back across the face of goal, Hughes met the ball a mere yard or two from the line, but his connection only sliced an easy chance behind the open net.

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It would go on to define Watford's game, one full of promise but very little reward. To have 23 shots and only manage to get three on target speaks volumes to how their day went.

As West Ham were given that reprieve, Pellegrini took Yarmolenko and introduced Michail Antonio. To simplify matters, it was a substitution that won the game.

Within seconds of being on, Antonio was in one-on-one with Foster, fed in behind by a wonderful Noble pass inside his own half. The pace and direct running showed immediate signs of troubling Watford, and it was only Antonio's heavy touches that gave Foster the chance to stop him.

Moments later, Fredericks wasted a good counter attack with hesitancy, again fed by the forward passing of Noble from deep, and a new pattern of attack for West Ham emerged as Watford tried to force a winner.

All that did was allow space for Antonio and Anderson to play, the latter coming alive as tired legs struggled in the heat.

With Antonio causing issues across the defence, the first yellow card of the game came out as he was scythed down by Holebas on the right flank just passed the hour mark.

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The freekick itself was harmless, but Watford never turned it over to take control of the ball. With it now down the left flank, Masuaku and Haller combined to give Anderson the ball.

The Brazilian's class told. As Haller span away to get into the box, Anderson knocked it between defenders and waltzed into the area unopposed. With the composure and confidence Watford lacked, the winger looked up and stroked the ball across goal into the path of Haller, who gratefully tapped in an easy chance from six yards to get his first goal in English football.

As Watford desperately pushed on, at one point helped by as poor a backpass as a fan may ever see when Fredericks appeared to lose his mind, the space afforded to West Ham counters was soon too much.

After Anderson found himself in space and crossed beautifully for Antonio to fling himself in the air and head at goal, the save led to the corner that ended the contest.

Lanzini delivered once more and Antonio flung himself once more at the ball, his header excellently saved by Foster. Unfortunately for him, it dropped down off the crossbar, evading a desperate lunge by a Watford defender and then smartly turned into the goal by the Frenchman Haller, allowing the ball to drop over his shoulder and applying a perfect overhead kick to get his name on the scoresheet once more.

From there, Watford fizzled out, their momentum gone and their hope faded.

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The game drifted to a finish from there, with a couple of half chances for Watford amounting to nothing before the final whistle blew.

Four points from the opening three games looks a satisfactory start for the Irons, especially with one of those Manchester City and the other two away from home, and definitely when compared to last year's pointless opening four.

Their remain questions for Pellegrini to answer.

Does that midfield offer better balance or is it unfair to judge Wilshere on performances against City and Brighton, compared to a Watford side on zero points?

What of the use of Antonio? He continues to be key to getting support to Haller, and allowed Lanzini to drop deeper and help the midfield, but the manager could argue that his pace and direct running was a good strategy to introduce from the bench as defenders tired.

What will cheer him is the performance of Haller, in particular, who again kept the ball when isolated and also showed predatory instincts amongst the class of touch apparent in the opening day defeat.

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But this game could have been very different, with both teams creating a number of openings and a Will Hughes miss a real Sliding Doors moment. It's worth noting that both sides' expected goal totals were higher than Liverpool today, and they cut through Arsenal often.

At the very least, next week should be much the same, with Norwich clearly intent on just attacking their way through this division, whatever the cost.

Fasten your seatbelts.

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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Commanded his box well, did well with most of what he could do, a lot of Watford's shooting was wayward.


Ryan Fredericks
Not his best display on the ball. Loose back pass the most notable, but seemed to want to be rid of the ball quickly once in attacking positions, giving responsibility away.


Arthur Masuaku
Was exposed often by lack of work ahead of him, but got into the game at both ends. Neat passing, as ever.


Issa Diop
The centre back pairing came good today. Watford did create openings, but a lot of that was down to just how open things were in the middle. Made some great interceptions.


Angelo Ogbonna
Commanding in the air and did a couple of the ugly things that a real centre back will need to do from time to time.


Declan Rice
His defensive display was good, winning battles often and taking the ball out of deep midfield with comfort. A few loose passes in there.


Mark Noble
The game was filled with chaos, but Noble cut through it. Whilst the midfield was sometimes lost in a wild game, his abilities as a captain and leader often offset any deficiencies in his individual game. The four forward men will not have gone quietly back to their spots after Watford scored, Noble will ensure a discipline and level of standards. His forward passing was very good in the second half and stroked in his penalty in customary fashion.


Felipe Anderson
Very weak off the ball at times, but when the game stretched in the second half, Watford couldn't contain him.


Manuel Lanzini
Dictated what West Ham did well in the first half. Quieter in the second half, although set piece delivery was good.


Andriy Yarmolenko
Can see why Pellegrini would like him, he is a better passer than Antonio and his height does make him an aerial threat. Wasn't awful, just lacked sharpness and his lack of pace was notable at times. Signs of something better to come.


Sebastien Haller
His link play was excellent, held up the ball well and wasn't bullied by some very physical stuff in the Watford backline. Deserved his goals, one of which was earned by getting in the right place, the other some fantastic ingenuity, foreshadowed in the first half with the audacious and acrobatic mid-air backheel.



Substitutes

Michail Antonio
(Replaced Yarmolenko) Made a huge difference. Pace and power, direct running and the man who gets around and beyond Haller, which makes his game more effective.


Pablo Fornals
(Replaced Anderson) Quietly into the game late on to little impact.


Carlos Sanchez
(Replaced Lanzini) Did nothing of note with his few minutes on the field.


Roberto Jimenez Gago
Did not play.


Pablo Zabaleta
Did not play.


Fabian Balbuena
Did not play.


Albian Ajeti
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko, Sebastien Haller.

Goals: Mark Noble 2 Sebastien Haller 64 Sebastien Haller 73              .

Booked: Angelo Ogbonna 76          .

Sent off: None.

Watford: Foster, Femenia, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas, Doucoure, Capoue, Cleverley (Quina 86), Hughes (Sarr 74), Deulofeu (Welbeck 74), Gray.

Subs not used: Gomes, Janmaat, Chalobah, Kabasele.

Goals: Gray (17).

Booked: Holebas (63).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Chris Kavanagh.

Attendance: 20,035.

Man of the Match: Michail Antonio.