West Ham United 3 Sheffield United 0
Monday, 15th February 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
A dominant West Ham handled Sheffield United with some ease to take a comfortable 3-0 victory to go above Liverpool and back into the top four, however briefly. David Moyes's side passed the magical 40 point figure too, giving real belief that this side might not be able to get itself bizarrely relegated. Probably.With no striker to call on, Michail Antonio failing a fitness test, a fluid front two of Lingard and Bowen, ably supported by Manuel Lanzini, caused Sheffield United problems. But it was goals from elsewhere that confirmed the win, Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Ryan Fredericks all scoring to take three points for West Ham. At no point were West Ham scintillating, but they were always a class above.
There were four changes from the side that was knocked out of the cup the week before. A home debut for Jesse Lingard, a birthday start for Manuel Lanzini and chances for Issa Diop and Ben Johnson too in what looked a 3-4-3 system.
The team sheet read like Bowen may lead the line, but as the half went on, it became clearer that Moyes had replaced his striker with two players splitting wide to allow Lanzini to join them, not dissimilar to Sakho, Valencia and the support of Downing all those years ago.
It certainly led to entertaining passages of play up front, especially on the counter where the trio looked dangerous. Yet it wasn?EUR(TM)t an otherwise promising half for either side. Sheffield United passed well, but rarely looked dangerous, whilst West Ham were struggling to find fluency.
They did look to have a penalty early on. Rice took responsibility for a freekick on the edge of the box, powering in a low drive that Ramsdale parried away. Dawson got to the ball first and was tripped by Enda Stevens, the referee pointing to the spot.
However, a quick VAR check found the defender was offside when Rice had hit the freekick - although questions remain over where the frame was stopped on the ball being struck.
There were little moments for the Blades, but the story throughout was that openings were never exploited and a lack of quality was very evident. The possession was split evenly, and Wilder?EUR(TM)s side often had good territory, they were as threatening as a Sean Bean march, whilst West Ham was teasing the potency they had.
Much of that was led by Lingard, linking well with Lanzini in particular. The Argentine too had one of his better games in some time, proving very effective at linking midfield and attack, and joining those attacks too. The pair soon combined well for Lingard to guide a decent effort a touch too close to Ramsdale in the Blades net. He was soon again threatening the goal, stinging the goalkeeper?EUR(TM)s palms with a shot from a tight angle after a good break.
The ability to win the ball back and spring attacks on the counter was starting to give West Ham the ascendancy. Whilst Sheffield United were slow and ponderous, Lingard, Lanzini and Bowen were the opposite.
It was that pressure and desire to win the ball back and attack that earned West Ham a penalty that this time VAR didn?EUR(TM)t deny, and meant West Ham had finally won a penalty this season, the last side to do so.
Oliver Norwood passed it across the middle of the park, his side seemingly in comfortable control of possession. Jesse Lingard pounced on a loose pass, got to the ball first and let Lanzini take it on. He passed it forward to Bowen down the right, and the winger smartly slid it inside the area into the path of Lingard.
His touch made any shot awkward, but it also took the ball across the defender Basham, who just launched his whole body at the forward to stop him scoring. It was deemed a challenge for the ball, and he was lucky to escape with that and a yellow.
Rice had been ready to take the denied one prior, but this time Lingard had grabbed the ball, and was very reluctant to let his captain take the ball off him. But he did, and the young leader stepped up confidently to powerfully drive the ball into the bottom corner for a one-nil lead. Different man with the armband and the penalty, same result.
It gave the Hammers a 1-0 lead going into half time, and it really was a case of better quality coming to the fore.
The visitors came out with a desire to get back on the front foot and McGoldrick soon was denied from a glorious chance. Having worked the ball down the left, the cross into the area found the striker six yards from goal, but his header was blocked by Johnson and then well saved by Fabianski.
By these margins, games can be won and lost. Five minutes later, the quality in front of goal was shown to be contrasting starkly.
A Cresswell corner from the left bent away from goal, sailing over Soucek?EUR(TM)s head but finding Issa Diop, who did brilliantly to guide it back towards goal from near the front post and into the far corner, Ramsdale comfortably beaten. In what has been a tough spell for the young French defender, it was great to see him on the scoresheet during an impressive all-round display.
It soon swung back Sheffield United?EUR(TM)s way once more, but as the ball in the area was pulled back to McGoldrick for a glorious chance, Soucek?EUR(TM)s foot beat him to the ball and poked it away when it looked like the striker must score.
With the lead at two goals, Moyes chose to see the game out. Mark Noble came on, probably wishing he?EUR(TM)d been on the pitch when the penalty was awarded, replacing the excellent Lanzini with half hour to go.
Whilst it may have seemed cautious, it worked to perfection. A couple of headers aside, Sheffield United were clearly beaten and Noble led his team to seeing out the game.
There was still time for the West Ham full backs to get involved. First was Coufal, who stormed through on goal after tackling his way through. As he got closer, his head turned at least two times to see where Bowen was when he had only space and the goalkeeper ahead of him.
Eventually, almost reluctantly, he took the chance, but Ramsdale had come out well and saved with a very strong arm.
In stoppage time, it was Ryan Fredericks who completed the trio of unlikely scorers.
With comfortable possession around the Sheffield United box, West Ham passed it round with ease before Benrahma danced into the area. Running into pressure and with nowhere to go, he turned and laid the ball off to Fredericks in space.
He was just inside the area and delayed taking a shot under no pressure, but when no defender made an effort to close him down, he took his chance and drove the ball into the bottom corner to wrap up an easy game for the home side.
It ended 3-0 to the Hammers, and it was as rewarding to see the goals as it was the ease of which the side ran the game down and secured the points with minimal fuss.
The win means only Manchester City have won more league points in 2021 so far, and whilst Chelsea look to be claiming fourth as this is written, the ride of this season looks set to continue.
With Tottenham and Manchester City in the next two games, the picture will only continue to open up for where things could end.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Made some decent if comfortable saves, and one or two good ones.
Tenacious as ever, although Sheffield United got in quite a few crosses down his side. Should have scored, although it?EUR(TM)s more important he backs himself rather than goes at goal so reluctantly!
He showed his one-on-one defending is strong and resilient, whilst showing good feet on the ball. Not quite a Masuaku wing back, but more adept than Cresswell and dribbles well.
Much-maligned, but he stepped up and looked good both on the deck and in the air, the area he is clearly weaker in.
No fuss, definitely not the kind of defender who is going to be bothered by someone like Billy Sharp. Will have been the leader at the back today and the defence was organised well.
Rarely got forward, even compared to his performances earlier in the season in the same role. Still picks up another assist, sixth of the season, and was composed throughout.
A quiet game in terms of controlling the midfield, possibly less emphasis on him to break forward with Lanzini taking that responsibility. Took the penalty well, although his freekicks never look particularly dangerous. The system protected Soucek and Rice and their workload.
Wasn?EUR(TM)t the influence going forward he has been, but when that happens, he?EUR(TM)s usually doing very good defensive work. One tackle in the box in particular saved us from a very good chance for McGoldrick.
Not the headline grabber, not the one threatening goal or giving the assists, but what he did do excellently was link the deeper midfield to the attack, press in dangerous areas and flood forward with good movement to be part of the counter attacking trio. That player that is both part of the midfield and part of the attack is not one utilised by Moyes, not often anyway, and Lanzini is perfect for it, and maybe the only player capable in the side because of the defensive responsibility and the discipline to play safely and smartly in his own half.
Flat at Fulham, his home debut was almost as sparkling as his first appearance away at Villa. Looks a player reborn, sharp and very fit. His touch is brilliant, an ingenuity that opens up defences, and he has the bravery and confidence to take players on.
A better performance than he?EUR(TM)s had for a while. The wing back system allowed him to play as a forward first, rather than constantly worrying about defence. He made good runs, had a directness that contrasted well with some of the prettier interplay of Lingard and Lanzini, and his pass to Lingard set up the penalty. Promising.
(Replaced Lanzini, 63) No thrills, but he came on to see the game out and West Ham did it very professionally when he did.
(Replaced Lingard, 82) The game had slowed down considerably by the time he came on, but he showed his threat by creating Fredericks?EUR(TM)s goal.
(Replaced Johnson, 90) Can?EUR(TM)t argue with that substitute impact! A stoppage time sub scores a stoppage time goal, perfect.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Manuel Lanzini, Jesse Lingard, Jarrod Bowen.
Goals: Declan Rice 41 Issa Diop 58 Ryan Fredericks 90 .
Sent off: None.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Basham, Egan (Jagielka 85), Ampadu, Bogle, Lundstram, Norwood (McBurnie 62), Osborn, Stevens, Sharp, McGoldrick.
Subs not used: Foderingham, Baldock, Lowe, Bryan, Maguire, Burke, Brewster.
Booked: Basham (39), Lundstram (87).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Man of the Match: Jesse Lingard.