Genk 2 West Ham United 2
Thursday, 4th November 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham's perfect run in Europe came to an end last night, a disappointing 2-2 draw with Genk in Belgium a rather unfitting way for the club to celebrate David Moyes's 1000th game as a manager.It was a performance that saw arguably the worst half of football from the Hammers since the manager's return to the club, with Diop leading the defence to disarray and Mark Noble and Arthur Masuaku two abysmal parts of a midfield that was quite frankly a mess.
Confidence was high coming into the game, the side cruising through these appearances so far and the build-up all about Moyes's managerial achievement. On a momentous night for him, he will have been embarrassed by the shoddy opening from his team.
There were wholesale changes once more, with Cresswell, Rice, Benrahma and a surprising inclusion for Antonio as the only remaining starters from the weekend's victory at Aston Villa. It has been commented so far this season that the second string has impressed in these midweek games, but this was the first time it led to disorganisation that was punished by an opponent.
Genk, who had shown a threat on the counter attack in the corresponding fixture earlier in the group, were again happy to use the pace of their wide players and the Japanese international Junya Ito impressed again. An even bigger threat was Joseph Paintsil - no relation - and it was he who opened the scoring.
Ito made space for himself centrally just inside the Genk half and played a ball directly through the heart of the West Ham defence. The gap between Diop and Dawson was too large, as was the gap between the pass and Diop's reaction. Paintsil sprinted onto the through ball and drove from left to right, shooting low from just outside the area.
The shot was by no means in the corner, but Areola had gone too far to his left and was too slow diving down to his right. Even though he got a good hand to the ball, the goalkeeper only diverted into against the inside of his post and the Frenchman looked back to see the ball ricocheting into the net. It was the first goal he had conceded for the club, it had come inside five minutes of the game.
A reaction could have just had that written off as a slow start, but Genk had their tails up and West Ham looked a mess.
Soon after, it could well have been two. First a free header was tipped over the bar by Areola, and on the second corner Onuachu was found far too easily and he headed at goal under little pressure. The giant striker should have done much better, his header central and saved by the French goalkeeper. He reacted well again, Areola, pushing the ball wide with strong hands.
Chances continued to come, and as alarming was the space awarded to Genk every time they regained possession and turned to pounce on the counter. A booking for Rice for hauling down Ito as he ran at the defence once more was a sign of how disorganised the team looked, the young midfielder shown screaming to the bench that they were too open. He wasn't wrong, and the balance in the middle was far from right as Noble and Rice played together as a two. The captain played the deeper role and pushed Rice slightly further forward, which worked for neither man nor the team around them.
Confidence was not coming from the back either, especially from Issa Diop. Playing on the right side, with Dawson on the left, Diop had not recovered from his lapse for the first goal as he passed directly to a Genk player on the edge of his box when he should have cleared. He was lucky the shot was wayward in a dangerous position.
There were yet more chances for the home side, both Onuachu and Ito missing good openings from sharp counters, and it could have conceivably been a three or four goal deficit within the first 20 minutes had the hosts shown a little more quality in front of goal.
Moyes, seeing his side looking uncharacteristically desperate, made changes to the existing side. Dawson and Diop swapped sides, the Frenchman often a much more comfortable defender when on the left, whilst Benrahma moved into the middle and Lanzini went wide right.
A flicker of life came back into the team, Dawson connecting with his shoulder from a Cresswell freekick and nearly looping the ball over Vandervoordt in the Genk goal, but there was still very little rhythm about the play. Noble and Masuaku looked off the pace, whilst Antonio was not threatening when the ball came anywhere near him.
That being said, the changes from the manager did help the Hammers get a bit of control back, and their use of the ball stifled their opponents, even if it still flattered to deceive going forward. With a few minutes left of the ball, they created their first chance in open play.
For all he had struggled, it was a wonderful cross from the left by Masuaku that opened Genk up. Having got the ball wide of the area, the winger took his time and then rolled it across the face of goal for the run of Benrahma. The Algerian got a toe to the ball to poke it at goal, but was thwarted by a great save from the goalkeeper, his foot stretching out to stop a sure goal, saving the effort that was less than a metre away from him when struck.
To underline the threat that remained, Genk flew straight up the other end and got a shot off through Paintsil after another effective counter.
As a poor half ended, West Ham again should have scored. This time it was Antonio, Lanzini sliding him behind the Genk defence down the right of the area. Antonio slightly delayed his shot then hit close to the goalkeeper, but it squeezed through and rolled towards the line. Unfortunately for the Hammers, Rice couldn't get to the ball before the defender could hook it away.
The late pressure had resulted in some very high value chances, and even having played poorly for the majority of it, the Hammers were a fair way ahead on xG, which should have given encouragement for the second half.
The manager made no changes at half time, but his side came out improved. Genk still posed a threat on the counter, but West Ham's control of possession did take the fire out of their play.
Little came to give the Hammers much hope until the manager looked to his bench. On came Bowen, Fornals and Soucek for Antonio, Noble and Masuaku, and immediately the attack clicked into gear. So sudden was the impact, West Ham equalised a minute later.
It was lovely football, orchestrated in the middle by Lanzini. The Argentine pulled the strings in the second half and much of the better play was through him. Here, he moved into a pocket of space with the ball and slid a pass between centre back and right back for the run of Coufal. The pass was perfect, as was his approach to it, pulling the two apart and then passing through the gap. Coufal was excellent too, firing a ball to the edge of the area where Benrahma waited.
The defenders had flown back expecting a ball across the face of goal, so Benrahma was in space to smash a low shot at goal. His finish was less then ideal, right at the goalkeeper, but flew through his legs and into the back of his net to bring the scores level.
The momentum was all with the away side now, and the Hammers looked the only winners. Genk had their moments on the break, and with the West Ham full backs in much more advanced positions with Soucek and Rice controlling midfield, the pace of Ito and Paintsil came at Diop and Dawson. Dawson took a cynical yellow to stop one counter, an attack that was a warning shot for the defence.
Whatever they still had on the attack, Genk were scrambling to deal with West Ham. Coufal missed a chance after a Cresswell cross, a left-footed effort after a cross was parried out, and then Dawson headed wide in a strong position at the back post.
With the pressure building and Genk's lead lost, the Belgians lost discipline. Three bookings on the pitch in five minutes, and one for the manager too, were encouragement for West Ham that their opponents were struggling. In contrast, the West Ham side looked settled with Soucek alongside Rice, and it gave a platform for Benrahma to play.
Having been the most threatening player throughout, it was all about him for the second goal too. Receiving it on the left, Benrahma turned to face the defender and fancied his chances. Suddenly, the ball was round him, and Benrahma was in the area with three Genk defenders chasing him. They couldn't get to him as he shot, smashing the ball low and hard right at Vandevoordt and again right through his legs and into the back of the net once more.
It was the kind of individual brilliance that the Algerian is capable of, and against opponents like this, you can see his confidence.
Kral came on for the impressive Lanzini as Moyes looked to protect the lead.
Instead it was another Czech midfielder who wrote the headlines. A cross from the Genk right was met by Soucek at the front post, but his desperate header flew past Areola and into the back of the net. Genk, who had offered little in the second half, looked to have been given a point that they had not deserved with only three minutes time remaining.
With time ticking away, West Ham still created chances to win the game.
And rather than desperate long ball play, throwing the ball into the box, it was two moves of wonderful passing football.
In the 92nd minute, Rice picked up the ball in the Genk half and drove at the defence. Beating two, he laid off to Kral just inside the area. Coufal was to his right, but Kral went back to Rice, only left with the chance to flick it wide to Coufal's run. At a height he could only volley, Coufal played a ball across the face of goal, only for it to be too hard and too far ahead of the man at the back post.
Moments later, a lovely pass to the left of the area found Cresswell and the full back did the same, volleying a ball across goal but again with too much on it for Fornals to get to.
With that, it ended 2-2, West Ham held to a draw and Genk becoming the first team so far to take a point off Moyes's side. The point is enough to confirm qualification, and with Dinamo Zagreb winning the later game, either a win against Rapid Wien or a draw with Zagreb is enough to secure first place.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
Recovered after a poor start, but the early goal was stoppable and his decent saves were still very easy. Nothing he could do about the second.
The defence was a mess in the early stages, but once the side settled, Coufal was better going forward and his pass for the first goal was perfect. Unlucky not to score or get an assist later.
Passed well and was not exposed by Ito's pace, unlike in the reverse fixture. Deliveries into the box had menace, but it was a shame for him that once he was given the freedom to get forward more and deliver, Antonio was gone and his target was Bowen. Found Dawson with a good free kick.
Was all over the place early on, and whilst he recovered, it will be a performance remembered for his shaky and shambolic start.
His aerial threat was all that stood out. In fact, he made two fouls and no tackles, interceptions or clearances. Still, he was not the mess his partner was.
One of his weaker showings since he made his name. Couldn't settle into play and walked a fine line after his booking, making a few fouls that drew attention to him, especially ones where he tried to get the ball from behind his man. Looked livelier once Soucek came on and his driving runs did nearly force a goal.
He grew into the game but the balance with Rice was all wrong. Not only did he seem to hamper his young partner, he tried to gain a foothold in the game by storming around and just left the midfield easy to play through and the defence exposed. His passing was accurate and he did recover with the team, but could have been hauled off inside 30 minutes and not complained.
He seems to have lost some pace, his confidence also gone with it as the dribbling maverick of years gone by was nowhere to be seen. Watching him, he looked unaware of where he was playing and the instructions he was meant to follow. To his credit, the ball across the goal to Benrahma deserved more, not only for the delivery but the vision to choose that pass with a simpler one on offer.
Easily man of the match, he was unlucky not to have a hat trick and really took it upon himself to drag his side out of the mire. The second goal was pure individual brilliance, and it was his connection with the ball on both goals that made them hard for the goalkeeper to save, earning the luck that he got as both went through Vandevoordt's legs. Looked sharp, confident and the only one not unsettled by the shambles around him. The kind of performance that will remind many of his qualities.
Being out on the right does not always suit him, but it was another European game where his composure in possession and the intelligence of his passes was key. Multiple chances came from his clever passing, which were not only made from wonderful vision but a perfect weight of pass too. Looked the likely man of the match before Benrahma took over.
He threatened on occasion, but he just looked nowhere near himself. Or at least the consistent and dangerous version we have become accustomed to as a striker under Moyes. Probably should have scored the chance that was eventually cleared off the line, whilst a pass success rate of 53% is the kind of thing that absolutely rips apart any chance of a front line dominating.
(Replaced Noble, 58) Even with the own goal to his name, the influence he had on the team and on Rice is enough to make sure he gets a solid 6. Unfortunate with the goal, the third in his own net of his career, and all for West Ham.
(Replaced Antonio, 58) Not particularly threatening, but offered pace in behind and kept the ball well, in contrast to the man he replaced.
(Replaced Masuaku, 58) Lifted the team, as did the other two substitutes, and showed more quality on the ball in simple things than Masuaku. Unlucky not to get a goal, if only the crosses had had a little less on them.
(Replaced Lanzini, 85) One touch of the ball, one successful pass.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Arthur Masuaku, Said Benrahma, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Said Benrahma 59 Said Benrahma 82 .
Booked: Declan Rice 15 Craig Dawson 0 .
Sent off: None.
Genk: Vandevoordt, Munoz (Ugbo 87), Sadick, Lucumi, Arteaga, Heynen, Thorstvedt (Preciado 87), Paintsil (Oyen 90+4), Hrosovsky, Ito, Onuacho.
Subs not used: Chambaere, Leysen, McKenzie, Bongonda, Tresor, Eiting.
Goals: Paintsil (4), Soucek (og 87).
Booked: Thorstvedt (55), Paintsil (69), Lucumi (69), Van Den Brom (69), Arteaga (71).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Alexander Standev.
Man of the Match: Said Benrahma.