Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 West Ham United
Saturday, 20th November 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham United lost their first away game of the season today, a 1-0 defeat away at Wolves in a game they never looked like winning.In what was comfortably their worst performance on the season so far, David Moyes's side were comfortably outplayed by their hosts, a side who looked to have outfought and outthought the Hammers. The winning goal - tucked away smartly by Jimenez midway through the second half - was fully deserved for a side that had dominated proceedings and had their opponents chasing shadows.
For the first time this season, the players looked easily beaten and the manager will rightly be criticised for allowing the issues from the first half to continue into the second. The flow of the game had been set in Wolves' favour from the 15-minute mark, a midfield outnumbered and outclassed thanks to a system that gave Bruno Lage's side control of the game.
With the news that Angelo Ogbonna will likely miss the rest of the season after his injury against Liverpool, it was no surprise to see Craig Dawson brought into the side, moving Kurt Zouma over to the left of the centre back pairing. The side was otherwise unchanged and played their sharpest football in the opening stages. Reminiscent of the performance against Everton and others this season, it was a fast start that promised much but ultimately delivered little.
West Ham retained possession and did look to be controlling the game, but both sides are comfortable sitting a little deeper and allowing the opposition to have the ball. At times in the first half that was clear as the contest meandered aimlessly.
The fast opening did yield half-chances, not least a great header by Jarrod Bowen, rising high to meet a Cresswell cross and unlucky not to score with a dangerous header that the winger managed to get low and away from the goalkeeper.
The warning signs were apparent at the other end though. Fornals lost Nelson Semedo down the Wolves right on multiple occasions, these moments coming to nothing but giving a glimpse of the issues the side would have with the wingback system against them.
Antonio was sluggish up top, but often isolated as Semedo and Ait Nouri forced Fornals and Bowen back down the flanks. It left three centre backs to pass easily around the forward and pick up any long balls towards him. With the midfield area so stretched by the running from out wide, Rice and Soucek often left countering three men in the middle as a defender stepped forward to add numbers. It became very clear as the half wore on that the way Wolves were set up was causing real issues, whilst they deserve credit for how smartly they carried out their plan.
Jimenez too was causing issues. An intelligent striker with a bit of physicality, the Mexican drifted into pockets of space and had the brains and the brawn to keep Dawson and Zouma at bay. Both defenders struggled, Zouma not looking as comfortable on the left side and Dawson's ability on the ball often looking well below Premier League standard. Had it not been for some smart work in midfield by Rice, there would have been very little to stop control becoming outright dominance.
However, that control of possession soon turned into chances. A probable goal was saved by a fantastic block by Cresswell, a cross from the left by Ait Nouri going across the box and dropping to Semedo. At a good angle inside the area on the right, he drove an effort low towards the corner, but the West Ham left back threw himself at the shot and kept it out.
Two minutes later, a simple pass from the back saw Jimenez through in the area one-on-one, breaking the offside trap with Dawson unnecessarily deeper than the rest of his defence. Fabianski, who was mostly faultless throughout, did well to close him down and then stay tall. Jimenez has scored before this season by just waiting for the goalkeeper to go low and then dinking it over. It looked like West Ham's number one had done his homework, the striker trying the deft chip with the Pole still standing, and the ball just drifted harmlessly wide of goal.
Moments later, he saved well from range as Moutinho found space to shoot. There was no rest, Saiss beating Soucek to the ball from the resulting corner and heading wide when he really should have done better. There had been crosses into the box too that Fabianski had dealt with as his defenders struggled.
Any semblance of calm seemed to leave the side, they were rattled by the mess they were in and the confidence of their opponents. If to underline Dawson's poor performance, he took Jimenez down on the edge of the area, being beaten by nothing more complicated than the forward kicking the ball forward.
They may have been cheered just before the half-time whistle. Zouma got onto a corner and headed in, only for a foul to be given as Antonio knocked the Wolves goalkeeper to the floor. Moments later, Bowen took the ball down well from a Cresswell cross, but was unfortunate to have it nicked from him.
The half ended 0-0, undoubtedly with the Hammers happy to have got in level. There was an expectation that getting into the dressing room, with the chance for the manager to react and change his side.
If he had done so, there was no way of telling as Wolves quickly took hold of the game once more. Not only did they have control, it was in all the same ways as the first half and West Ham seemed to have changed nothing. Fornals continued to flounder, his worst performance in quite some time, with Bowen, Benrahma and Antonio all passengers too. Little appeared to be being done, more than hoping things would turn around.
All it did was give Wolves more encouragement and allow them to continue their stranglehold of the midfield. Podence came close within a couple of minutes of the restart, forcing a good low save from Fabianski.
The goalkeeper was really the only one performing, and his side needed him to. Poor performances this season have rarely allowed so many chances for the opposition, but had Fabianski's levels dropped, this could have been a drubbing. Another Podence effort looked to be floating to the top corner after a quite delicious pass by Ruben Neves opened the West Ham defence once more.
Minutes later, Fabianski's resistance was broken and Wolves finally took a well-deserved lead. After the first moment of the half where West Ham had strung passes together in the Wolves half, Wolves went straight down the other end and schooled the Hammers once more. Passing from right to centre and back again with one-touch play, defenders chased shadows as Wolves opened them up again. A cutback from the right to the edge of the box found Jimenez, who stroked it low into Fabianski's right-side corner, out of his reach and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Lanzini was introduced, far too late to solve a problem that had been far too obvious for far too long, and just exposed by the Wolves goal. The midfield was overrun and unable to retain possession, but had been left to flounder for a painful and tiring 40 minutes.
Having scored, Wolves dropped off. West Ham looked better retaining possession too, having been unable to keep the ball before Lanzini's introduction. Regardless of the change in dynamic of the home side, it is absolutely beyond doubt that the Argentine made a difference in the middle of the park. He had a little over half an hour on the pitch and made 41 passes. Benrahma, Bowen and Fornals combined made 57, the former two playing 70 minutes and Fornals replaced by Lanzini.
His introduction allowed Rice and Soucek to finally have someone to look up and pass to, and a player always moving in close quarters to give easy passing options and move the ball on. It gave some life to Antonio too, who now found players were able to pass to him with accuracy and others were getting up in support. Had the striker been sharper, a two-on-two 25 yards from goal would have been more profitable, but he passed straight to the defender when he could have slipped Bowen through.
Still, it was a spark, and one they needed from a striker who had been a long way out of the game. He slipped the winger through properly moments later, Bowen blazing over in the box, but he would have been offside.
With 20 minutes remaining, and little threat on the pitch, the manager rolled the dice, replacing Benrahma and Bowen at the same time with Vlasic and Yarmolenko. It is rare that Moyes has shown great trust in either man in the Premier League, especially when a goal is needed, but if not then, when ever would they have been used? The attack wasn't working and the side had 20 minutes to rescue the game.
Possession, so controlled by Wolves, was now coming easier to West Ham. Whilst Wolves retreated, there was nothing that West Ham really did to indicate they could earn anything from the match. They didn't deserve to, and the game drifted to an end. The only chance remaining fell to Max Kilman, a clever freekick catching the defence on their toes, but the young centre back blazed over when positioned well.
Rice and Lanzini probed around the box, but nothing worked. Yarmolenko and Vlasic struggled in the same way the others had before them. Wolves were strong and organised, it was clear from watching that this game was not one West Ham were ever going to get back into.
And so they didn't, losing away from home for the first time this season. The only good news was what had happened elsewhere, with Brighton and Manchester United both losing, and Palace drawing with Burnley. Wolves jumped up to sixth in the table, four points behind West Ham. With a game behind closed doors away in Vienna in midweek and Europa League progress confirmed, it is a chance for a rotated side to secure first place in the group and brush aside this poor performance.
More than anything, it looked to have confirmed the need for investment in January if this team is to push on once more. Lingard would have made a huge difference today, whilst the centre backs looked lost with Ogbonna missing. A left-sided centre back may well be a necessity.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Some very good saves, as well as being smart for the one-on-one with Jimenez and punching well on some dangerous crosses. The side were a mess ahead of him and could have been soundly pushed aside by Wolves were it not for Fabianski.
There was no major threat that Johnson failed with, but the team struggled so badly that he never really got out to do more in the Wolves half. Credit for a lovely outside of the boot pass into the box late on. Ait Nouri's threat came from him escaping Bowen and a failed West Ham system that allowed the wingbacks an easy game. His passing out of defence could have been better, but the options were minimal.
He and Fornals were often being exposed far too easily by Semedo's running with two of them there. He is another who was a cog in a failing formation. He passed forward well, put in some dangerous crosses and was let down by a rare confused Fornals performance.
Some indefensible mistakes could and should have been punished. His aerial basics were fine, but the defence looked disorganised and his sloppy defending was a big part of it.
The defence had no grip of the game, the runners easily making inroads and Jimenez bossing both centre backs. It isn't unreasonable to think that Ogbonna takes a grip of things back there and manages the game on the field, but neither centre back could do it here.
There were periods in the first half where he was winning the ball back in both halves in a way that saved the blushes of those around him. He was the only resistance in a poor performance. He did it on the front foot, but with little back up from the attacking players, and made vital challenges in front of the defence too. But the more and more Wolves managed to stretch the rest of the side and then put an extra man into midfield, there was too much for him to do. He led the attacks too, trying to lift a side that was flat, and really it was a performance where he was let down by how bad others were playing. A reminder that his poorer performances are a lot better than others.
Overrun in the middle, undoubtedly. Battled gamely, but he isn't the slickest of passers and needed the help that Lanzini eventually offered.
It didn't work for him today. Comparisons to Lingard are going to come now, and this is a game where you need a ball carrier like Lingard compared to the pockets Benrahma picks up. Lingard would have helped the midfield out, Benrahma isn't as good at that. It didn't help that the defence passed out poorly and the two wide men were not in the game, but he didn't adapt to change how he played and stamp some authority on the match.
Lucky to get a five, one of his poorest performances in a West Ham shirt. Couldn't defend Semedo, didn't pass well, just seemed caught in between defending and attacking down the flank and doing neither.
Didn't get to grips with the defensive work and, a good header aside, was very little threat. His role in this team is different to that of Fornals and Benrahma, and he relies on their good play to enable his attacking work, but nine passes in 70 minutes is just not enough involvement.
He drifted out of the game, but it was also one where he was having balls fired at him from deep to win against three centre backs. When the midfield did get possession later in the game, Antonio made things happen and was threatening if not particularly sharp. Drifted wide a little too often when a striker was needed.
(Replaced Fornals, 58) Probably generous in that he didn't make a huge difference to the result or turn the side into a dangerous one, but the whole impetus in midfield changed thanks to Lanzini's smart work with possession. It's just moving into space quickly with short passes and moving the ball on with close control and an eye for where the next pass is. He should have been on earlier, and is looking worthy of a starting place with each performance.
(Replaced Benrahma, 70) Worked hard, as he has proven he does, but couldn't make a huge difference to the game. In his defence, as with Yarmolenko, Wolves went deep and suffocated space for the rest of the game.
(Replaced Bowen, 70) Made some runs and got into dangerous positions but could not make an impact.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Booked: Declan Rice 86 .
Sent off: None.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Sa, Kilman, Coady, Saiss, Semedo, Neves, Moutinho, Ait-Nouri, Podence (Traore 76), Hwang (Dendoncker 87), Jimenez.
Subs not used: Ruddy, Hoever, Marcal, Trincao, Boly, Silva, Cundle.
Goals: Jimenez (60).
Booked: Neves (54).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Lukasz Fabianski.