Premier League
Crystal Palace 2 West Ham United 3

Saturday, 1st January 2022
by Chris Wilkerson

West Ham took a second away victory on the spin and started the new year with a win, racing to a three-goal half-time lead at Selhurst Park before two late Crystal Palace goals left the Hammers clinging on at the end.

In a game that had a little bit of everything, Moyes's side displayed the absolute best of themselves, and some of their worst too as what looked a certain win suddenly swung back the host's way. It was 3-0 at the 80th minute, yet Palace were inches from equalising late into stoppage time as Mateta pulled out the acrobatics to try snatch a point.


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West Ham came into the game with Declan Rice back on the pitch, the 22-year-old making his 150th Premier League appearance, the youngest Hammer to do so. Fornals remained absent, combined with the long-term injuries at the back. but David Moyes was not the only man in the dugout fielding weakened a side. Vieira was without star-man Wilfried Zaha, rising star Conor Gallagher and former-West Ham man Cheick Kouyate, he and Zaha both isolating ahead of trips to the African Cup of Nations.

After a combative 2-2 earlier in the season, combined with tired legs and depleted first teams, there were expectations that this could be another tough battle for both sides. Palace were close to scoring inside the opening minute, catching West Ham cold as a cross to the back post was played back into the middle and Jeffrey Schlupp steered the ball at goal from inside the six-yard box, only to see his effort cannon off the post with Fabianski rooted.

West Ham looked shocked by the fast start they came up against. Palace came at them time and time again in the opening exchanges, finding gaps that led to late blocks or forcing errors and fouls around the area for dangerous freekicks.

It took about 15 minutes for the away team to settle into a rhythm, but they were dangerous once they did. A double chance was thwarted on both occasions by excellent goalkeeping from Guaita. A Johnson cross deep to the back post was kept alive brilliantly by Coufal, and his half volley to the middle found Antonio, the striker sharp in the box to get away a shot that was saved as the goalkeeper moved from one side of the goal to the other. With him floored, the rebound popped up to Benrahma, the Algerian heading at goal but finding the Spaniard once again ready to react, bouncing up quickly to grasp a ball that could easily have drifted over him.

Grappling back that control, West Ham made the most of it. In a spell of 15 minutes of dominance, West Ham took the game by the throat and punished Palace for failing to do the same.

The first goal was textbook Moyes football from this side. They pressed Palace high on the edge of their box and forced a risky pass through the lines. Having let Soucek go forward to do the work, Rice pounced on the loose pass in midfield like he often does and got West Ham moving forward again. Johnson fed it wide to Benrahma, and the Algerian, in his last game before travelling for the AFCON, did everything absolutely right. With a bit of space, he cut in onto his right foot and just curled an inviting ball behind the defence and at the bottom corner of the goal.

In that little corridor between the defender and the goal, Antonio made his move and got the perfect touch to steer it past Guaita and into the back of the net to give his side the lead and continue the fine spell of form he has had since his game out of the team.

That opener was clever, a perfect example of what Moyes wants from his team and Benrhama specifically, but the second three minutes later was a bit of individual magic.

Bowen started the move, curling a run in his own half and laying the ball off to Rice. As the midfielder often does, he set off at pace and drove from halfway to the edge of the Palace box. As he got there, he rolled it aside for Lanzini and then the magic happened, a goal made with dancing feet and perfect balance and composure.


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Stepping into the area, a defender threw himself in front of the Argentine and Lanzini reacted, swiftly flicking it from right to left and sidestepping the challenge. As he did so, it popped ever so slightly into the air and, instinctively and with the kind of balance few in the league have, managed to react to volley the ball with the same foot off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net. The words here cannot do it justice, it is quite frankly a goal that can never be described in a way that does it justice. The movement of his left boot was lightning fast and would have seen most players falling over. Having started slowly, West Ham were 2-0 ahead after 25 minutes.

In a first half of twists and turns, there was bound to be more to come from Palace. When the shellshock of falling behind wore off, the home team attempted to drag themselves back into the game.

The margins of it were such that it was the quality in front of goal that West Ham possessed and Palace didn't that were the real difference. Soon Edouard smashed the bar for his side, a late run to step perfectly onto a low cutback just inside the West Ham box was passed just too high and the forward should have done better.

Minutes later, Benteke stung Fabianski's palms with a half-volley in the box, and there were two bits of excellent defending from Dawson and a smart tackle in the box from Soucek that stopped further danger as the half came to a close.

With stoppage time approaching, Antonio played Bowen through the defence and in on goal, only for the winger to be challenged in the area just before shooting and it seemed like the break would come with the Hammers 2-0 ahead.

But then, out of very little, Crystal Palace shot themselves in the foot. A cross was knocked away from goal to the edge of the box and Milivojevic got to the bouncing ball under no pressure. Misreading it, his attempt to control was poor and instead of taking it on his chest, the ball bounced up and cannoned off an outstretched arm. The referee waved protests away, but as West Ham got a throw, the game was paused so VAR could check the incident.

Initial replays showed a clear handball, quite how it was missed by the referee is hard to know, and then the video officials started to examine where the contact took place. Right on the line of the penalty area, it took numerous replays to decipher, but it became more and more clear that Palace were in trouble. After being sent to the sidelines to consult the video monitor, a penalty was awarded and West Ham had a chance to make it 3-0 with basically the last kick of the half.

It seemed all set for a second away win on the trot, a big advantage and all of the momentum going into the second half. Johnson was replaced at half time by Masuaku, most likely to protect him after an early yellow card.

His replacement started well, a bright spell of strong defending for Masuaku and using his pace to snuff out attacks before they could develop down the left. He ended the game with the most tackles on the pitch, remarkable considering he only played the second half.


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Alongside him, Diop started to creak. A sloppy pass out to the left back was easily intercepted, and Diop was grateful Ayew's second touch was poor enough for the French centre back to steal in and take the ball again.

West Ham offered very little in the second half, comfortable to limit Palace's space centrally and use a compact shape to force their opponents wide and try to contain the threat and maintain their lead. One sharp volley from Antonio aside, the striker creating it out of nothing on the edge of the Palace box but shooting wide, West Ham offered little threat or intent to make much more of their lead.

For the most part, the plan appeared to be working and the home side could only offer half-chances and brief moments of threat. Rice and Soucek protected the centre backs well, but the attack offered next to nothing and allowed Palace to pour forward with little response. Edouard had an opening just too far in front of him that he could only stretch for and scuff wide, whilst Ayew volleyed right at Diop when presented with a snap chance in the box.

As it got into the last ten minutes, the West Ham players on the pitch may have relaxed. They had done an excellent job in containing their opponents, but the job isn't over until the final whistle blows. If they thought anything else, they were suddenly taught different as substitute Olise was allowed far too much space on the right by Vlasic and Masuaku to cut in onto his left foot and deliver a curling cross similar in fashion to Benrahma's in the first half, and with the same result too.

Edouard was in too much space in the box, Dawson slack and both defenders unaware of the space they had allowed the striker that was enough for him to flick the cross on and get the goal he will feel he should have had earlier in the game.

It awoke the crowd and sparked panic in the West Ham ranks. On came Noble for Lanzini with two minutes time remaining, but just before the 90 minutes came up, Palace scored again. Down their right side once more, a situation was well in hand for West Ham when Issa Diop did one of those things that Issa Diop does. The defender fly into a challenge with the Palace player's back to goal, colliding clumsily and giving away a freekick just on the corner of the box.

Olise stood up to deliver once more from that side and hit a similar cross, curling to the far post. His cross was in space behind the defence and missed all the players in the area and left Fabianski standing and watching as it sailed into the far corner and left West Ham with four minutes of stoppage time to defend against a Palace side with all the momentum and a raucous Selhurst Park behind them.

It was nervy, it was uncomfortable, and it was nearly as bad as it could get. With seconds remaining, a diagonal ball into the box had the centre backs on the retreat. It sailed towards Mateta, the rangy forward able to back into his man and then launch into the air, attempting an overhead that at first glance would have given West Ham fans hope, but their hearts were soon in their mouths as the Frenchman's effort rifled down off his right foot and had Fabianski stood rooted. The goalkeeper watched in slow motion along with every fan in the ground, but will have felt the same relief as every Hammer did as the ball skidded wide and West Ham scrambled over the finish line to take all three points and a victory in their first game of the new year.

2021 was special, records broken all over the shop, and 2022 has a lot to live up to. This was a start, another entertaining and turbulent game to fit right in with the West Ham ethos of recent times. Quality told and the quality in that first half was just enough to win it, saving them from a lack of consistent quality at the back. The transfer window is open, but there will likely be more games for this makeshift back four to get through. It's on to Leeds United and the third round of the FA Cup next.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Let down by others for the goals, he was solid when called upon and made some good saves look easy with poise and positioning, as well as good handling. Not going to be replaced willingly.


Vladimir Coufal
Generally a force for good in this game, defensively solid and there was a very clear difference in his performance to how Johnson and Masuaku defended on the other side. Two left backs who have more pace, but not with the nous and skill in defence of Coufal. Does need to be a little sharper with his passing, something just floating it down the line to nowhere if he hasn't got the pass on that he wants.


Ben Johnson
Under a lot of pressure, he was mostly good against Ayew but was turned a couple times and took a booking on one of them. Seemed to be taken off to protect the chance of a second yellow.


Craig Dawson
Not altogether a great performance from Dawson, but you get much more good than bad with his inconsistency. Was eased out of the way too easily by Mateta at the end, but will argue he forced the striker into the hardest of efforts, whilst should have done better to be on Edouard for the first goal. But some decisive blocks in the first half and dealt with Benteke well when crosses were being thrown in.


Issa Diop
In contrast, you're starting to see more of the bad than the good with Diop. His most impressive bit of defending came recovering the ball having passed straight to a Palace player and allowing him a free run to the box. He was lucky the touch was poor so that he could recover. The freekick for the second goal is a classic example of a Diop error at the back, forcing a defensive situation and making a challenge that did not need to be made. Not wholly unfair to say he too could have done better for Edouard's goal, although it was likely more Dawson's man.


Declan Rice
150th Premier League appearance, becoming the youngest ever West Ham United player to reach that milestone. Better than Soucek, but it was their work as a pair that really stopped anything successful through the middle in that second half. The run for Lanzini's goal is something we are now used to be needs to be remembered is still absolutely fantastic midfield play. There are players at other teams who would be lauded for doing that just once, but Dec now does it at least once a game and deserved his assist.


Tomas Soucek
One of the games where he was in there doing the dirty work. He was up pressing high, then back on the edge protecting the defence. A touch sloppy with his passing, needs to be doing better than 68% accuracy, but disrupted Palace in the middle, shielded the defence in the centre and made some big challenges and won important headers in and around the box.


Manuel Lanzini
Had the most passes in a West Ham shirt (some 50 less than Palace's highest) and did his usual job of protecting the ball and keeping it moving, even in situations where it really felt he should lose it. It was a good performance from Manu without the goals, particularly in that he helped that solidity second half. But then you add stroking hope that penalty with ease and the magic of that goal. Watch it, reading words does no justice to how sharp that is. The worry is that he adds less going forward than other options in there, but today proved otherwise.


Said Benrahma
His decision making and weight of pass was perfect at times in this game, especially in the first half. But he drifted out of it a little, and didn't do quite enough to defend his left back when required. However, the cross for the goal absolutely makes it, Antonio left only to touch in what was a perfect delivery. It's what he's capable of and the template for what he should be looking to do more often down that flank. Has come into some good form just as he leaves for the AFCON.


Jarrod Bowen
A quieter game for Jarrod, which is no surprise as he often fails to sparkle in strings of games, usually throwing in a quieter one here and there. Mitchell is a very good full back defensively, and Bowen's biggest chance in behind he just couldn't get it set perfectly before Andersen stole it off his toes in the box.


Michail Antonio
Looks reinvigorated by that gap in the games, although getting Covid is not the ideal way to get some rest from football. Took his goal very well and worked hard for the team. Quietened down in the second half and it was as the game really became all about what Palace could do that you see the need for another option. Twenty minutes of fresh legs up there for him or with him would keep the intensity in the forward areas.



Substitutes

Arthur Masuaku
(Replaced Johnson, 45) Came on with real energy and brought a good balance to the left side. His pace was important at the back, but as the game came entirely about whether Palace could break West Ham down, you're forcing him to do more disciplined defending and the cracks started to show.


Nikola Vlasic
(Replaced Benrahma, 70) Couldn't get into it, was not neat enough on the ball when we needed to keep possession and didn't cover himself in glory doing the defensive work.


Mark Noble
(Replaced Lanzini, 88) No touches of the ball in his six minutes on the pitch. But we didn't concede a third.


Alphonse Areola
Did not play.


Ryan Fredericks
Did not play.


Ajibola Alese
Did not play.


Alex Kral
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Manuel Lanzini, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Michail Antonio 22 Manuel Lanzini 25 Manuel Lanzini 45              .

Booked: Ben Johnson 0 Arthur Masuaku 0        .

Sent off: None.

Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Guehi, Andersen, Mitchell, Milivojevic (Mateta 60), Hughes (Riedewald 75), Schlupp, Ayew, Edouard, Benteke (Olise 68).

Subs not used: Butland, Matthews, Tomkins, Kelly, Eze.

Goals: Edouard (83), Olise (90).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Darren England.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Manuel Lanzini.