West Ham United 2-3 Leeds United
Sunday, 16th January 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It was chaotic, untidy and enthralling, but West Ham lost their first game of 2022 as Leeds United won 3-2 at the London Stadium.In a game that ebbed and flowed, was played end-to-end, the Hammers made too many mistakes and were punished by a Leeds side at their irrepressible best on the front foot. Neither side will look back at the defending with much pride, but it was the home side who fell on their sword, with Issa Diop putting in a performance even nightmares would refuse to offer up.
David Moyes named an unchanged side from the one that beat Norwich comfortably in the week, but spoke in the build-up of concern about the schedule on his players. Leeds have played half the games West Ham have since Christmas, but are a side so depleted that Bielsa named a 15-year-old on his bench. Moyes was once more without Tomas Soucek and Mark Noble in midfield, and whilst Norwich never exposed any issue with Lanzini as one of the deeper pair in the middle, today's game will have reminded many of the importance Soucek has to this team.
The away side started sharp, as they always do, looking to be aggressive on the front foot with their passing and pressure. It had unsettled the West Ham players in the early stages of the FA Cup game seven days earlier, but this time, the added quality in the Leeds team was enough to turn threatening work into serious chances.
An opening six minutes in that Dawson was forced to block wide was the warning shot, and one West Ham did not use to rouse themselves. Minutes later, they were punished.
A pass arrowed out of the defence down the left channel tempted Cresswell in to try and intercept, but he could neither get to the ball nor the run of his man as Raphinha sprinted away after it. The Brazilian gathered the ball into the area and his cut back to Klich was smashed at goal and blocked away by Fabianski. It fell to Forshaw, who had the presence of mind to roll it back to Harrison, the midfielder precise it placing the ball into the far corner to give his side the lead.
It shocked West Ham to life, somewhat, and they were helped to get back into the game as Leeds, already shorn of key players, lost by Forshaw and Firpo to innocuous injuries. It unsettled their rhythm and allowed the home side to take some control.
Their first real chance came from excellent work down the flank by Antonio and then Fornals. The striker's pass was clever, and Fornals did brilliantly to beat his man with a piece of skill then pass it into the area and into the path of Antonio. A little composure was needed, but Antonio smashed his shot at the defender in front of him.
Then it was Dawson with a big opportunity, this time from a corner. Cresswell's delivery from the left was everything it needed to be, and Dawson met it on the six-yard line. He made good contact too, but headed down just wide of the post.
West Ham have long been a threat from set pieces, heading into this game with a Premier League high of 23 goals scored from them in the last two years. And it proved fruitful once again, but not quite in the way we have come to expect.
Five minutes after that Dawson chance, it was another Cresswell delivery from the left. It dropped onto the head of a West Ham player in the middle of goal, six yards out. But it wasn't Dawson, nor Diop or Rice. It was headed in by Jarrod Bowen, the in-form man, who had danced away from his marker and read the flight of the ball perfectly before taking his chance with aplomb.
As the momentum shifted, it seemed like the league's best side at taking points from losing positions may go on and do so once again, but much like the game against Southampton three weeks ago, every step forward came with two back.
Having scored from their own corner, West Ham were lax as Leeds delivered into the box and Ayling got up highest to win the header. It bounced down to the far post, where Cresswell was caught ball-watching and completely lost the run of Harrison, who followed the header in and made sure it found the net from a couple yards out to give his side the lead once more.
With West Ham always having to chase the game, whether chasing a win or trying to level, Declan Rice had little choice but to play the kind of swashbuckling football we have seen from him much more this season. It was a game full of darting runs and forays up the field. As the game wore on, you could question whether this left the defence a little short of protection, but the need for more going forward was too strong. He came close to scoring after making a run between the defence and trying to round Meslier, but his shot was wide from a near-impossible angle.
Bowen missed a good headed chance from a corner, again winning a ball he really shouldn't, but it was Leeds who went in feeling they should have had another.
It was a glorious opportunity for James, created by smart play between himself and Raphinha. The pacey Welshman was allowed the chance after Dawson threw it all on the line to challenge him and was beaten to the ball, left floored and leaving a chasm of space behind him. The flick from James found the playmaker who passed it through for the forward. Rice sprinted back and put a bit of pressure on his finish, maybe just enough as James could only curl it right into the hands of a grateful Fabianski.
That wasn't the last of it, with Fabianski forced into a very good save low down in the dying moments of the half and West Ham went in knowing they had to be much better to get anything from the match.
They came back out with a renewed energy and found they had control of the game. There was pressure without chances, until Leeds started to get caught playing out from defence into midfield. A moment before, they had lost it in a dangerous area and were lucky not to be punished, but the second time they found Pablo Fornals in inspired form.
Cresswell won it back on halfway and Rice collected, turned and played forward into Antonio. In one of those moments that no other player but Antonio regularly produces, he flicked the ball into the air and then got onto his wayward touch to poke to Fornals. The Spaniard took it on and drove into the box, faking to shoot once before getting into the centre of goal and then placing it low back in the direction he'd come from, low into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal and leaving Meslier with absolutely no chance, his weight going in the other direction.
It was excellent from Fornals, and with his incisive passing, the midfielder was arguably West Ham's only attacking player showing consistent form in the game. Vlasic was on the fringes, Antonio hot and cold, Bowen alive for the goal but otherwise on the periphery.
For all the quality, the desperation for a goal and chasing the game kept the side open. Leeds, so full of energy, were ready to pounce on mistakes, and this tired West Ham team were sure to make them.
With that in mind, a pass from Diop into midfield left Vlasic under pressure. It was the kind of pass he made a few times in the game, not quite to feet, not quite helpful foe the player receiving. The touch from Vlasic needed to be perfect, and his was quite the opposite, poor control followed by a quick dispossession. The ball was snapped forward to Raphinha, and he was again brilliant in awareness to what was around him.
Coufal, having gone upfield when possession was ours, was too far forward. Dawson had allowed himself to completely commit to the space behind Diop that was exploited and Raphinha just rolled it into the space the pair had left, where Jack Harrison strolled forward and dinked it beyond Fabianski, who had come out somewhat reluctantly and maybe could have done better, for his hat trick. It had been eight minutes since West Ham had scored. It had been three minutes between our first goal and their second.
The Brazilian, creator on so many occasions, smacked the post moments later from a glorious freekick, and David Moyes was forced into action. Having replaced Vlasic with Masuaku right after the goal, this second substitution raised more eyebrows. Fornals was replaced for Andriy Yarmolenko as West Ham went into a 4-2-2-2 and pushed the Ukrainian wide on one side and Masuaku down the left. Fornals had been the only real creative force in the side, and whilst energy levels were sagging somewhat across all the starting eleven, it looked a bold change.
It was not one that worked out. Yarmolenko made 3 passes in just over 20 minutes on the pitch and only one went to a West Ham player. He did tackle Rice in the Leeds area though.
West Ham were desperate, and then they were very lucky. Leeds looked to have a fourth goal, they really should have too.
It came from the left side of the West Ham defence again. Watching the game, Leeds pressed a lot. Except not so much on Diop, content with the Frenchman being left to distribute. A poor pass forward from the defender left Antonio struggling to collect, and when he lost the ball, Leeds countered once more. Raphinha got it in the West Ham half and had Diop in his way, although by how easily he skipped by the defender, it's a question as to whether he really counted as a defender. The Brazilian was in the box with plenty of support to pick out once more, and he didn't fail this time either. His pass to the far post found Klich, who hit it firmly into the goal and looked to have ended the contest.
With little protestation around, the goal looked to have been perfectly fine. But VAR was checking, and VAR saw that Rodrigo, standing a step off the West Ham line, had been unable to get out of the way of the ball as it went in. His touch came from an offside position, and even though it changed very little, it was undoubtedly offside. The defence got away with one, that much was certain, and it was a symbol of how bad West Ham had been in that any moment on the ball in defence always felt like it could lead to a collapse.
And when they did lose it, there was no measure of control in how the side reacted. Had Tomas Soucek been available, things may have been different. The defensive work he gets through, be it blocks, tackles or just positional awareness, were all sorely missed. As was his presence on possession, a facet of his game rarely heralded. He has little grace, his passing is not incisive, but he protects the ball and offers an option.
West Ham had the ball in the back of the net late on too, but Bowen was offside as he tried to jab in the rebound from a Coufal shot. His effort, a half-volley from a long throw by Antonio, was saved excellently by Meslier, who then denied Bowen before Yarmolenko put the ball away.
There was a lot of frustrated efforts to create, but little seemed to work until late on. With seconds remaining, West Ham won a freekick on the halfway line. Leeds turned to defend their box, but Cresswell was smart and aware, passing down the line to Antonio in space. He took it onto his left and got in a cross that deflected behind the Leeds defence and into Bowen's path two yards from goal. He had only to nudge it in, but he chose to use his chest, the ball at an awkward height, and his instinctual reaction to do so was the wrong one, it cannoning off of him and over when it was easier to score. That little bit of luck was not with them, that clinical edge missing from Bowen's game again.
A draw may well have been a fair result from an entertaining game, at least for the neutral, but if one team were to win it, it was Leeds not West Ham that had edged the contest. That only four starting players completed more than 70% of their passes shows a team that were not good enough on the ball.
As huge a win as it was for the visitors, it felt a big defeat for the home side too. In fourth they may be, but with postponements in North London and a Manchester United draw the night before too, the Hammers could have opened a gap to those chasing and at least forced them to do something with their games in hand. Instead Arsenal have two games in hand and remain two points behind, Tottenham four points behind and with four to catch up on. Next week's opponents Manchester United sit five points behind with two games in hand as well, and the significance of that game becomes bigger in the fight for European football. It is the last Premier League game West Ham have whilst the transfer window is open.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
He was left with very little chance on any of the goals by his defence, but the window of opportunity to put more pressure on Harrison's third goal was there and Fabianski delayed
Not the worst culprit at the back, his desperation to pour forward was exploited more than any actual defending, but his use of the ball was poor and a pass completion of just over 50% does not help the attack build anything, or lift the pressure on the defence.
Has to take a four because his corners were good, but he exposed dreadfully for the first goal and the second goal too, just poor defending on both occasions. He also didn't do enough to take responsibility of the ball at the back. That's a touch harsh, but Diop was struggling over and over again, and Cresswell is an experienced and influential figure in this team.
As ever with Dawson, the errors you get don't negate him from doing some good defending. His lunge forward on the James chance in the first half was the most exposed he was individually, but he was also part of a defence that looked nothing like a unit that will have been coached and drilled on the training ground.
I don't want to talk about Issa Diop any more.
Flame emojis and hot takes about the man aside, he can't be the attacking leader and the defensive anchor. He didn't do enough to protect a poor defence today because he was bombing forward a lot more. Lanzini couldn't cover it, so you have to sacrifice the flashy stuff and do the basics. Last year, Rice would have been stuck doing the gritty work and saving Diop's blushes, but today a game where he played well going forward should not hide the fact he wasn't there at the back.
Didn't really have any impact on the game. Left to do too much defending with Rice bombing forward, and he has no ability to do that role. He can play there on the ball, and his 88.8% pass success has him more than 10% better than anyone else, but he was forced into a role he was never going to succeed in alone.
A very well taken goal, one that he made pretty much with his own skill and intelligence. Chances created for other, ran himself into the ground and did all the pressing yet got back into midfield too. The only bright spark from the game.
In 60 minutes of football, he made 17 passes. Bowen made four more in the whole game, so whilst Vlasic was quiet, he wasn't awful in that respect and he also had 70% pass success. He just didn't really make an impact on the game at all and would be lucky to keep his place.
Aside from his goal, it was a poor performance from Bowen. Drifted out of it, like he can do, and was poor using the ball. Having taken on Rice a bit before, criticising Bowen is certainly another step to draw ire. Three crosses, none accurate. 57% pass accuracy. Five shots, one on target. Two big chances missed.
Did really well on a few occasions to make chances for others. Bowen might have the hot streak in front of goal, but he isn't doing as much to make that attack work as Antonio is. Set up Fornals' goal, made the chance at the end for Bowen, played some smart passes in the build up to moves too. He was dispossessed too often, but then he gets the ball under immense pressure a lot and is asked to make something of nothing. He's doing the right things and playing the way he needs to play, he just needs others around him to be better so as to take advantage of it.
(Replaced Vlasic, 60) You couldn't say it was a substitution that worked as Masuaku didn't really change the game in any way. But he was neat enough on the ball, especially compared to some of his teammates, and offered energy.
(Replaced Fornals, 69) Quite awful.
(Replaced Diop, 86) Nothing really happened around him in his cameo. But it was good to see Moyes give him the chance, and just being the man coming on as Diop went off made him a good substitution.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Nikola Vlasic, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Jarrod Bowen 34 Pablo Fornals 52 .
Booked: Michail Antonio 0 Manuel Lanzini 0 .
Sent off: None.
Leeds United: Meslier, Ayling, Koch, Struijk, Junior Firpo (Hjelde 23), Dallas, Klich, Forshaw (Bate 22, Rodrigo 65), James, Harrison, Raphinha.
Subs not used: Klaesson, McKinstry, Jenkins, Moore, Kenneh, Gray.
Goals: Harrison (10, 37, 60).
Booked: Koch, James.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Pablo Fornals.