Europa League
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 West Ham United 

Thursday, 5th May 2022
by Chris Wilkerson

And then it was over. In the end, it didn't feel right, it wasn't fitting, it was not the finale we had dreamed of or deserved. West Ham's magical European tour came to a halt last night, one step away from the final, grounded in Germany. It was a 1-0 defeat on the night, 3-1 on aggregate as Eintracht Frankfurt booked their place in the Europa League final against Rangers, and West Ham went home wondering.

For all the tactical talk, for all the stories of fate and glory, a second first-half red card in these knockout stages for Aaron Cresswell drove the wind out of West Ham and made the improbable all but impossible. When Borre scored seven minutes later, the nails were hammered in.

The game is hard to discuss as a singular entity. It is a product not just of the first leg before it, but a journey for this team and its fans. Where others have seen the Europa League as a hindrance, others happy to forfeit their place in one of these lesser tournaments in the hope of being a bit part in the Champions League, West Ham have taken to this competition and breathed life into it, a campaign full of such thrills that the British media started to care, too.

And that is the gift that West Ham have given their fans this year. The apathy is gone. A club drifting before the second coming of David Moyes, one always ready to do something wrong and spark another crisis, suddenly took its fans to Zagreb and Sevilla, Lyon and Frankfurt. This was never about qualifying for the Champions League, this was about glory. This was about winning a trophy, winning a competition, giving the fans something they won't ever forget. And it is in that latter sense, they delivered. There has been a sense of pride in this journey that cannot be so easily washed away. No match report can really reflect it, one 90-minute game in review a poor way to end months of what to some younger West Ham fans will be the best period they have ever had supporting this club.

So the disappointment from the Deutsche Bank Park will linger, but it won't take away what went before.

It was 19 minutes into the game that Cresswell was caught last man and brought Hauge down. The frustration is that West Ham had looked the better team, and their hosts were without two of their key players. Lindstrom, so fantastic in the first leg, missed this through injury. And Hinteregger, whose passing made Frankfurt tick a week ago, was injured early as he tried to impose himself on Antonio. The atmosphere was electric, and Frankfurt deserve credit for the noise inside the stadium. The banners and the behaviour beforehand? Not so much, a reminder that England is not the only place where the few can ruin things for the many.

But Cresswell was left exposed again, and the lessons of Lyon had not been learned. This time, Zouma was chasing his striker up the pitch and Hauge made the run into the space. Defending with a back five, Cresswell immediately tucked in to follow and cover. A high ball looped way over the defence and landed around the edge of the area. The players tussled and jockeyed for position, a battle Hauge won. Cresswell remained in contact with his man as he turned away and then fell to the ground. The ball had bounced, but close enough to the challenge that a goalscoring opportunity had been denied. The referee gave a yellow, but after being sent to the VAR screen and watching on one angle, he changed his decision to red.

The inquest within the fans had started. It was such a killer blow, with a one-goal deficit to chase, and really just one step too far for a West Ham side that has played so many games and made so few changes. Undeniably, Cresswell was naive once more. If the Lyon red was a risk he chose to take, this one was thoughtless. He didn't consider his position, and whilst it is difficult for him whilst both players are grabbing the other and using their arms to get position, Cresswell had to consider the consequences of his actions. For Hauge, it was a big chance or an innocuous freekick. For Cresswell, he risked a red.

The attacks on Cresswell have begun, with some going so far as to call this a career-defining moment that should put an end to his West Ham career. It is a shame that amidst the glory of this Europa League run, some can be so quick to discard those held up as heroes not long before.

As my colleague and friend Jack Elderton has pointed out on Twitter, and will point out both in his excellent post-match reviews and the even better (if I do say so myself) KUMB West Ham Podcast, the tactics exposed the defence and Cresswell. Zouma's push forward, our defensive shape, how Frankfurt play - the manager should have been doing all he could to protect this from happening. Cresswell has proven himself a risky last-man defender, and we all know he lacks pace. It shouldn't have been able to happen so easily. Off went Lanzini for Johnson, and any control in the middle went with it.

Seven minutes later, the goal went in and those faint hopes died. It was a typical Frankfurt move, down the right it went and the ball from Knauff was cut back from the byline to around the middle of the area. In the middle, Borre stood still, stopping his run at goal and holding his position. Dawson kept going, opening the space the striker needed and when the ball rolled perfectly to his feet, he smashed it low and hard into the goal to give the hosts a two-goal aggregate lead and, truthfully, their ticket to the final right there and then.

It is not a game from here that is full of incident. The pride comes from seeing the West Ham players really try. Really bloody try. It wasn't happening for them, nothing would go their way, but the effort to turn that round was there. It was all anyone could ask of them, and will have won them hearts again.

There was little luck to go with it. A great freekick late in the second half from Bowen was cleared off the line after bundling in at goal from Zouma. There were chances in the second half, too, but they were fighting a losing battle. They knew it, but they refused to give in to it, to their immense credit.

But for all their hard work, you could see the difference the extra man made. There was always a spare option when West Ham pressed, always an Eintracht Frankfurt player there when the ball dropped loose. Antonio fought with everything he had, pressing, harassing, battling away. But he could never be fully supported, with Fornals and Bowen trying to make up ground ahead of them and behind them.

And when you looked on the pitch, there wasn't any West Ham player having a bad game. There were mistakes, the red card and the goal both examples where Zouma reminded onlookers why he was not deemed elite at Chelsea, but the 10-men bettered their opponents in many areas. In both legs, West Ham have won on xG. Last night's West Ham performance had as high an xG as Frankfurt's first leg showing. It doesn't matter, but it proves that they really did push with their all to make something happen.

It wouldn't, though. It would not fall their way. Not from great work by Antonio on the wings to create chances, not when the striker was through late on after a great pass by Rice. Not even when Soucek had a header three yards from goal at the back post after a Bowen corner.

At the end, the home side's players and fans celebrated wildly, as well they should. By this time, David Moyes had been sent off, childishly volleying a ball at a ball boy who he deemed to have given it back to him too slowly. It was foolish, but it was emotional. Insinuations of something sinister are pathetic.

And that isn't the note to leave this campaign on. It's to be left with a young captain, Declan Rice, speaking in interviews after the game about his disappointment and his pride, what it's meant to him, the players, the club and the fans. About wanting to win this for Mark Noble.

Maybe this was our chance, our only chance. Newcastle make it a "Big 7" next season and UEFA conspires to placate the "elite" by making these competitions all the more weighted in their favour. But you can keep your Champions League and your business models, West Ham played this tournament like real football, making it a competition like the ones you remember. It was not about money or sponsorships, corporations or marketing value. Hopefully we qualify once more; the Europa Conference League could use this West Ham side to remind Europe once more that this sport exists outside the elite bubbles, how it exists on the pitch, not in the boardroom.

Sometimes, you have to risk the pain of defeat for a chance at glory. Does it hurt now? Plenty. But the ride was something, eh?

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Player Ratings

Alphonse Areola
His European campaign has been good. He couldn't stop the goal, and wasn't tested too much afterwards. He hasn't really done anything spectacular to take Fabianski's place, but then those performances are hard for a goalkeeper. You don't want them to have spectacular games, it usually means the team isn't. It is difficult to judge what happens next with Areola, his mind may be made up to leave after not taking the number one place, whilst Moyes hasn't shown any hints to help.

Vladimir Coufal
Put in a good shift and definitely looks comfortably the better right back. Now injury-free, he defends as well as Johnson and attacks much better. The long throws don't work, though.

Craig Dawson
Just lost too easily for the goal. He doesn't need to stop with him, he has angles to cover, but he overcommits and makes it easy for Knauff and Borre.

Kurt Zouma
Looks off the pace, even as a player who ambles around. If the system asks him to chase Borre up the pitch like that, the system is wrong. The midfielders are there, and it left the defence exposed.

Aaron Cresswell
Obituaries for his West Ham career are premature (and immature, too), even if he was already one on the list to upgrade. It's a small mistake, but a huge one. He doesn't do much wrong, but he's been sent off for similar in this competition and doesn't appear to have learned

Tomas Soucek
Battled and fought for it. Another impressive amount of aerials won (8), and it is to his and Rice's credit that you didn't see them being overrun in the middle after the red. It might not be how Frankfurt play, but it would have helped them lock the game down if they had dominated the middle. Even with a player less in support, Rice and Soucek were comfortably better than their counterparts.

Declan Rice
Needs to watch his emotions a little. We like to see it, he cares and he feels a bit of a voice of the fans, but he also has to remember he is the captain. Accusing a referee of corruption in the tunnel should lead to a ban. As a player, he was again excellent, all things considered. But had he or Soucek dealt with the runner and Zouma stayed back? Questions to torture yourself with.

Pablo Fornals
Got a bit lost in an attacking sense as he tried to fill the gap of covering the left and having one less player. Missed the odd good passing opportunity, but kept running and put in a real defensive? shift.

Manuel Lanzini
No fault of his own, but he was the obvious man to take off.

Jarrod Bowen
Remained a threat, but couldn't find the quality. Tireless work ethic but it was a bridge too far.

Michail Antonio
For a man who goes unappreciated by so many, what an effort from him. Herculean, nearly dragging West Ham back into it through sheer will and hard work. With 10-men, Antonio still occupied the back three and created chances. Could have been sharper with his passing, and has to stop throwing people to the ground when they wrestle him, but such battle in his performance. A credit.


Ben Johnson
(Replaced Lanzini 20') Again looked more confident on the left. Didn't attack, but probably by design. Defended very well, it becomes frustrating to see his timid approach to attacking as a full back because he is so good defensively.

Said Benrahma
(Replaced Fornals) Gave it a go, but it was a real Benrahma performance. Promise unfulfilled.

Andriy Yarmolenko
(Coufal 86') Didn't get into the game.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Craig Dawson, Kurt Zouma , Aaron Cresswell, Tomas Soucek, Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.

Goals: None.

Booked: Issa Diop 21 Pablo Fornals 85        .

Sent off: None.

Eintracht Frankfurt: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: .

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: .