West Ham United 0-2 Manchester City
Sunday, 7th August 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham United’s 2022/23 Premier League season started with a whimper today, as Manchester City walked out very comfortable winners at the London Stadium. A goal in each half for debut man Erling Haaland was enough to give the champions a 2-0 victory, and it was a scoreline that flattered the very passive hosts.Somehow, the Hammers are already in the midst of an injury crisis, with Ben Johnson forced to deputise alongside Kurt Zouma in the centre of defence, with Dawson, Ogbonna, Aguerd and Diop all unavailable.
In front of a record crowd of 62,443, the home side were roared to the field, led out for the first time as club captain by Declan Rice.
With the usual August anticipation and excitement in the air, David Moyes's side started fast. An early corner from Fornals was curled into the near post, and a bundle of bodies flew at it. It dropped down to Bowen, whose shot from 10 yards out was quickly smothered.
The ball deflected away from goal and made it's way back to Fornals, whose lovely cross was met powerfully by Antonio, but a little too powerfully, sailing over the bar.
It was a start that offered promise, but it proved to be a rare spell of any pressure, and the game settled quickly into a pattern.
It was City's ball, and they planned to keep it. Relentless passing, back and across, waiting for the gaps to open as the home side sat in and waited for a loose ball to break.
In fact, that paragraph almost completely sums up the game, but the difference now is that Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have a ruthless goalscoring machine leading the line. Erling Braut Haaland might not seem a City player, but that is exactly what makes him special, and what will make the champions a different beast this season.
What they have now is not only a player with fantastic movement and a desire to score, score and score again, they also have a direct route and a counter threat.
And today he was the difference, as he will most likely be many times this season. West Ham fans who hoped he might take time to settle were left disappointed, although sterner tests will come.
Whilst the away side controlled the ball, their actual goal threat was minimal. But having an almost robotic brute of a man up front to aim at has its advantages.
A whipped cross curling in at goal from the left was punched away by Fabianski, bravely so as the goalkeeper collided with both Haaland and Cresswell at the far post. The left back had done well to get his body in front of the striker and make sure there was little change of passage through, but the collision left Fabianski hurt. He was soon replaced.
Five minutes after Areola's introduction, he was tested by the pace of Haaland, and was beaten by it, too.
A slide-rule pass down the left of West Ham's penalty area looked to have too much on it for the Norwegian. But his acceleration is almost unnatural, and the Premier League, maybe even world football, is not full of 6ft'5 strikers with electric pace.
Areola threw himself down to smother, only to find he was quite easily beaten by the forward, and his follow-through wiped out Haaland. It was a clear and easy penalty decision, matched by the ease of Haaland's conversion, sliding it into the bottom corner and off the inside of the post to give his side a lead, just after the half hour mark.
There was little good news for the home side, Antonio going down after an awkward landing, and playing the remaining 10 minutes of the half with restricted movement. Some might argue that the injury hadn't hampered him at all, such was the rustiness in his play.
The half ended with West Ham defending stoutly, but struggling to maintain any possession. They were probably lucky to only be a goal behind, had City looked to find an extra gear. Such was their dominance, Ederson in goal played more passes than any individual West Ham outfield player.
In blistering heat, the Hammers came out in the second half with renewed vigour. Whilst it didn't immediately lead to openings and sustained pressure, that little extra sprint and pressure onto City's players did enough to lift the crowd. Whilst it had a feeling of inevitability about it, there was only one goal in the game, and that extra ounce of effort seemed to remind the crowd that this didn't have to be all about how many Manchester City could score.
The away side were patient, but their comfort on the ball could have easily made them complacent. Other sides would have looked to test that weakened backline over and over again, but Manchester City kept control of their lead by trying to ensure West Ham never had the ball to score.
When they did misplace passes, West Ham were more eager in this half to step forward and pick up the loose ball. On one such occasion, Lanzini and Antonio combined to force the ball wide, and the cross could only be deflected to the edge of the area to the captain Declan Rice. With the time and space to do better, the midfielder leaned back and smashed it way over the bar.
With that warning shot fired, the Hammers found a period of more possession, and just before the hour mark, the manager rolled the dice a little.
Up stepped Said Benrahma and new boy Gianluca Scamacca, brought on for Lanzini and Antonio. The change lifted the crowd further, most excited to see the new Italian striker in action.
To his credit, Scamacca put himself about well and showed flashes to excite the crowd, and considering the striker is still short of full fitness, the signs were promising. In the 20 minutes after half-time, West Ham played more passes than the whole of the first half.
With that impetus going forward finally added, the next chance was City's. With less numbers sat back, there were now more holes in the defence, and the away side were easy to exploit that.
Haaland came close, a ball curled around the back of the defence and across goal proving just out of his reach. If anything, his desperate slide at the ball distracted Gundogan, who shot wide tamely.
Moments later, West Ham produced their first (and only) shot on target, Benrahma curling a ball far too softly at goal when inside the area. His performance from the bench felt like an old tape on repeat, threatening something but offering nothing. In his defence, threatening something put him ahead of most of his teammates.
But it was that little bit of added threat from West Ham that left the home side vulnerable.
Last season, Manchester City don't score this goal. But this season, well, it was Haaland again.
A quick pass out on the counter found De Bruyne, who strode into the West Ham half and then rolled a perfect pass through the defence for Haaland. He got into the area and coolly passed it beyond Areola and into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 and end any contest that might have still remained. It was as simple a goal as you'll see, and an extra weapon in an already overstocked Manchester City arsenal.
He should have had his hat trick, too, missing a sharp chance from six yards out as his header flashed over the bar.
Flynn Downes was given a late debut, getting stoppage time minutes alongside academy product Conor Coventry, but the game was done.
It finished at 2-0, and the only comforts were that it wasn't more, and that a West Ham team that looked unprepared for the season didn't use that performance on someone they are more likely to beat. Small crumbs.
The manager has said there is more to be done in the transfer window, and he repeated it after this game, too. He also added that Diop had not chosen to be available for selection, which will leave a sour taste in the mouth for many. Given Johnson played reasonably well, I don't think anyone will lament the loss of Disaster Diop.
Onwards and upwards, so they say. It's Nottingham Forest next, with Jesse Lingard bringing pantomime season forward a good few months.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Proactive off his line with crosses today, actually looked sharp and his movement good. But then the injury cost him the rest of the match.
Managed his battle with Jack Grealish well. Vlad seems to quite enjoy annoying Grealish, and it was arguably the most entertaining part of the West Ham display.
It?EUR(TM)s a very generous 7, we round up decimal places, but it?EUR(TM)s just enough to show he was slightly better than the other defenders. He just did his basics very well, and never got exposed down the flank. He does the simple things that no one really cares about until a defender doesn?EUR(TM)t do them (pointing at you, Mr. Alexander-Arnold).
I?EUR(TM)m not sure you can lay any blame on him for either goal, and he got about his work reasonably well. Some see a future for him at centre back, and whilst there was nothing here to demand that?EUR(TM)s the case, there was nothing to dissuade them either.
Probably not his favourite day at the office, unable to really keep up when Haaland opened his legs, playing on the left side and managing a young full back through a game. Those things considered, it was an OK performance.
Grew into it, but started off the pace and wasted a big chance. Got better defensively as it went on, but didn?EUR(TM)t look a man fresh off a summer of rest.
Not an awful performance, but the packed midfield left him rushed on the ball and struggling for space. Disciplined, as ever, but crowded out.
Created two dangerous opportunities with his crosses early on, and then worked hard but ultimately couldn?EUR(TM)t get into the game much himself. But, compared to Lanzini, Bowen, Antonio and Benrahma, he was at least involved, creating chances, making key passes and some good interceptions.
Ineffectual, and drifted out of the game. The criticism will likely be directed elsewhere, and Bowen has often escaped it on his quiet days, but he can just disappear when it?EUR(TM)s not going for him. He made 10 passes, and only half found a teammate. In over 90 minutes of football.
Didn?EUR(TM)t get on the ball anywhere near enough. Replaced on 56 minutes, and his absence wasn?EUR(TM)t notable.
The early header gave hope that he was fit, but he looked far from it as the game went on. Sluggish is about the best word that can be found. Comments before the game made it seem like the manager didn?EUR(TM)t want to use Scamacca, but he was forced to by the lumbering Antonio. Four passes (two successful) in 56 minutes,
(Replaced Fabianski 29) It?EUR(TM)s harsh, but he had his chances to stake a claim and failed. Too slow for the penalty award, and should have been looking to block rather than slide out and smother. Then his positioning is questionable on the second, and he?EUR(TM)s beaten very easily.
(Replaced Lanzini 56) Frustrating, but it was at least refreshing to have a reason to be annoyed by someone?EUR(TM)s actions, so little did the others do before him
(Replaced Antonio 56) His cameo gave hope to many, the Italian putting himself about and looking eager to impress. Forced a very good save with a header, even though it was ruled offside. There?EUR(TM)s something there, and people were excited just to see him.
(Replaced Fornals 90) On for mere moments.
(Replaced Bowen 90) On for mere moments.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Ben Johnson, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio.
Sent off: None.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Ake, Cancelo, Rodri (Phillips 89), Gundogan (Silva 78), De Bruyne (Palmer 88), Grealish, Foden (Mahrez 88), Haaland (Alvarez 78).
Subs not used: Ortega, Wilson-Esbrand, Stones, Lewis.
Goals: Haaland (pen 36, 65).
Booked: Cancelo (42).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Aaron Cresswell.