West Ham United 0-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
Sunday, 21st August 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It’s three losses on the spin to open West Ham’s Premier League campaign this season, and eleven top-flight games without a win against Brighton as Graham Potter bested David Moyes and his side outclassed the Hammers to take a comfortable 2-0 win away from the London Stadium.An abysmal performance from back to front saw West Ham fail to threaten, fail to maintain possession and fail to get to grips with Brighton's passing football.
The manager, so forthright in criticising his players after last season's away defeat, and then again in his press conference before the game, was comfortably outthought by his counterpart, with Brighton's passing football once again turning West Ham into a lumbering and clumsy side.
A first half penalty, conceded after a rash challenge by Kehrer on his first start, was compounded by a limp attacking performance. Midway through the second half, Brighton killed off West Ham's chances with another simple goal, made easy for them by more appalling defending by the central defensive pair.
Kehrer's inclusion was the only change from last week's defeat at Nottingham Forest, but those early signs of composure on his debut in midweek were soon forgotten.
Whilst West Ham started fast, they soon found themselves in the same pattern they always fall into against Brighton. An incisive, attractive and intelligent passing team, they played nicely through the middle and used their central numbers to play it around Rice and Soucek with ease. When they got the ball, it felt like they would never give it back, and West Ham seemed unable to force a turnover.
It left West Ham desperate in their moments with the ball. They looked frantic, rushed, as if they knew they had to strike fast before the passing machine regained the ball and kept it from them for as long as they required.
David Moyes's side have often been at their best countering, attacking any misplaced pass and springing into gear. On this occasion, such incidences were rare. One early moment of promise came as Fornals played an instant pass into space for Bowen after the ball had dropped loose.
The winger, who has started the season in poor form, chose the option inside to Antonio in the box, missing Benrahma a little wider to his left, the Algerian free of defenders and in more space. In the end, the pass to Antonio wasn't good enough and the chance was wasted.
Any time they got possession, they either hurried themselves into a mistake or lacked the inventiveness to expose any space, allowing Brighton to get back into shape and close off the passing lanes. You could understand the quandary: they felt a need to rush, to ensure Brighton were out of position, but didn't have the skill or composure to find the passes, or make the runs that would unsettle the away side.
In the end, there is little excuse for West Ham being so unable to find passes against Brighton's defence, especially when Brighton found it so easy to pass through the Hammers.
As Zouma pushed forward into the Brighton half just after the 20-minute mark, his lazy pass was intercepted and the gap he had left was exposed.
Soon Welbeck was running onto a ball and pushing to the penalty area. Tracked by Kehrer, the German lunged at the ball on the edge of the box, making an unnecessary challenge and getting it wrong. Welbeck went down, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and VAR replays confirmed that contact was made with the forward on the line, confirming the penalty.
Alexis MacAllister stepped up, passed it into the bottom corner and gave his side a lead that they had deserved.
The defence looked out of sync, whilst the midfield was outnumbered and out-passed. There was very little to look at and take heart from and, truthfully, there was something amateurish about how West Ham looked to contend with Brighton.
As if to typify the issues at the back, two crosses were sent into the middle of the area that exposed a centre back pairing that had no control. Both were floated into simple areas, yet both were some way from being dealt with by either man. You suspect Craig Dawson would never have allowed such a thing to happen.
Arms were flapping around, brows furrowed; there was frustration flowing out of every West Ham player. In comparison, Brighton didn't even look overly delighted by how easily they found it to pass through their opponents. Why would they? They hadn't had to be excellent, merely allowed to play as they would like.
There will have been a touch of shock that there were no changes made at half time, but it rarely appears to be a Moyes move. This is a team that would struggle to string two good halves together even in form, so the hope will have been that some strong words and tactical tweaks may allow West Ham a foothold in this game.
To their credit, they started the second half the better side. They were direct, fast on the ball and more confident and deliberate in their use of it Brighton were forced back, allowing West Ham to get on the ball and play.
It amounted to very little in the way of chances. One corner was flicked to the back post, with Cresswell waiting, but his volleyed effort was blocked well. A minute later, the left back crossed well for Soucek, but Webster reacted fast enough to get their first and snuff out the danger.
Gianluca Scamacca stripped off his training gear on the sidelines, raising the noise from the home fans. He soon sat down again, but after Fornals shot straight at Sanchez to bring the first shot on target for his side (some 55 minutes into the game), Scamacca was up again. The crowd made their point, rising to applaud and cheer just for seeing him ready to enter the field.
The Italian came on for Fornals, Benrahma moving into the 10 role and Antonio out to the left wing. It was the change many would have wanted, but it didn't work. It was only a few minutes later that Brighton had their second and effectively ended the game.
Headers ping-ponged the ball back and forth in the air until a Brighton player - and it was never going to be a West Ham player - took it down calmly and passed it quickly forwards. One difference in the two teams was that Brighton's passes forwards seemed to have an intent, and were real passes. Often, West Ham's were just balls forward, but with none of the same craft.
As it went to Gross, Zouma got in close, and the midfielder flicked it deftly round him onto the path of Trossard. Having cut in from the left, he was in acres of space as the defence split. Kehrer had stayed wide and deep, exposing the middle, exposing a complete lack of those defensive basics. The Belgian passed it beyond Fabianski and, even with 25 minutes remaining, the game looked dead and buried.
Soon Coufal was dragged off injured, looking dazed, and Moyes sent on Johnson to replace him, as well as Lanzini and Cornet for Benrahma and Antonio. Lanzini completed a cameo of incompetence, continuing to look a shadow of the player who had a decent season last year.
A late flurry of Soucek headers nearly gave West Ham their first goal of the season, and whilst the Czech midfielder struggled again today, he can count himself as the only West Ham player to threaten the goal. Both were saved well, and fantastically acrobatically, by Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal.
At the other end, March should have made it three as he missed a free header from seven yards out.
It ended at 2-0, but West Ham could have stayed a day and not scored. It's early in the season, but West Ham's 2022 results are a concern. This performance was unacceptable throughout the side, with at least Fabianski looking on blameless as his team capitulated in front of him.
For the manager, well, it's the opposite. He seems not to have learned from previous Brighton games, his team looks to be going backwards and he hasn't brought in the players to change it, at least on the evidence of their slow introduction to first team football.
Next up it's an away trip to Viborg, hopefully to seal Europa Conference football, but one that shouldn't be taken for granted. A team lacking in confidence could flounder were the Danes to take a 1-0 lead.
But it surely cannot be more insipid, uninspired and torpid than this.
David Moyes: 3/10
Not sure what the plan was, but it didn't look like one set by a manager who had seen Brighton before. Or been handily beaten by them a few months ago. The changes didn't work, the system didn't work, and not only did he not seem to plan for Brighton, he didn't react to them either. There's anger towards the players, but why have their levels dropped? Why do they look so off the pace? That's where the manager earns his money, and a confused pre-season looks to be hurting the team now.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Not really much he could do for the goals, and he was given the best seat in the house to watch just how bad his team played, and how dysfunctional the centre back pairing was.
Other than the second goal, Coufal defended his side well, not that Brighton used width too much. Probably should have tucked in for the second, but it's hard to see who to blame when the structure was so bizarre.
Gave away some sloppy freekicks, but his combative and frustrated play was far from the problem. Couple decent crosses.
Moyes has admitted in his post-match presser that Zouma is off the pace, and boy does he look it. Kehrer was the poorer of the two, but he wasn't helped to settle by whatever this version of Zouma is. Lethargic and laboured, he looks a long way off his best.
Ridiculous challenge for the penalty, and then not long after he made another lunging slide tackle that was late and probably could have had him sent off, were Brighton more cynical. The positioning for the second goal is inexcusable, just fundamentally wrong and awful from a centre back.
Far from a ??100m+ player on current form. He has got to improve his awareness with forward passing, whether that's overriding his instincts to play safe, just not seeing the passes or not being good enough to do them.
This will anger many, but the fact he offered some sort of goal threat saves him from a harsher rating. His passing was awful - 62% accuracy for a central midfielder - and he often looks lost against teams that pass slickly in neat patterns around him.
What is the problem with Jarrod Bowen at the moment? Even with last week against Forest, when the side deserved goals, Bowen was anonymous. He tried to drift into central areas today and had a little more impact, but isn?EUR(TM)t offering a threat on the wing, nor looking close to sniffing out a goal.
Flattered to deceive, the epithet to Benrahma's West Ham career, for the most part. In his defence, in a game where your team can't get to grips with the ball and let the defence settle in, it makes it much harder for him to have an impact. But if you waste the ball when you get it, that sympathy runs dry.
Worked hard, but couldn't push out to a press and drop in to help the midfield. Then just got lost in the shuffle. Still, he can produce inventive passes and really seems the only one who can pass forward and take players out of the game. Where everyone else seems robotic, he has a spark of magic, but you can?EUR(TM)t have just one creative passer in a team.
10 passes in 74 minutes. Just didn't get into the game. But most of the balls, as discussed, were hopefully punted up, and Brighton had three strong and mobile centre backs who dealt with him.
(Replaced Fornals 62) Couldn't really get into it, although he does have the look of a classy player when he gets the ball. Selfless knock down for Soucek created an opening.
(Replaced Antonio 75) Felt anonymous.
(Replaced Benrahma 75) Starting to look like he's far from good enough for Premier League football.
(Replaced Coufal 75) Actually managed his defensive work well and put in a decent cross going forward.
Did not play.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski , Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Thilo Kehrer, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio.
Booked: Thilo Kehrer 20 Aaron Cresswell 0 .
Sent off: None.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Sanchez, Veltman, Dunk, Webster, March (Mwepu 85), MacAllister, Caicedo, Trossard (Mitoma 90+3), Gross, Lallana (Estupinan 63), Welbeck.
Subs not used: Steele, Lamptey, Colwill, Alzate, Undav, Maupay.
Goals: Mac Allister (pen 22), Trossard (66).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the Match: Ben Johnson.