Aston Villa 0-1 West Ham United
Sunday, 28th August 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
The wait for a Premier League goal is over this season, with West Ham scoring their first and picking up their first points as they beat an abject Aston Villa 1-0 at Villa Park this afternoon.In a quite atrocious game of football, it was The Hammers who were resolute enough to take the three points, although had Pablo Fornals' shot not deflected horribly, and perfectly, off Ezri Konsa, both teams could have played an hour longer without scoring.
David Moyes made significant changes from the last Premier League outing, changing the side into more of a back five (or three, depending on your disposition) and bringing in Emerson and Scamacca for their first starts in the league, whilst Johnson came in for Coufal and took the right wing-back berth.
The system was rather rigid, with Bowen seemingly partnering Scamacca up top and Fornals left to be the only player with any fluidity to how and where he played.
And that is about the most interesting thing that can be said for the opening 45 minutes of football. Readers of these reports will note that they are written chronologically, taking the game by its action points. That remit would suggest the first half needs to be discussed, but watching it was enough.
Both teams were awful, West Ham more than Aston Villa. But considering how bad the Hammers were, how low confidence appeared and how clearly the system stunted any positives, Villa can almost come under more criticism for not doing anything against an opponent who could do nothing but try to stop them.
Gerrard's side lacked imagination, playing the same long diagonal into the space behind the right wing-back over and over again. On the majority of occasions, Kehrer was too quick and very aware, snuffing out openings and covering the gap until Johnson or Coufal, the Czech defender replacing an injured Johnson just after 20 minutes, could get back to cover.
The only, single moment of excitement came when Konsa had appeared to put his side ahead. It was from a Digne corner, whipped sharply at the front post, where Coutinho could only head against the woodwork from a couple of yards out. It rebounded out perfectly for Konsa to knock into an empty net, only for the assistant referee to have raised a flag, having seen the ball curl out of play from the original corner.
And that might as well have been that for the first half. Nothing happened. Fornals had one awful shot from a reasonably good Scamacca header down, and that was the only West Ham shot of the half. In the 42nd minute. With an xG value of 0.01. The perfect half of football if you were after a Sunday nap.
Rice was again out of sorts, combining a reluctance to play forward passes with a sloppiness on the ball that really only comes when he's struggling. Fornals, who at least sees Cresswell and Kehrer as two other players capable of passing from deep, was as likely to misplace a simple pass as he was to find something cute and clever.
It just wasn't working, which at least the manager recognised in his post-match interviews, admitting that a system he hoped would nullify their opponents actually allowed them to "thrive".
The only positives were the back three, all of whom defended well and used Kehrer and Cresswell on the ball smartly. There was also something to be said of Scamacca's performance, feeding off of scraps but making good passes and taking good touches in tight situations. The cliche rings true: he's got excellent feet for a big man.
Thankfully, the half came to an end. Neither team had deserved to score, with West Ham 0.01 xG only bettered by the home side's 0.14. Why any neutral would have watched, one cannot answer.
Moyes made his change, replacing Emerson - who did fine on debut without impressing - and bringing on Benrahma to add a new dimension to West Ham on the ball and in attack.
He came on in a central role, and Bowen appeared to go wide to the right, with Fornals down the left doing his usual intelligent role of making it a five-man backline when needed, and yet also being able to move in from the left in attacking play.
It changed how the away side played. Benrahma buzzed around, full of energy and enthusiasm, looking for space behind the midfield. Kamara and Luiz, both good holding players, went from having little presence there to a man desperate to expose any gaps between defence and midfield. Whilst the Algerian failed to deliver in some big moments on the ball, off the ball he made a massive difference. His neat passages of interplay with the forwards just gave West Ham an ability to move the ball around and find space to attack in a way that did not exist in the first half.
He remains a frustration, the arguments will rage for a long time about how good he was today. He did change the game, but he also flattered to deceive in some notable moments.
However you feel, Benrahma's introduction improved West Ham, and they went from passive to prominent, taking some control of the game and easily becoming the better side. In truth, that was little challenge as Aston Villa looked rudderless.
West Ham have now won their last five against the Villains, and it would be no surprise if the next attempt is against a different manager. For all the money and glamorous signings, Steven Gerrard's side were awful. Too many look like they have been signed for their name, not their significance to the team, the squad and a way of playing.
David Moyes's side, on the other hand, have got success in their recent past to lean on in times of trouble. With nothing working in the first half, some of the best of the second half came from counter-attacks and quick transitions after winning possession in the middle.
One such chance came when John McGinn, who is better with his backside than his feet, allowed Fornals to rob him of the ball and spring a quick counter. The pass was perfect for the path of Bowen's dash forward and the England international took it from just inside the Villa half and into the area. He kept ahead of his man, but drifted right. Forced to cut back onto his left, the opening was snuffed out by a great Digne tackle. Bowen really should have been more clinical, and it was the best opening of the first hour.
With 25 minutes to go, Antonio replaced Scamacca. The Italian had played reasonably well, but the game was suited to Antonio now, his ability to hold off defenders and hold the ball up allowed the likes of Bowen, Benrahma and Fornals to spring into attack and support him.
It's also worth noting how the central midfield pair worked today. Rice was poor for long periods, but Soucek, so criticised by many recently, remained steady. He used the ball well, conservatively but suited to his game, made more interceptions than anyone else in the game and covered across the midfield well. It was disciplined and defensive, but crucial to the win. Interestingly, it appeared he played more to left side, with Rice closer to the right, which is usually the other way around, Maybe having him alongside the better passers allowed him to play simple and keep possession?
The criticism of Rice was soon brushed off as the elite midfielder returned to life. A sharp pass between and through the Villa midfield found Fornals coming in off the left to the edge of the area. The Spaniard took in the sharp pass without a bother, settled himself and decided to take on the shot.
Well, if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win the raffle. Fornals' shot was immediately blocked by Konsa, but the deflection was perfect to loop the ball into the air, over Martinez and into the back of the net to give West Ham a lead, and their first Premier League of the season.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, it seemed to be the inspiration or confidence boost that Declan Rice needed. For the time remaining, back came one of the world's best defensive midfielders.
Loose balls were his, loose touches from an Aston Villa player saw the ball nicked off their feet.
It was crucial that this Declan Rice turned up, because the rest of the game became an exercise in defence against attack. Not only as it limited how Gerrard's side could attack, mainly limited to big balls into the box that Zouma met over and over again, but he also used those driving runs to put the home side on the back foot. One such run parted the Villa defence like the Red Sea, only for Kamara to scythe him down cynically on the edge of the box.
Villa kept banging on the door, Leon Bailey's quick feet making him a threatening substitution, but they found no space or chances. Zouma stood tall, Kehrer too, and in the end it was uncomfortable to watch, but comfortable for the West Ham defence as they saw out the remaining time and got West Ham off the foot of the table with the first win of the season.
All in time for a midweek game with Spurs.
David Moyes 7/10
Probably lucky we were not punished for an abysmal first half, the change of system worked, all his substitutions worked and, at the very least, the first half system helped us to defend better. With Paqueta seemingly done, it's interesting to see how he uses such a gifted player.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
A game where both goalkeepers will have been incredibly bored, Fabianski did nothing wrong and made a couple good catches.
Looked more comfortable at wing back than Coufal, but not sure it suits him. Didn't really have time to show more before he was injured, which must be hugely frustrating after getting ahead of him in the pecking order. Suffers a similar problem to Coufal sometimes, dumping it down the line when short of ideas, including one time when he had 10 yards of space ahead of him but just smashed an aimless ball down the line to nobody.
Seemed to be spells of the game where we just hoped Cresswell could find a pass, otherwise we'd have no way of using the ball. Defended well in both positions, passed well and has started the season with more consistency than anyone.
Looked perfectly fit for that wide centre back role in a three, dealing with Villa?EUR(TM)s diagonals into the space behind the wing back. Then was good on the left of two centre backs, his recovery pace clearly on show and made a difference.
With West Ham so poor on the ball in the first half, the defence had more to do as Villa got time on the ball. That the home side created little shows we defended well. Zouma was dominant all game, especially as things opened up in the second half. A wall for the late desperate attacks as Villa chased the game.
Declan was quite bad until he was suddenly very good, reverting back to the player he is. Once he played the incisive pass to Fornals, he woke up, whereas in the first half he turned down good options on the ball to instead be overly safe with it. After the goal, suddenly he was everywhere, snuffing out attacks, picking up on any loose touch and driving forward with the ball.
Calmly and quietly got about his defensive work, picking up scraps and recycling the ball simply. No impact on the attacking, but didn't seem his role today.
Didn't do anything wrong, but didn't really do anything right. Kept the ball quite well, yet offered little in attack. Like Johnson, he was a victim of a system that didn't work.
You could see the beginnings of an understanding with Scamacca, and the partnership wasn't a bust. But the system didn't work, and then Bowen went quiet once moved back to the wing. Just not quite making the ball stick when it was needed, but working hard off the ball and some nice touches in build up. Last year, he makes those breaks count. Not happening yet, this season.
Another game where, for large spells, only he and Cresswell could pass forward. But he also had a few easy passes that he was far too casual with and failed to deliver. However, the system change worked for him, and he was then smart enough to be the man who made it work as he flitted into different positions. The goal was lucky, but he got into a good pocket of space and took a chance.
He played quite well without being hugely effective, a little let down by the way the 10 ten players behind him were playing. Quick feet, was strong and made good runs. He isn't Antonio, and their differences are stark, but it's not really that one is better, they just do things differently and offer different ways to attack.
(Replaced Johnson 23) Did his defending well and was always on offer for the overlap or support in attack. But his passing was often poor, and he needs to get out of this habit of just chucking a looping ball down the wing if he runs out of ideas.
(Replaced Emerson 46) A really hard one to assess. A good substitution, he did what was required off the ball, always making runs and making the midfield and defence have to judge his position and where to engage. But on the ball, he often failed. He had chances to deliver in good areas, but either lost the ball, shot badly or crossed poorly. Yet his introduction and his movement into space made us a much better attacking threat. Game-changing, yet with notable areas to improve.
Michail Antonio 7/10
(Replaced Scamacca 65) Where Scamacca played little flicks or used his feet well, Antonio held defenders off and kept the ball under control until he could make space. Helped us to attack on quick counters, it suited us more and then helped a lot once we'd scored.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell, Thilo Kehrer, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Emerson Palmieri, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Gianluca Scamacca.
Goals: Pablo Fornals 74 .
Sent off: None.
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Chambers, Digne, Kamara, McGinn (Archer 90+1), Luiz (Ramsey 66), Coutinho (Buendia 66), Ings (Bailey 78), Watkins.
Subs not used: Olsen, Augustinsson, Young, Nakamba, Iroegbunam.
Booked: Cash, Kamara (79).
Sent off: None.
Referee: David Coote.
Man of the Match: Kurt Zouma.