Conference League
RSC Anderlecht 0-1 West Ham United 

Thursday, 6th October 2022
by Chris Wilkerson

It's three wins from three in the Europa Conference League for West Ham United as they beat Anderlecht 1-0 away in Belgium.

It gives The Hammers a five-point lead at the halfway mark of the group stages.

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In what was always targeted as the trickiest game of the groups, West Ham looked sharper than they have in any of these fixtures so far. Whereas FCSB and Silkeborg saw Moyes's side looking a touch complacent.

But here, the tone was set early by sharp passing and an energised performance. With a host of changes from the victory over Wolves at the weekend, many were shocked to see a side with neither Rice nor Soucek patrolling the midfield. Instead it was Downes and Lanzini as the central two, with Moyes deploying a 3-4-3 system.

In an entertaining first half, West Ham looked the more dangerous side, but the hosts carried threat, too, and it made for an interesting contest.

The West Ham front three were vibrant and energetic, Bowen growing in influence, Antonio strong and direct, and Benrahma typically frustrating as he veered from magic to madness by the second.

At the other end, Wolves loanee Fabio Silva did well to stretch Ogbonna down the sides, and he and Verschaeren did well to make the most of their moments as Anderlecht pushed to counter when given the chance.

It was Silva that had the first chance, a ball cut back to him in the box left him with an opening, but he smashed it hard against his own man amongst the mass of bodies that blocked the route to goal.

It was a chance to just remind West Ham that they could not afford some of the sloppiness that has infected their early European performances this season.

But that front three for the visitors was threatening, too. A good combination between Bowen and Antonio came close to setting up the striker with a brilliant chance. But the low cross from Bowen was just ahead of Antonio, and Benrahma was crowded out before having a shot deflected wide.

There was a good break away from Anderlecht that saw Verschaeren sting Areola's palms with a driven effort from the edge of the box, where the main concern for West Ham should have been how he managed to travel so far with the ball and not come under pressure from a West Ham defender.

There were hints of changes, a spell where Benrahma seemed to take the central role in attack as Bowen and Antonio tried to find space coming in off the flanks, and the football was good to watch from both sides.

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It was in this middle ground that Benrahma had his two standout moments of the first half.

The first came with good work running from the centre of the pitch and driving at the retreating Anderlecht defence. Antonio made his run in behind and Benrahma slid it in front of him, but the shot was all power and no poise, flying comfortably wide.

If that was the magic, the madness followed. After Downes did brilliantly to win the ball and play it forward to Bowen, the winger beat his man and rolled it into the centre of the area for the Algerian to finish. The pass was a touch behind Benrahma, but the finish was high, wide and not at all handsome, and underlined the two faces of Benrahma. He had already been berated for losing the ball under no pressure in the middle to halt one break, and the manager was likely losing some patience.

It was the big moment of the first half, but the deadlock was not broken as the teams were ushered off the pitch for half-time.

Returning for the second, West Ham took proper control of the game. After the opening 10 minutes or so drifted, suddenly The Hammers were first to every second ball, regaining possession of every clearance and pinning the Belgian side in their own last third.

But what they couldn't find was the breakthrough. Whilst they pressured, more and more attention was turning to the game Flynn Downes was having. Young and inexperienced at this level, Downes has had few chances so far to impress in a West Ham shirt.

But today was different. Composure, simplicity and passing positions were all what you wanted from him. He picked up loose ends, scurried after and hassled men on the ball, and he did that thing that West Ham fans remember Mark Noble always did: show for the ball.

That isn't to say he jumped in and solved all the ills in that midfield, and the transition of ball through defence and midfield, but he impressed enough that calls for him to start in the Premier League have gone from optimistic shouts for a local lad to claims supported with evidence.

Just before the 70th minute, with the pressure easing off, Moyes made changes. On came Scamacca, Paqueta and Rice for Antonio, Benrahma and Lanzini. It was clear now that the manager was sending the message that this game was to be won.

West Ham had lacked a verve, a certain level of dynamism in the middle that you will not get from a Downes-Lanzini partnership.

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Paqueta oozed class, too. He keeps things much more simple, but can bring out tricks. Just search Twitter for the video of his aerial control, so good that Cresswell could barely contain himself watching from the bench.

It led to a drop of intensity, to some extent, but it added better ball players and a control of possession that was less hectic. The chaos of Antonio replaced by the class of Scamacca.

The Italian soon set up Downes for a chance, a lovely touch round the corner giving Downes space just on the edge of the area to wind up and strike a ball on the bounce. Had it fallen to his right foot, it may have ended with a deserved goal, but he cut across it with the left and sliced it wide.

There were still two pivotal moments to come as time ebbed away. Such is football, a slightly different outcome from each could have completely changed the result.

The most crucial one was Scamacca's. Rice drove a diagonal from the left out wide to Coufal on the right. His soft header down to Paqueta bobbled away from the Brazilian, but only really to give him space to make something happen. As the defender got caught between closing him and following the runner, he did neither well. Paqueta flicked the ball calmly over his head and into the path of Scamacca, who needed no time at all, and no sight of the goal, to drive it low from the right and across goal into the bottom corner to give his side a deserved lead.

It was all the more surreal as England's best midfielder, Brazil's number 10 and Italy's number nine combined to score a lovely goal.

With a touch over 10 minutes left, West Ham will have been confident of seeing things out, but had it not been for the lightning reactions of Areola in goal, they would not have.

A cross from the right somehow saw Fabio Silva get in between two centre backs much taller than him and rise high to head at goal from six yards out.

It should have flown past Areola, but it was just close enough for him to swing a big army out and hooked it away from goal. How he did it, it's hard to say, the reactions were incredible to behold.

There was still time for Fornals to try scoring from the halfway line, but West Ham got over the line and took complete control of their group. With five points cushion, Moyes's side will expect now to win at ease. Hopefully, it will give the likes Oliver Scarles the chance to make his debut, the 16-year-old travelling with the first team and taking a place on the bench for the game.

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Manager's Rating

David Moyes: 8/10
Mainly for the confidence to leave Rice and Soucek on the bench, stick to his guns and make adjustments. The subs worked perfectly, and he tinkered with things during the game to try make inroads.

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Player Ratings

Alphonse Areola
Two moments of concentration were basically all that was needed, but that last save made sure it was a victory rather than a draw. A big moment and he answered it.

Vladimir Coufal
Coufal can be an awkward player on the ball, and as a wing-back, he is tasked with doing a lot with it. He gets up and down that flank tirelessly, and if his energy was replicated on the other side, we would be a better team. But aside from crossing, his use of the ball is poor and he doesn't suit the system.

Adds drive and pace, but he's not a great wing-back, in what the modern game asks, anyway. He's not a particularly good left back, so it seems he's an absolute replacement for Masuaku, in so much that he's quick, left-footed and he's not really good enough to care too much about.

Craig Dawson
Other than the chance at the end, the defence was under control. Dawson played well, stepping out on occasion when he just seemed sick of the other team having the ball.

Angelo Ogbonna
A touch sloppy at times, but he recovered well to defend when he was. He's not peak condition or sharp, but he's doing the gritty bits of his defending like he used to. Now needs to find the control.

Ben Johnson
Quiet and controlled. He is good in that role, and whilst he isn't as good on the ball as Kehrer, he is comfortable and has good recovery pace.

Flynn Downes
Best player on the pitch. Bites into tackles, gnaws away at players as they hold the ball, covers ground, disciplined, neat passer. He's very Nobes, but more disciplined and less creative.

Manuel Lanzini
Lanzini was fine. Neat little passing, held his position well, kept the ball moving. But he hasn't the ingenuity of Paqueta or the muscle, and alongside Downes, there was little dynamism.

Jarrod Bowen
The best of the attacking three and looks a man on a mission now. Whether he was told he had to improve his form if he wanted to make the World Cup, no-one but that pair will know, but he has looked much better since the disappointment of the international break.

Said Benrahma
Not bad, nor very good. Whereas Lanzini was fine in a tepid, forgetful way, Benrahma was fine in as much as his good balanced out his bad.

Michail Antonio
Looked a little lethargic at times, and is going to need to find his shooting boots if he is going to be the number one man up front.


Gianluca Scamacca
(Replaced Antonio 69) Set up a big chance and scored the winner with a clinical finish.

Lucas Paqueta
(Replaced Benrahma 69) Another who just has a level of class that was missing last year. Nice assist.

Declan Rice
(Replaced Lanzini 69) Did his job well and reasonably comfortably.

Pablo Fornals
(Replaced Bowen 86) Love his ambition, at least, for that shot.

Lukasz Fabianski
Did not play.

Darren Randolph
Did not play.

Aaron Cresswell
Did not play.

Thilo Kehrer
Did not play. Other unused subs: Conor Coventry, Tomas Soucek, Ollie Scarles

Kurt Zouma
Did not play. Other unused subs: Conor Coventry, Tomas Soucek, Ollie Scarles

Match Facts

West Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Emerson, Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Ben Johnson, Flynn Downes, Manuel Lanzini, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Gianluca Scamacca 79                  .

Booked: Manuel Lanzini 67 Angelo Ogbonna 73 Vladimir Coufal 82 Flynn Downes 90    .

Sent off: None.

RSC Anderlecht: Van Crombrugge, Debast, Hoedt, Delcroix (Moussa 87), Murillo, Ashimeru (Raman 65), Diawara (Esposito 87), Arnstad, Amuzu (Duranville 46), Verschaeren (Refaelov 80), Silva.

Subs not used: erbruggen, Coosemans, Vertonghen, Sadiki, Sardella, N’Diaye, Stroeykens, Stassin.

Goals: .

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Novak Simovic.

Attendance: 22,500.

Man of the Match: Flynn Downes.