West Ham United 1-0 Silkeborg
Thursday, 27th October 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It's five wins from five in the Europa Conference League for West Ham, the fifth win securing The Hammers top spot in the group, and a bye for the next round of the competition.A first-half penalty from Manuel Lanzini was enough to win the game for David Moyes and his side, and the second half was played out with little incident or anxiety over that lead, whether losing it or extending it.
It won't matter to the squad and their manager, the side controlling the game well enough to keep Silkeborg at arm's length throughout, and the 1-0 lead meant the visiting Danes would have to score twice to take any drama into the last ties of the round.
The main excitement came in the form of Nayef Aguerd, the Moroccan centre back making his competitive debut for the side. He oozed class throughout, given opportunity to show off his range of passing and his turn of pace to put in a very encouraging performance.
The side was settled into their 3-4-3 shape that has become the norm in the competition. Benrahma, Fornals and Antonio provided the attacking thrust, a fluid front three that saw this split-style that Moyes has asked of his forwards often in Europe. Two would split and push wide, whilst one would drop in and get involved more on the ball.
It worked well for the three of them, especially Benrahma and Fornals who buzzed around and found pockets of space to play in.
The pair found clever and creative passes, and any real signs of breaking through the Silkeborg defence came from their work. It was a clever Fornals pass that got Antonio into the area for the first chance, the striker bundling through his man and then forcing a good save from a tight angle.
It wasn't a bad game to watch from a West Ham perspective, but it was not a thriller for the neutral. Moyes's side controlled the ball and controlled the game, but chances were not flowing.
The positives were individual performances, especially those from players who have yet to find real form this season. Lanzini and Fornals both grew into the half and found more passes, Lanzini, in particular, showing a level of dynamism in midfield that has been missing in his performances so far this term, which helped him get to loose balls quicker and keep West Ham ticking.
The defence had control, with all three of Johnson, Aguerd and Ogbonna looking sharp enough to snuff out the minimal threat they faced. The Moroccan's pace will have excited many of the home fans, who be happy to see a player who can pass, with height, and with a turn of pace on the recovery.
Coventry looked assured, too, whilst Coufal is growing into his wing-back role. It was the Irishman who was next to come close for The Hammers, after a lovely combination from Fornals and Benrahma led to the Algerian taking the ball in on the right of the Silkeborg box and cutting it back to Coventry on the edge. He took a touch to get it out of his feet then dug out an effort that was so close, it looked like it had gone through the post.
It was a warning shot, and West Ham had the lead a few minutes later.
After a sustained spell of possession for the away side, West Ham were strong in their shape and forced the Danes back slowly towards their own goal. When they lost it, Fornals found a lovely pass through the Silkeborg defence to get Antonio into the box. His heavy touch took the chance at goal away, but as it flew to the byline, the Silkeborg goalkeeper came out to meet Antonio as he burst after the ball. The striker got a toe to it first, then went down as the goalkeeper's knee made contact.
The ball had rolled off, the contact wasn't particularly strong, but Antonio went down and the penalty was given.
Lanzini stepped up and continued his perfect penalty record for the club, passing the ball firmly and low to the goalkeeper's left.
It didn't quite kill the game as a contest, there was a little way over an hour to go, but any hint of intensity dissipated. Silkeborg offered close to nothing, whilst West Ham lacked a little something to turn their control of the game into a frightening attacking display.
There was one chance left in the half, Lanzini brilliantly delaying a pass on the edge of the area when Benrahma ran offside, holding the ball a little longer and then angling a ball through to Coufal, who crossed at the byline and found Benrahma free, but his header bounced wide.
The Hammers came out for the second half with no changes, unsurprising considering their command of the ball so far. They nearly scored within minutes of the restart, and should have, but for Fornals finishing poorly.
It had come again from the Danes trying to pass their way out of defence and failing, passing right to the Spaniard in their own penalty area, only for Fornals to hammer his shot wide when in a great position to score.
It is an area of weakness for the former Villarreal man. His composure when the goal beckons is not good enough, especially for a player who can find incisive passes better than almost every player in the squad.
And this dominance and control was borne from Moyes's European system, the back three with the split forwards.
It has been a curious implementation, one discussed by KUMB's better brains on the KUMB Podcast, and one that is good enough to overwhelm sides like Silkeborg.
But it's lesser seen in the Premier League, and there are still shortcomings to it. Are Emerson and Coufal good enough wing-backs to make this work against the better sides. Conversely, does the system allow for one more defensive player than necessary, when a back four would allow the full backs to push forward and give room for an extra man in midfield or attack?
Here, Lanzini and Coventry were easily in control of the midfield, and with options like Bowen, Cornet and Paqueta all unavailable, the system has been ideal to get fringe players more time on the pitch, in control of games, whilst learning a new system for the team.
With all that in mind, and a perfect record to win the group with a game to spare, a little conversation over entertainment value seems almost arrogant.
And these games are not so easy that West Ham can just turn up and win, which should recognise both the need for serious selections and the accomplishment of, once more, winning the group stages of a European competition with minimal fuss.
Whilst the Hammers led, 1-0 is a dangerous score. Whether they had been lulled into gentle distraction, suddenly West Ham allowed Silkeborg chances to get back into the game.
The first was comfortable for Areola in the West Ham goal, a low drive from outside the area nestling comfortably into his arms.
But the second stretched the Frenchman. This time, the forward found space in the West Ham box and got away from Johnson with quick movement. The shot from an angle was fierce and Areola reacted well to get a finger to it and ensure it went over the bar.
For those whose memories stretch as far back as Monday - and almost any one-goal lead West Ham have - there will have been fears that this opportunity could inspire new life from Silkeborg's attack and, much like Monday, see West Ham forced back and allow pressure from a team that had until that point looked like offering nothing to concern anyone.
On this occasion, Silkeborg didn't really have enough about them to force the question, and West Ham maintained a comfort with their lead.
They came very close to extending it just beyond the hour, Benrahma doing fantastically to control a long Fornals corner to the back post, feinting to shoot and beating a man before driving a low shot from around eight yards out. The goalkeeper was beaten, but not the defender on the line, who managed to stick out a leg and squeeze the ball wide.
Moyes soon made the usual raft of changes, first sending on Scamacca and Downes for the game's liveliest pair Benrahma and Fornals, and replacing Aguerd for Kehrer around the 75-minute-mark. All three had given reason for cheer, the attacking pair buzzing and creative, the centre back coming through unscathed and looking a class apart.
There was time for Areola to save Kehrer's blushes at the back after the defender allowed Adamson to burst through his defensive clearance and into the box, only for the goalkeeper to react quickly to come off his line and force the forward off the pitch.
There was a late header over from Scamacca, too, the Italian generating incredible power as he ran back from goal to retrieve an Emerson corner that was a good half a yard behind him, but the game was gone.
Silkeborg will be content enough knowing a draw against Anderlecht next week will take them into the next round of the competition, the Belgians held to a draw by bottom-placed FCSB earlier in the day.
West Ham can face the Bulgarians in any form they want next week, with top spot confirmed. Expect a mixture of youngsters and those fringe players who need minutes. Aguerd and Ogbonna will likely anchor the defence, whilst the likes of Coventry and Lanzini will be in line for more minutes, too.
With only weeks to the World Cup break, West Ham have started to get into their stride, and can look forward to Europa Conference League football in March.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
A boring night for Areola, but was up to any challenge he faced. Always aware off his line, which is more impressive considering how concentration must have been a struggle.
It?EUR(TM)s tempting to score him highly for such an impressive debut, but he didn?EUR(TM)t need to be very good. It was the potential that you envisioned in watching him that excited so much. The grace, the passing, those diagonals, that little step of pace for a centre back.
Always liable to get turned once or twice but was strong in the air and is making tentative improvement with each outing.
Unchallenged but controlled. Suits that third centre back role, and his recovery pace comes in useful.
One of his better games in the wing-back role. Felt like he was a more present threat on the flank and understood when to make his runs and where he should be. Hits the first man less than most of our crossers from wide.
Very controlled showing, a little bolder and more aggressive in winning the ball back and controlling the midfield.
Picked out some lovely passes, took his penalty well, but it was the dynamism in his play that was encouraging. Just making that quicker step to win a loose ball, move through players into advanced positions and controlling the tempo. But then able to split defences with his passing.
His pass and direct running make a good contrast, but he did feel on the periphery here.
The most entertaining player on the pitch. It is never all going to come off for Benrahma, but he and Fornals looked naturals in the system with this freedom to roam and switch roles.
Dovetailed with Fornals and Benrahma well, taking up positions across the front three. Some clever passes in there, and won the penalty. You can understand why he may have started to go to ground more easily; referees rarely give fouls for him as he stands his ground.
The best passer on the pitch, if only he could finish. Looked more like his old self, and seemed to really thrive in central positions with the striker?EUR(TM)s runs in front of him.
As with all the subs, they came into a flat and dead game and it stayed safely there.
He did make some good passes and headed a decent effort over, but also over complicated things he was doing.
One major test and he failed, saved by Areola.
The game was truly over as he entered.
And nothing happened once the pair came on.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Nayef Aguerd, Angelo Ogbonna, Ben Johnson, Vladimir Coufal, Conor Coventry, Manuel Lanzini, Emerson Palmieri, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio, Pablo Fornals.
Sent off: None.
Subs not used: .
Sent off: None.
Man of the Match: .