West Ham United 1 Crystal Palace 2
Sunday, 6th November 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
Progress is a fickle beast. To achieve more than you previously have, to make improvements, a certain risk is required. For every change you make, you are risking a level of instability.Now, that doesn't sound like the start of a match report, but some matches mean more than just their 90-minute span, forming part of a pattern or narrative. A 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace can happen, and that the visitors played well and deserved their win isn't something that this West Ham side are or ever will be above.
However, Patrick Vieira's side came with a style that contrasted West Ham's and only highlighted their issues. Even with The Hammers taking the lead, they were bettered by Palace from start to finish, playing awfully across the pitch and incapable of playing with much verve, direction or particular skill.
Where Palace played what you might call a modern brand of football. West Ham had none. There is no style to this team, not even the bloody-minded, stubborn backbone that has held Moyes's West Ham together in times of weakness.
This West Ham side were not entirely spineless. They stayed in the game, managed to hold a creative side at bay and had moments of ascendancy, especially in the second half, even when playing badly.
And the story of the game was of two sides far apart in ideas, ideals and invention.
Crystal Palace have settled into a style under Vieira, moving on from the basics of Hodgson to a new, young and vibrant side that look to play clever, attractive passing football.
West Ham looked unsettled, a long way from finding the instinctive rhythms of their opponents, a team that look like they would rather someone else has the ball.
The Hammers never got going. This was not a case of starting well and falling away, they just started slack and got worse. There were constant poor choices on the ball, some more dangerous than others, and you won't have to have been a West Ham fan for very long to have seen the signs in the home side's play to know it could be a long afternoon.
At least twice before Dawson eventually created the first Crystal Palace goal with a frankly stupid pass, others had made their own howlers. Whilst an errant pass from Soucek across the pitch was intercepted and forced howls of anger from the stands, Benrahma also managed to play a no-look pass into his own area to a Palace player.
With encouragement - in the form of West Ham being awful - Crystal Palace grew into things quickly and took over the ball. Olise and Eze were a breath of fresh air, two players that West Ham do not really have a version of in their own team, and two players who would improve it drastically. The pair glided across the West Ham half, exchanging passes with the likes of Ayew and Zaha, looking to find holes in the defence, but patient enough to keep things moving and testing again at different angles.
At the other end, it's hard to describe. The closest thing to a plan seemed to be Cresswell crossing from the left. When West Ham did score, it came from out of nowhere and inspired nothing.
They were under real pressure when they did take that lead, with Rice chasing shadows as Eze and Olise abused his space. It won't go down well with a section of the support - more on those later - but the English midfielder was the poorer of the central pairing. Did an early knock get his mind into thoughts of the World Cup?
With West Ham penned back regularly, the opener came against the run of play. With a touch of space, Paqueta poked a ball to Benrahma on the edge of the box. The Algerian had a pocket to operate in, with no one defender getting close even though he was surrounded by three. One thing Benrahma does do is shoot, and he isn't scared to try the difficult. With that little bit of space he had, right on the edge of the box, he lashed the ball into the top corner with his right boot and gave his side a quite undeserved lead.
West Ham fans will have seen their side start games slowly many times before (and that's just this season) and often find something to spark them into life. They would have to hope it would be the manager's team talk at half-time, because Palace were back in control straight after, undeterred by such misfortune.
Instead, it was another 25 minutes to merely survive until the break. They didn't.
There had been half chances, but the away side always looked to find an extra pass when the opening was simpler. Had they been left to their own efforts all game, they probably wouldn't have scored.
But in came a big Craig Dawson pass. He blasted a ball at an awkward height to Kehrer on the touchline, who failed to control and saw Eze swoop in to take possession. The midfielder fed Zaha quickly, who shimmied and shifted the ball onto his right before blasting emphatically into the back of the net. It was the least they had deserved and it came at a great time, four minutes before the first 45 was done.
As half-time came, even a normally written match report would have found little to say of Scamacca and Bowen, whilst Paqueta had yet to find much influence. The Italian striker was withdrawn during the break, presumably by a manager who felt something needed to change and could only diagnose the blame up top.
It did nothing to help the team improve. Whatever problems there were - and I don't want to relive enough of this game to list them all - it was not down to one player and going to be solved by one change.
That is not to say Scamacca was good - he was appalling - but it was no solution.
This was a fundamental, systematic issue. It wasn't working for anyone. Both Zouma and Paqueta were fine individually, and Kehrer and Cresswell were not awful either, but it didn't really matter; West Ham were not a team in sync.
Palace just controlled the ball, the space, the territory and the game. There is no lyrical terms for better description, it was a blunt and clear control.
One thing that did change was Paqueta moving into different spaces in deeper positions to try win the ball. Any good moments in either half came from his passing, and the Brazilian still found skills, flicks and tricks to delight a negative and quiet West Ham crowd.
He kept looking for space to operate and is not only our best intricate passer, but best in those deeper areas, too, starting moves and making the tempo. He feels the solution at both ends, but the manager has yet to find a system that really gets the best out of him in both.
The second half passed in a blur of frustration. Little came off, little really happened, and I would breeze through nearly all of it without comment were it not for the react to a pair of substitutions.
Whilst few seemed to disagree with the change at half-time- Scamacca had touched the ball 15 times and made five passes in 45 minutes - there was anger around the manager's next choices.
First to be replaced was Benrahma, which elicited loud boos from a surprising number of West Ham fans. Their Algerian had scored, but otherwise been poor. Their argument may well have been that it's always Benrahma, it was always going to be Benrahma taken off, regardless of Bowen's performance, amongst others.
And it would have been forgivable, if it had not been followed by the nasty, mocking applause that followed the substitution of Tomas Soucek.
Soucek's passing has become a lightning rod for some fans, the cause of our woes and the worst part of watching West Ham play. It matters not what Soucek does defensively, as that is not only expected, but boring. That his last touch before the substitution was a lunging interception that halted a very threatening counter attack won't matter.
Of the midfield two, Soucek recorded one tackle, four interceptions, two clearances and one blocked shot. Declan Rice made one interception and one blocked shot.
But as his name was read out, many rose to sarcastically applaud, and applaud in a way that sent a very clear message to Tomas Soucek. They'll argue that it was bemoaning the manager's supposed favouritism, but children make a lot of excuses when called on their behaviour.
On came Downes and Lanzini, and it worked to liven West Ham up. The young English midfielder did immediately give the ball away in a dangerous area when he had no excuse to, but the change of emphasis to players more eager to pass and move helped. Certainly, Lanzini looked sharper again and is finding his feet finally as we hit November. To his credit, Downes ended with 100% passing accuracy, but that doesn't hide an otherwise anonymous substitute performance.
The real drama was to come in the late stages. With 20 minutes left, and West Ham retaining the ball much better with Lanzini, Rice, Paqueta and Downes getting on it in deep positions, Palace sat a little deeper, aware that a point would have been far less than they deserved, but better than being pipped late on.
West Ham struggled to really create anything until it looked they had won a penalty with only minutes remaining.
It all could have been so different. Antonio burst through chasing a ball and drove with it into the box. The space and time to shoot or pass was there, but the striker tried to beat his defender. The touch was rough, but got him by his man, only to fall to the ground as his arm was dragged.
The referee pointed to the spot, but was soon sent to check the VAR screen and overruled his decision. It did look soft.
There was still time for an Ayew booking for a dive in the West Ham box, and then the Hammers looked to have one final chance in the game. Pushing hard for the goal, Antonio got to the byline in the penalty box and looked up to see his options.
With seconds left, the right choice and a goal would mean the win.
Does anyone remember the game at Selhurst Park in 2017? West Ham are 2-1 up with seconds to go and Antonio at the Palace byline?
Anyway, he did the same thing again, giving the ball right to Guaita. And Palace went up the other end and scored. It was lucky, Olise's effort looping off Cresswell, over Fabianski and into the far corner, but they deserved it. And so did we.
As they did the boos that rang out on the final whistle. There's only a League Cup and one more terrible Premier League game to go before the World Cup. Let's just make it through to then.
David Moyes 3/10
Team were bad from beginning to end, his changes didn't work well enough, if at all, and mostly came too late. He coaches the side and it cannot pass.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Made a number of routine saves and had no chance with the goals.
Thilo is really interesting at the moment. He shows a little more of his game at right back with each appearance there, and there were more runs down the flank than expected. Probably should be smarter with a bad pass like Dawson's to know what he can and can't control, but it was fired at him.
Didn't offer a presence in the opposition half.
The mistake for the goal would leave you to think he is about to get slaughtered here. But, actually, he made some very important interventions in both halves. Had he not first lost the ball and then been beaten by Zaha, he probably gets a 7 or 8. But that's a life that didn?EUR(TM)t happen.
Didn't get through the same amount of defensive work as Dawson - for better or worse - but actually still looked a much better player for not needing to look so decisive. His positioning was right, he passed well, he covered and he was where he needed to be, doing what he needed to do, and with minimal fuss.
Bettered by Eze and Olise, he was physically weak on 50/50s with Zaha, didn't get hold of the midfield at all and couldn't stop what Palace were doing. His passing out was not good enough.
One notably rough pass will be enough for some to cling to. His ugly, defensive work just isn't interesting enough for some, won?EUR(TM)t catch the attention, but the criticism of the midfielder has become farcical.
Anonymous. Not a threat, Mitchell maintained control well down that side.
Benrahma was really bad outside of the goal. He would be on a Bowen score, at least. But he scored a brilliant goal, and goals are a priceless commodity, especially in struggling sides. Them's the breaks. The boos for taking him off were ridiculous, a Twitterfication of West Ham.
Maybe a touch charitable, but gets credit for trying to use movement and make things happen in deeper areas, as well as an assist and looking the only capable player of passing a ball well.
Scamacca was relatively pointless. It wasn?EUR(TM)t all his fault, but he was also awful within what he could do.
(Replaced Scamacca 46) Struggled, and whilst he can do more on his own than Scamacca, the team really seemed to want him to prove it, so left him to do things alone.
(Replaced Benrahma 63) If you want to know how bad West Ham were, Lanzini is getting a 7 for coming on with an attitude to pass and use the ball. Yeah, that?EUR(TM)s the bar.
(Replaced Soucek 63) Solid, unexceptional and of no real help.
(Replaced Paqueta 90) Well played in the week, Pablo, here?EUR(TM)s 2 minutes.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Thilo Kehrer, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Lucas Paqueta, Gianluca Scamacca.
Goals: Said Benrahma 20 .
Booked: Craig Dawson 0 .
Sent off: None.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Clyne, Andersen, Guéhi, Mitchell, Schlupp, Doucouré (Milivojević 77), Eze, Olise, Ayew, Zaha.
Subs not used: Johnstone, Whitworth, Ward, Tomkins, Riedewald, Hughes, Ebiowei, Mateta.
Goals: Zaha (41), Olise (90+4).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Man of the Match: .