West Ham United 4 AEK Larnaca 0
Thursday, 16th March 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham eased through into the next round of the Europa Conference League, having a bit of fun on the way as David Moyes side scored four to go with their two from the week before and win the tie 6-0 on aggregate against AEK Larnaca.The Cypriots had a little too much of the game for comfort in the first leg, but were handled extremely comfortably at the London Stadium, although they were not helped by a red card just as the first half came to an end.
Who knows how it might have gone without the card, but The Hammers found the goals to match their control after ending the first half 1-0 up. They opened the second with a couple of quick-fire Bowen goals, and a fourth was then added by Academy starlet Divin Mubama.
There were six changes from the weekend's draw with Aston Villa, with Ogbonna, Johnson, Cresswell, Lanzini, Fornals and Scamacca given the chance to shine under the lights.
It appeared to be more of a 4-2-3-1 compared to the weekend's 4-3-3, with Lanzini wide left and Fornals playing behind Scamacca and ahead of Paquet?? and Soucek in midfield.
The Spaniard brought energy with him, pushing high up the pitch and working relentlessly to get around his striker and link with the midfield.
And The Hammers did start with control, and a control that did not falter like in the first leg of this tie. The visitors needed to win by two clear goals just to take this game to extra time, which felt like a foreboding task considering the difference in quality between the two sides.
Whether or not they truly felt they could do that, they were never really given the opportunity by a side who looked comfortable throughout, confident in their ability to dictate the game.
They were also bringing a different attacking threat in this game. More than just a more forward-thinking role for Fornals, the way Scamacca plays presents a very contrasting question to that of Antonio up front.
As if to prove the point, the first shot of the game came from the Italian as he peeled out to the left wing. Having looked up to see little in the middle, he just slapped a shot at goal, whistling just past the far post. The man will shoot from anywhere, and it's not the worst thing to see in a side that lacks natural goalscorers.
The only real threat the visitors offered came around the 10th minute, as Johnson lost his man and was beaten for pace as the ball was passed through down the West Ham right. Thankfully, the ball fired across the face of goal was palmed away smartly by Areola, who was never tested more than this throughout the rest of the match.
What West Ham were lacking was a touch of composure in the important areas. The Cypriots were consistent in trying to pass out through midfield from defence, but less consistent in retaining possession. On multiple occasions, the right pass on regaining the ball could have created a chance for The Hammers.
But with perseverance soon came soon came reward. This time, Fornals intercepted a sloppy pass in the midfield and quickly laid off to Lanzini.
The Argentine is rarely anything other than calm on the ball, and after a burst of pace to drive forward, he rolled it left to Scamacca, just inside the Larnaca box.
The striker tried to chop it back onto his right foot and create space for the shot. He was tackled, but that worked in his favour, the ball bobbling out behind the defender. Scamacca reacted first, swinging at the loose ball and managed to toe punt it low and hard at goal.
It was right at the goalkeeper, but whether it was how suddenly the forward had taken it, or just that it came to him at an awkward position from close range, the ball went through Piric in the AEK goal, and bounced through and into the back of the net. It wasn't by any means a wonderfully crafted goal, but they needn't all be.
Whatever jeopardy there may have been in the tie, and it was slender, was pretty much removed after 20 minutes. With two in qualifying and two in the group stages, it took Scamacca to five goals in Europe this season.
It was nearly 2-0 very quickly after, when Paquet?? fed a through ball to Scamacca in the box. But after it was brilliantly tucked away, the flag was raised for offside.
Not long after, West Ham were saved by the flag at the other end. Nikolic sprinted through the West Ham defence and onto a smart pass before passing beyond Areola, but the flag went up to rule it out.
It really was their final flourish, and West Ham took it as a warning sign to sharpen up.
Bowen soon smashed a shot far wide after making himself space in the bo, but the last two highlights of the half belonged to Fornals.
First, the Spaniard hit the bar with a lovely effort. After Scamacca moved into space receiving through the middle, he turned to see Fornals and Bowen making runs either side of him.
Bowen darted at goal, but it was Fornals that Scamacca passed to. In the box, the midfielder delayed to look for the pass, then opened his body up and curled a looping effort over the goalkeeper to the far post.
It struck the underside of the bar, bouncing down towards Johnson, whose improvised bicycle kick was far wide.
Then, just before half-time, Fornals got the ball in the middle of the Larnaca half, darted at goal and was taken down by a tired and late challenge by Ledes. The midfielder was booked, with no complaints from anyone, but the referee was then sent to the monitor.
There was no way the challenge was going to look good slowed down. Fornals and gone past him, and then lunge in was tired, lazy, but saw studs rake down the Spaniard's calf, and hard. It was a clumsy challenge, but the red card was inevitable once the referee was given a second look.
As he changed his decision and pulled out the red card, the protests came not just from the Cypriot team, but from Fornals, too, who seemed to feel a yellow was perfectly acceptable punishment.
It led to a half-time lead for West Ham, a 3-0 aggregate lead and 45 minutes to play at home against 10-men.
Moyes changed nothing in the break, and why would he? His team had controlled the ball, the tempo and the game. Lanzini played narrow on the left, giving West Ham a lovely triangle of passers in him, Fornals and Paquet?? to use the ball in the opposition half. Scamacca dropped into the space behind him, and his ability to pick a pass finally had him looking suited to the players around him.
It took only a couple of minutes to get the second of the game. After a lovely passing move looked to have ended with Bowen unable to find a man with a cutback, the ball was badly cleared and back to West Ham.
When the ball came to Soucek, he bundled across the edge of the box before moving it along to Scamacca. As he often does, he looked to force space for a shot. It wasn't neat, but he got a sight of goal and hit quick, another low and hard shot.
The goalkeeper got down to parry it out, but there was a line of West Ham players following in, and it was Bowen who got there first, guiding it in from a tight angle.
He had a second moments later.
This one was brilliant from Bowen. The ball was moved around nicely before getting to Cresswell on the left. Bowen had laid it off to him and run on the inside, looking for a pass in the box. Cresswell lined up to cross, and whether he intended to hit Bowen or not, the ball was fired in a little behind the winger.
It mattered not, for Bowen. He arched back an managed to flick the ball at goal with his forehead, turning it at goal and looping the effort over the goalkeeper and into the far corner. It was a fantastic header, Bowen's fifth goal in Europe this season, and enough to make him West Ham's leading European goalscorer.
Within the first five minutes of the half, West Ham had put their opponents to the sword.
It gave Moyes his chance to make changes, bringing on Mubama, Cornet and Ings for Bowen, Paquet?? and Scamacca. West Ham went to a 4-4-2, with Cornet wide left, Fornals on the other side, and Mubama and Ings through the middle.
From here on, the game became much more like an exhibition match, similar in intensity to a pre-season friendly.
All the atmosphere needed, and all the fans really wanted at this point, was some success for the academy graduates on the pitch. There was soon to be an introduction for Freddie Potts and Levi Laing, a debut for the young defender, but not before a wonderful moment.
A corner from Cresswell was delivered high to the far post and headed powerfully down towards goal by Soucek.
It looked a harmless header to save, but Divin Mubama had moved himself away from his man on the goal and to the ball. His clever flick was the perfect piece of improvisation, and he was rewarded as it beat all behind him and nestled into the back of the net for his first senior West Ham goal.
Potts and Laing soon replaced Soucek and Zouma, and Steve Potts' lad played very well anchoring the midfield, looking like a young Declan Rice as he snuffed out danger and moved the ball on.
There was a late chance of a Johnson penalty, but the referee seemed uninterested in the claims, even though the defending on the full back was less than controlled.
The Hammers strolled through the last half an hour, and the final whistle was warmly greeted as once more David Moyes leads West Ham into the quarter-finals of a European competition.
It was a fascinating night in the Europa Conference, with strong sides like Lazio and Villarreal both knocked out, with AZ Alkmaar and Anderlecht - who have changed manager since they were brushed aside so easily by this side earlier in the competition - now stepping forward as challengers to the crown.
Gent, Nice, Lech Poznan, Fiorentina and Basel make up the rest of the last eight. This is the business end of the competition now, but the European tour continues for West Ham, who are 10 wins from 10 so far this season.
David Moyes 8/10
Comfortable victory, made easy by the strong team in the first leg, and then a good chance to get time for Fornals, Scamacca, Lanzini, Cresswell and Cornet. Used his bench smartly, especially giving young prospects time.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
The little he had to do, he did well, including claiming the odd cross.
The only two moments of worry did come from his channel, but he was otherwise rarely challenged. Could have burst forwards more.
Comfortable in defence, with a couple good headers won, and a nice assist, even if the cross wasn't perfect. Offers more variety in his corners than other takers.
Controlled, and in the one moment someone ran away from him, he made a big sliding tackle to take the ball. It almost looked like he made it just to challenge himself.
Probably quite a boring game for Ogbonna, who it is hard to remember having played, let alone doing anything.
Never really got out of first gear, but played some lovely linking football and appeared to enjoy having Lanzini and Fornals around him.
Maybe life after Declan Rice needs no new signing? Soucek looks very suited to a game where he sits behind creative players and just does a lot of gritty work. Good header for Mubama's goal, too.
Lanzini works in Europe. The game is a little slower, West Ham have more control of it, and he makes himself available as a passing option constantly. He also appears more threatening in attacking areas, likely due to the extra time he gets on the ball.
There really needs to be a way for Moyes to find a spot in his Premier League team for Pablo Fornals. The constant energy, running and desire to look forward for a pass adds something the side if otherwise lacking. He isn't as skilful as Benrahma, he doesn't score like Bowen, but his game is full of intelligence and workrate that the other two cannot match.
One of those ideal Bowen games. Didn't have to do a lot, then scores two goals. Needs to find these in the league, it will keep his side up.
A good game for Scamacca, not only because he got a goal. He looked to fit in with a side that had more attacking, forward-thinking players on the pitch than usual, with Bowen and Fornals working hard to make good runs when Scamacca dropped in to get the ball. His goalscoring instinct and desire makes him dangerous, and someone who can threaten from outside the box like him will get West Ham goals just from rebounds.
(Replaced Scamacca 54) It's hard to judge young players on cameo performances, but there was a lot to like about Mubama. The goal was smart, but his movement up front, his frame and his ability to work the channels make him a much more interesting prospect to this West Ham team than Sonny Perkins before him.
(Replaced Bowen 54) With Mubama doing all his running, Ings dropped in and tried to link with midfield. The intensity had all gone, especially once the youngster scored.
(Replaced Paqueta 54) Struggled to make an impact on the game.
(Replaced Soucek 68) Looked good, aware of the danger around him and intelligent with his positioning.
(Replaced Zouma 68) Hard for him to excel, there was no threat.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson , Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Angelo Ogbonna, Lucas Paqueta, Tomas Soucek, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca.
Goals: Gianluca Scamacca 20 Jarrod Bowen 47 Jarrod Bowen 49 Divin Mubama 65 .
Sent off: None.
AEK Larnaca: Pirić, Casas, Tomović, Gonzalez (Christoforou 46), Englezou, Gus, Oier (Pons 66), Mamas, Jakoliš (Altman 66), Naoum (Faraj 81), Nikolić (Lopes 66).
Subs not used: Toumpas, Stylianidis, Tričkovski, Miličević, Rosales, H.Andreou.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Georgi Kabakov.
Man of the Match: Manuel Lanzini.