Europa League
Olympiacos 2-1 West Ham United 

Thursday, 26th October 2023
by Chris Wilkerson

After 17 games unbeaten in Europe, West Ham produced their worst performance of the season in a 2-1 defeat at Olympiacos this Thursday evening.

A hopeless showing, where the only touch of class came from Paqueta's first time finish late in the game, saw them deservedly beaten, and leaves Group A nicely poised. West Ham remain top, but are matched on six points by Freiburg, with Olympiacos behind the pair on four.

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The Hammers, all in blue, went with another strong team, Areola, Emerson, Ward-Prowse and Soucek joined by a team of players pushing for first-team spots.

They were welcomed by a huge tifo, the fervent fans unveiling the message "tonight you dine in hell" just before kick off. After their own game was abandoned at the weekend when an opposition player was hit in the head by a firecracker, the West Ham players and fans alike were probably keenly aware of their hostile surroundings.

It would be generous to say they were intimidated, but for whatever reason, West Ham were as poor in the opening 45 minutes as they have been all season.

The game was not a pulsating affair, but it was a first half where West Ham achieved next to nothing. The Greek side had the better of it from start to finish, and whilst they created very little, two big moments gave them complete control of the game.

There was not a single West Ham player who came out of the game with any pride, all outplayed by their opponents, all turning in performances well below their own individuals standards, let alone those of a club trying to push forward after last season's European glory.

They were never with the pace of the game, far too many individuals assuming they would have time they didn't, others seeming almost arrogant in their lackadaisical play, and others just not good enough at football to inject any speed into the game.

Those auditioning, as it were, for more chances in the Premier League all failed. Chiefly among those were Fornals and Benrahma, who were abject. Nothing came off for either man, nor did they play with the right attitude and intensity. Ings and Soucek were not far behind.

The game itself started at a nice tempo, and both sides were moving it around as they felt each other out. Fornals forced the first save of the game with a tame effort, and that was quickly followed by a sharp drive at the other end that got Areola working.

It was an interesting but uneventful 20 minutes, but West Ham became less and less involved on the ball, and the hosts started to take control. Still, they had created nothing of note, even if they now had the higher share of possession and looked better with it, too.

Whether Moyes's side had come in with the right attitude or not will be discussed afterwards, but the first goal just showed a team lacking intensity, neither attuned to the game they were in, nor the roles they were playing.

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Fortounis received the ball 30 yards from goal with three West Ham players loosely around him. He turned away from them, to his left and then towards goal, and suddenly all three were gone.

Not only had those three faded from view, no defender rushed out to meet him, so the Olympiacos captain opened up and had a go, smashing it low from the edge of the box with a classic toe punt. As they can do, it absolutely flew off the boot and bolted into Areola's right-hand corner, beating the Frenchman for power as much as direction, and giving the hosts a precious lead.

The closest thing to a promising moment West Ham had was a nice little exchange of passes that ended with Benrahma smashing a shot at a defender a yard in front of him, and 30 yards from goal. That was the level of intelligence on offer, and the level of excitement.

As the half appeared to be drawing to a close, Ogbonna doubled the Olympiacos lead. It was plain stupid defending, a bouncing cross fizzed in from the right wing, curling in at goal, and right to Areola. But not if Ogbonna had anything to do with it!

Rather than acting quickly to step across and block, or leaving it to the goalkeeper, the Italian decided to swing a late and wild leg at it, and all he could do was slice it away from Areola and into his own goal. In first-half stoppage time, The Hammers were 2-0 down.

It could have changed straight from kick-off, Benrahma taking the ball at the edge of the box and playing a straight pass into it for Ings. The striker's touch was poor, but got lost between himself and the two defenders. He was the first to see it again, stabbing the loose ball at goal, but his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper.

With minimal impact on how the team plays, the striker is championed for his goalscoring ability and finishing prowess. One game against Nottingham Forest aside, he hasn't shown it. It will come as some surprise if his time at the club is remembered for anything more than how out of place he is.

Half-time came and went without a West Ham change, and it only meant more of the same. To describe how West Ham played, it's easier to say that writing a match report based around what they did is difficult. What they offered for the viewing public was pathetic.

There is little that worked. The manager must be questioned on why he thinks two players like Soucek and Ward-Prowse work together in a deep two in midfield, because they don't. Soucek was a hindrance in any passing move he became part of, whilst Ward-Prowse is not really strong enough or fast enough to dominate in there, whilst not being particularly good enough to be in almost sole charge of progressing the ball forward from midfield.

They were not helped by what was around them. Kudus looked isolated on the wing, Kehrer is not a right back who has any attacking impact, Ings doesn't offer for the ball, can't run in behind, can't hold it. And Fornals and Benrahma ahead of them were a painful watch whenever either went central.

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The game truly highlighted how reliant this side are on Alvarez and Antonio, even an Antonio who isn't playing that well. For the Mexican, he controls the midfield. His late substitute performance showed glimpses of why. He sniffs out danger, but can also draw pressure and play through and around it. He isn't scared to be on the ball in those deep areas, which helps everyone around him.

With Antonio, even a player who can see a ball deflect off him at seemingly impossible angles is better than a static and weak player who cannot stand up to pressure behind him, nor make runs into the space. Antonio gives the option of both, even out of form.

Paqueta is a loss, too. Not just because the two wide options there today failed so spectacularly, but because he can create. He can beat players, he spots dangerous passes, and he's also a strong defender who uses his physicality well. For the most part.

Without those three, West Ham were clueless. The plan seemed to be that Ward-Prowse's set pieces would save them, but they were all short of his standards today.

The best thing Ings did was dance around a man to earn a freekick, but Ward-Prowse hit wide from just a little too far out. Ings had one more opening, Emerson driving down the left and finding him in the box with a sharp low pass, but with it a touch behind him, Ings went first time with his left boot and fired over.

The Hammers almost conceded straight from there, Soucek losing the ball carelessly in his own half. Thankfully, once in the box, a pull back was snuffed out by Ward-Prowse.

As Ings sent a corner looping over, finally the manager called for reinforcements. Off went the abysmal Ings, Fornals and Benrahma, on came Antonio, Bowen and Paqueta with just over half hour to play. It didn't help.

Whilst Antonio was game, Bowen was quiet, and Paqueta was infuriating, playing lazy, arrogant football. His lack of intensity was easy to see even to this layman's eye, and he followed cheap losses of possession with idiotic fouls. His passing was also poor, often just into areas rather than to players.

So the manager went to his bench once more, Alvarez introduced to finally give West Ham a midfield, and he was joined by the forgotten man, Maxwel Cornet, replacing Ward-Prowse and Kudus.

Cornet offered pace, even if he did nothing with it, whilst Alvarez actually did bring something, playing well as he anchored the midfield alone, and better than the pair of Ward-Prowse and Soucek had done combined.

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Time ticked away, and West Ham had nothing to show for it. Yet with four minutes to play, suddenly they scored.

It was almost annoying. Antonio did well, and deserves credit, as he drove the ball down the right wing, forcing his way through with more strength than guile. He fired in a low, bouncing cross, and the defence panicked.

A low header, which could have been a volley, only popped it up to the edge of the box, where Paqueta came alive. He sprinted to the dropping ball and volleyed first time right from the edge of the box, smashing it low into the bottom corner and leaving the goalkeeper no chance.

Now the atmosphere changed. The home fans and their team looked a little panicked. Whilst they defended with desperation, they were not really tested, even in a long eight minutes of stoppage time. Fortounis had a low drive just wide, but the team chasing the game could create nothing.

And so the unbeaten run ended. And in some fashion, and proving that a scoreline does not necessarily dictate a performance. West Ham were second best against Aston Villa, but not awful, and the 4-1 scoreline was a touch harsh.

In contrast, Moyes's side were insultingly bad here, yet only lost by a single goal.

The manager now has tough questions. It is clear that Soucek and Ward-Prowse are not a pair. If they're to play, someone else needs to be behind them. Ward-Prowse, in particular, has been too good for most of this season to drop, but it's clear he isn't a holding player in a deeper pair. He's not really a dynamic 10 either, but the manager is still reluctant to play a middle three with only one sitter.

Paqueta needs moving back into the middle, and he's got the defensive ability to make it no risk at all, but not only would Soucek need to be dropped, it also makes finding room for Kudus very difficult.

It also shows just how much Antonio has to play. That's pretty appalling, considering how clearly he is fading from his prime, and how obvious that was last season, too.

Equally, the squad players look demoralised. Kehrer doesn't suit a Moyes full back at all, and would seem only likely to succeed if he inverted into midfield. Fornals and Benrahma are both getting worse and worse, and they've both proven themselves as good players for this side. How much is individual and how much is down to how they're managed is another question up for debate.

Whatever the answers, the good start to the season is slowly drifting from memory. The manager needs to find solutions, and three points against Everton this weekend are a must.

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Manager's Rating

David Moyes 4/10: Offered no solutions, left it too long for what he tried, seemed to think only personnel was the problem, and his starters had poor attitudes. I'd forgive that as their fault if the subs hadn't been as bad. Must do better.

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Player Ratings

Alphonse Areola
Left little chance with the goals and made a couple of decent saves.

Thilo Kehrer
A perfectly fine right back if you don?EUR(TM)t really want to see him move past the halfway line. But he doesn't help his winger, even if he keeps the ball a bit better into midfield.

Emerson Palmieri
Contained, but did create half a chance for Ings. Think he was one let down by the garbage of Fornals and Benrahma ahead of him.

Konstantinos Mavropanos
Some poor passing out was a worry, whilst he could have got out quicker for the first goal.

Angelo Ogbonna
If you'd like to see why Aguerd isn't under that much pressure at left centre back, you just need to watch Ogbonna's performances in Europe this season.

James Ward-Prowse
He's not awful defensively, but his good moments are bonuses more than something you can rely on. Should be able to impact a game like this and he absolutely couldn't.

Tomas Soucek
Seems pointless to play him in games like this. His late runs are restricted by role and partner, he's not good enough on the ball to take advantage of slightly lesser opponents, he hinders players going forward. It's not a surprise the attack isn't working with any rhythm, they never play together, but throwing in Soucek adds someone who dallies on the simplest passes.

Pablo Fornals
A sad sight. Even the workrate, a key part of his game even out of form, is just gone. He just looks unhappy, and he's not doing anything to convince you he could do better with a start or two.

Said Benrahma
It's hard to know what to say. Watching him slap a shot at the defender right in front of him after West Ham had finally used quick passing to break through the midfield, and whilst 30 yards or more from goal, was as galling as it gets.

Mohammed Kudus
Impactless game. Stuck out on the wing for most of it, he never really got involved, and couldn't ever find much space to create anything.

Danny Ings
This is what happens when you buy players because you know them and they have scored goals. He's not an adequate fit for this team and he never will be under Moyes and very unlikely under anyone else. His main skill is finishing gilt-edge chances, and he can't do that.


Lucas Paqueta
(Replaced Fornals 58) Attitude was appalling, but he's also a madly talented nuisance and took his goal beautifully. Spent the rest of it fouling players who he'd let tackle him.

Michail Antonio
(Replaced Ings 58) Night and day, and he still isn't on any form. Just put himself about, and the goal is all from him forcing his way down the line.

Jarrod Bowen
(Replaced Benrahma 58) Couldn't get into things.

Edson Alvarez
(Replaced Ward-Prowse 72) Came on and showed what control in midfield is.

Maxwel Cornet
(Replaced Kudus 72) Who? What? And, most obviously, why?

Joseph Anang
Did not play.

Aaron Cresswell
Did not play.

Ben Johnson
Other unused subs: Kurt Zouma, Divin Mubama

Nayef Aguerd
Other unused subs: Kurt Zouma, Divin Mubama

Match Facts

West Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Thilo Kehrer, Emerson Palmieri, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Angelo Ogbonna, James Ward-Prowse, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Mohammed Kudus, Danny Ings.

Goals: Lucas Paqueta 87                  .

Booked: Lucas Paqueta 0 Emerson Palmieri 0 Michail Antonio 76 Angelo Ogbonna 88    .

Sent off: None.

Olympiacos: Paschalakis, Rodinei (Quini 75), Porozo, Retsos, Ortega, Alexandropoulous (Masouras 85), Camara, Hezze, Podence (Solbakken 85), El Kaabi (Scarpa 90+5), Fortounis (Jovetic 90+5).

Subs not used: Tzolakis, Papadoudis, El-Arabi, Vrousas, Joao Carvalho, Pep Biel.

Goals: Fortounis (33), Ogbonna (og 45+1).

Booked: Retsos, Alexandropoulous, Camara, Masouras (90+4).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Andris Treimanis.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Alphonse Areola.