West Ham needed to keep this match close, as the pending game away at Manchester City could see their goal differential get smashed away. Mission accomplished, in a depressing way, as City score just 2 in a comfortable win for the home side.
We all knew the West Ham team selection and tactics would likely be conservative and prioritize defence over offence. With Manchester City primed and ready to meet the Hammers at the Etihad, befuddlement and anger range through the halls as David Moyes’ team selection deflated the match before it even kicked off.
Lineup: Fabianski, Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku, Soucek, Rice, Noble, Snodgrass, Antonio.
Bench: Randolph, Zabaleta, Balbuena, Lanzini, Bowen, Anderson, Haller.
With three £20m plus players on the bench, Robert Snodgrass starting at striker, and both Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku playing in the starting XI, no one was happy with the team selection. Three or Five-at-the-back formations haven’t worked for West Ham and naturally invite pressure from the opposition, which adds structural fuel to the pre-match fire.
The match kicked off and with a predictable rate of play, City were dominating possession and the chances. An early through ball would see Gabriel Jesus in alone, but indecision and lack of confidence allowed Ryan Fredericks to get back and make a vital interception. Likewise, Cresswell made two impeccable blocks shortly after the initial chance.
The opening goal came in the 30th minute via a corner kick delivery that Rodrigo would head into the far post. Unmarked, Rodrigo put a great touch on the ball and it went post-and-in far side. Fredericks needed to do better on that one, but overall the coverage was abysmal. 30 strong minutes of defensive football wasted away.
The half would come and go and Moyes would stick with Snodgrass into the second half, despite him being invisible and useless because he was being played out of position. Likewise, Mark Noble had a very poor match. He made some interceptions but spent the majority of the match backing away from attackers, marking open space, and eventually leaving Kevin de Bruyne unmarked for the second goal.
It came in the 62nd minute, just after Ryan Fredericks was intentionally fouled with a body check that took him out of the game with a shoulder injury. How that wasn’t a card, I’ll never understand. The momentum swing took City deep into the West Ham end, and deep penetrating overlapping runs eventually caught Noble sleeping on his coverage and de Bruyne scored a quick near post goal.
The only two bright spots in this game were Declan Rice and his composed midfield play, and Jarrod Bowen getting his debut for West Ham. Rice’s interceptions were the source of any possession for the Hammers and his tracking back bailed his centre-backs out of trouble on multiple occasions.
Bowen was brought on in the 80th minute and impacted the game both down the right side and up top. His movement was great, his speed was needed, and his desire is exactly what has been lacking for quite some time. He is a must-start against Liverpool on Monday.
With all said and done, I didn’t expect a result in this match but I did expect every player to show some effort, and in that sense, I was severely let down. There are far too many passengers on this team and that was exposed tonight. Big changes are needed heading to Liverpool and no one would mourn the loss of a manager along the way.