Nobody knows how far this rejuvenated West Ham can go

David Moyes has resurrected his career after a series of torrid stints at home and abroad

 

As Pablo Fornals ran on to Jarrod Bowen’s through-ball midway through the second half, the London Stadium fell into one of those pregnant silences that were probably the greatest loss of the time without fans. Over the course of what can only have been two or three seconds but felt far longer, you could almost hear the thought processes. First, was he going to get his shot in? Yes. Then, was he set to measure his finish? He was. Then, was his shot going to beat Alisson? It did, just about, carrying on into the net despite a hefty touch by the keeper.

Is the London Stadium still disliked by West Ham fans? Perhaps it is. It is not, and never will be Upton Park, and there remains something deeply odd about having to edge past the Sunday afternoon shoppers in Westfield to get to a Premier League game. But in that moment, as anticipation became realisation became delight, the London Stadium felt like a football ground.

And not just a football ground, but one that still cannot quite believe just how well everything is going.

But there was nothing flukey or freakish about a victory that took West Ham into third, above Liverpool in the table. Liverpool may have bossed possession, but West Ham were well-organised and had a clear plan that they executed superbly.

David Moyes, after his disappointing stints at Manchester United, Sunderland and Real Sociedad, is thoroughly reinvigorated. That is a rare quality. Very few managers, once the slide has apparently begun, particularly after two decades in the job, have the clarity of thought to assess what they are doing, to look at best practice around Europe, and come back stronger and refreshed.

Yet at the same time, this West Ham is a side of discernibly Moyesian virtues. They are resilient. They are quite capable of sitting deep and absorbing pressure. They are well-organised. In an ideal world they wouldn’t let in two – but then every side Liverpool had previously played away from home in the Premier League or Champions League this season had let in at least three.

That said, if we’re being critical, there was perhaps evidence here of the trait that more than anything else undermined his time at Sunderland, the habit of dropping deeper and deeper in the final minutes looking to hold what they have; Sadio Mané very nearly nicked an equaliser with a low header in injury-time.

Most significantly, there is the capacity to make the most of what they have. There remains a sense in some quarters that set-plays are somehow beneath the very best sides, an adjunct to the real business of holding possession and getting the positioning right. And yet as Gareth Southgate identified before the 2018 World Cup, getting the set-plays right is a relatively low-cost way of adding value.

Alisson’s weakness dealing with inswinging corners was identified and ruthlessly exploited. Fornals’s third-minute corner flicked the left thumb of the goalkeeper on its way in. Liverpool appealed desperately for a foul, but the contact with Angelo Ogbonna was initiated by the keeper, who may be the same height as the Italian but shrank alongside him.

And then, with 15 minutes remaining, it was an inswinger from Jarrod Bowen that caught Alisson flat-footed as the ball dipped over him to be headed in at the back post by Kurt Zouma. That’s six goals West Ham have now scored from set-plays in their last six games in all competitions; there is more than one way to win a football match.

The other goal was the result of West Ham’s other strength: the surging counter-attack. Again, the targeted nature of the breaks was clear. It’s not just a case of whacking it up to Michail Antonio and seeing what happens, tireless though his running is. It’s obvious to anybody that the forward sallies the fullbacks, especially Trent Alexander-Arnold, to leave space that can be exploited.

Alexander-Arnold, again, was superb, scoring from a free-kick and setting up not only Divock Origi’s goal but also two or three other very good chances – including that late Mané miss. But he was also twice caught out by balls in behind him: towards the end of the first half when Antonio got the ball caught under his feet, and then 10 minutes into the second half, when Said Benrahma’s charge was ended only by a tug on his arm that earned the full-back a yellow card.

West Ham have already guaranteed top spot in their Europa League group and they eliminated Manchester City to reach the last eight of the League Cup.

Only Brentford and Manchester United, with varying degrees of fortune, have beaten them this season. Their consistency across the three competitions has been extraordinary. How far could they go? The most exciting thing for West Ham is that nobody quite knows.

– Guardian

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