|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
Sleek Southampton stroll to win and give West Ham grounds for concern
Date Published Sunday 25 September 2016 18.16 BST
Jacob Steinberg at the London Stadium
The initial temptation is to blame the ground and say that West Ham United were sorely mistaken when they decided to leave Upton Park. The burst of optimism that greeted their move to the London Stadium has given way to an unmistakable sense of drift, on and off the pitch, and Slaven Bilic could only watch helplessly as Claude Puel’s sleek Southampton inflicted a third defeat on his ragged team in their new home.
At this point, however, it would be a flimsy excuse for West Ham to argue that anyone would experience these teething problems after moving grounds. Their flaws run deeper than that. They have conceded two or more goals in 15 of their past 23 matches, did not force Fraser Forster to make a single save in the Southampton goal and played with the louche air of a team who are yet to accept the severity of the situation.
While West Ham find themselves stuck in the bottom three and look like a team without any discernible plan after losing five of their opening six league matches, Southampton shot up to ninth place, thanks to a performance that showcased the craft and intelligence that persuaded them to appoint Puel after Ronald Koeman’s summer departure to Everton.
It was a stroll for the visitors after Charlie Austin’s composed finish shattered West Ham’s fragile confidence long before James Ward-Prowse added a third goal in stoppage time and there was a pleasing verve to their play, their zest encapsulated by the way Dusan Tadic left Adrián on the floor before making it 2-0 shortly after the hour.
After a slightly unconvincing start to life under Puel this was their fourth successive victory in all competitions. “In the second half we could see a team with a good technical level,” the Frenchman said.
West Ham were fortunate not to be beaten out of sight and as a mood of uncertainty spread around this curious ground before kick-off, it felt like a sign of the times that, to borrow the terminology favoured by the stadium operators, customers were advised that persistent standing would result in offenders being ejected. Those kind of messages explain why it is difficult not to suspect that the club left an indelible part of its identity back at Upton Park and it was not long before stewards were trying to persuade the boisterous little pocket of home fans near the away end to sit down.
Arguments in the stands were not Bilic’s main concern. He needed a response after the defensive capitulations against Watford and West Bromwich Albion but West Ham were ponderous on the ball, predictable in attack and vulnerable whenever Southampton broke forward.
Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyaté were passengers in midfield unable to cope with Southampton’s diamond as the game wore on, while Dimitri Payet was subdued. Simone Zaza has not hit the ground running after joining on loan from Juventus and there was none of Michail Antonio’s usual brio.
Individual errors, tactical indiscipline and the failure to defend as a collective unit have all contributed to West Ham’s decline and it was no help that knee injuries to Arthur Masuaku and Aaron Cresswell deprived Bilic of both of his left-backs.
Álvaro Arbeloa, who did not possess the pace to support West Ham’s attack, filled in after moving across from the right while Havard Nordtveit was a fish out of water at right-back.
Comfortable in defence, measured in midfield and lively up front, Southampton sought to capitalise on that weakness and the origins of Austin’s opener were not a surprise, given that Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had already fired an early warning shot. Nordtveit, who was signed to play in midfield, failed to read the danger when Tadic slipped a pass behind the Norwegian and Ryan Bertrand’s cutback found Austin, who took advantage of slack marking from Angelo Ogbonna by sweeping a low finish beyond Adrián.
Soon Cédric Soares was almost doubling Southampton’s lead after peeling behind Arbeloa and Bilic had seen enough, replacing the ineffectual Manuel Lanzini with Sofiane Feghouli at half-time. That change allowed Payet to slot into the No10 role but Zaza remained forlorn and isolated.
West Ham fought back from a goal down to win this fixture last season. But they are a pale imitation of their former selves, mustering little beyond a couple of half-hearted penalty appeals, and Southampton would not let them off the hook this time.
Although Tadic’s goal was a wonderful piece of skill, it was also a damning indictment of West Ham’s lax attitude. Winston Reid and Kouyaté took it in turns to bungle with the ball just outside their own area and Nathan Redmond combined with Austin, who released Tadic. Faced by Adrián again, the Serb duped the goalkeeper with a dreamy body swerve before rolling the ball into the unguarded net.
That masterclass in efficiency and imagination from Tadic encapsulated the difference between the two teams and the only surprise was that Southampton had to wait until the dying moments before Ward-Prowse scored a simple third.
Daily Mail: MATCH FACTS, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
WEST HAM (4-2-3-1): Adrian 5.5; Nordtveit 5.5 (Fletcher 71, 6), Reid 5.5, Ogbonna 5, Arbeloa 5; Noble 5.5 (Fernandes 82), Kouyate 4.5; Payet 5, Lanzini 5 (Feghouli 46, 5.5), Antonio 5; Zaza 4
SUBS NOT USED: Randolph, Obiang, Byram, Oxford
BOOKED: Noble, Zaza, Arbeloa, Reid, Payet
MANAGER: Slaven Bilic
SOUTHAMPTON (4-1-2-1-2): Forster 6.5; Cedric 7 (Martina 89), Fonte 6.5, Van Dijk 7.5, Bertrand 6.5; Romeu 7; Hojbjerg 6.5, Davis 7; Redmond 6; Tadic 7 (Ward-Prowse 80, 6.5), Austin 8 (Long 74, 6)
SUBS NOT USED: McCarthy, Yoshida, Clasie, Hesketh
SCORERs: Austin 40, Tadic 62, Ward-Prowse 90
BOOKED: Romeu, Van Dijk
MANAGER: Claude Puel
REFEREE: Jon Moss 5.5
* Ratings by Adam Crafton