|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
Tomas Soucek double sends West Ham fourth with win over Crystal Palace
Jonathan Liew at Selhurst Park
Date Published: Tue 26 Jan 2021 20.09 GMT
Somehow, the Premier League’s perennial tearaways have become the model students. The responsibility for this lies less with a fatally flawed ownership than with impressively drilled players, and a manager in David Moyes who has taken a thin, uneven squad into the upper reaches of the top flight. Whisper it, but believe it all the same: West Ham are very good.
Just how good, of course, remains a matter of some conjecture. Contrary to popular belief, the league table lies freely and often, and West Ham’s ascent into the top four is attributable largely to having played more fixtures than the teams around them. Moyes himself was keen to temper expectations.
“I’ve sensed for a while that we’re getting better,” he said. “But I want to grow steadily. It’s very rare that you can get to this position and stay there.”
Still, the way they came from behind to dismantle Crystal Palace here really offered all the evidence you needed. This is a club operating at the very limits of their potential and, with a judicious signing or two in the remaining days of the transfer window, might just be able to challenge for European football next season.
Again West Ham were indebted to their midfielder Tomas Soucek, whose two goals in the first half took his tally for the season to an improbable seven. Soucek is no physical freak or technical genius. What he does as well as anyone is anticipate, pre-empt, interpret flight and human movement in a way that allows him to reach the ball at the optimum moment, often ghosting in late and unmarked. Since his arrival in the Premier League last January, only Bruno Fernandes has more goals from midfield.
“John Wark comes to mind, scoring great goals running from deep,” Moyes said of Soucek. “With his attitude and commitment, he’s a joy to work with.”
In truth, West Ham could have scored plenty more here. The eternally thwarted Michail Antonio probably should have had four on his own. Aaron Cresswell had another sparkling game at left-back, Declan Rice was again quietly excellent in midfield, Said Benrahma was a constant threat in possession and quietly tenacious out of it. But essentially West Ham’s strength is as a collective, an unstarry and unfussy group of players who help each other, push each other, know each other’s jobs as well as their own.
This was how they managed to turn a game they had barely been able to start. Palace were ahead within three minutes through Wilfried Zaha, whose neat shimmy and low shot was probably their best move of the game. Again the home side’s recurring weakness to set pieces and transitions would come back to haunt them. On nine minutes Soucek headed in Antonio’s cross after a neat chip from Pablo Fornals on the left wing. On 25 minutes the Palace defence, preoccupied by the threat of Antonio, allowed Soucek to drift towards the back post and slam Cresswell’s free-kick in from close range.
Palace never really recovered their composure after that. Their buildup through midfield was too slow, and their unwillingness to push up their full-backs meant most of their attacks tapered off harmlessly about 40 yards from goal. Meanwhile, West Ham continued to charge forward on the break: Antonio had a chance to add a quick third straight from kick-off, as well as another from close range shortly before half-time, but hit the post on both occasions.
A glaring miss by Zaha, putting a one-on-one chance straight at the goalkeeper, seemed to set the tone for the second half. A painful clash of heads between Cheikhou Kouyaté and Gary Cahill summed up their evening.
Craig Dawson settled matters from a Jarrod Bowen corner, and though Palace dominated possession in the final stages at no point did they look like claiming anything from the game. Indeed, the only real point of interest was Antonio finding more and more creative ways to miss from close range.
Michy Batshuayi bundled in a late consolation with virtually the last kick of the game, but by then the points had already gone. And again, a failure to convert a promising start into a decent performance will reflect badly on Roy Hodgson. The need to switch things around, to try something new, was obvious after about 25 minutes. Instead the same predictable substitutions arrived at the same predictable times, with the same predictable results.
Palace are not safe, and on this evidence nor is Hodgson.
Daily Mail: MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita 7; Ward 5.5, Kouyate 5, Cahill 6, Mitchell 5.5; Townsend 5 (Batshuayi 66, 6.5), McArthur 6, Milivojevic 5 (Riedewald 68, 6), Eze 5; Benteke 5.5 (Ayew 68, 6), Zaha 6.
Subs not used: Butland, Van Aanholt, Dann, Clyne, McCarthy, Kelly.
Scorers: Zaha 3, Batshuayi 90
Manager: Roy Hodgson 5
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Fabianski 7.5; Coufal 7, Dawson 8, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7.5, Rice 7.5; Bowen 7.5 (Fredericks 82), Benrahma 8 (Noble 87), Fornals 7; Antonio 7 (Yarmolenko 83).
Subs not used: Martin, Balbuena, Lanzini, Diop, Johnson, Odubeko.
Scorers: Soucek 9, 25, Dawson 65
Manager: David Moyes 8.5
Referee: Stuart Attwell 6
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