The Will Of The People
Looking back at the game from the final whistle, West Ham looked to be worthy winners. Despite Watford’s greater shot count, the Hammers were the more creative and carried the greater goal threat throughout 90 minutes. It was a remarkably open game from the start with neither side concerning themselves too much about the art of defending. Great to watch in many ways and would fit many observer’s definition of the West Ham way. As usual, West Ham surrendered possession easily and allowed Gerard Deulofeu far too much space and time. Fortunately, on this occasion, he was unable to deliver much in the way of end product to round off his trickery. The pivotal moment in the match was the glaring miss by Will Hughes just before the second half drinks break. I have seen worse misses (when players have the ball under control) but had he converted, as he should, the rest of the game would have played out differently. West Ham grew and Watford faded from that point on.
The Return Of The Skipper
Mark Noble made a welcome return to the West Ham midfield for his first appearance of the season. On the 15th anniversary of his West Ham debut, it was fitting that he was able to get on the scoresheet early when converting a 3rd minute penalty – following a definite foul on Manuel Lanzini but which didn’t warrant the Argentinian’s theatrical interpretation. The goal takes Noble up to 43 Premier League goals (25 from the spot), now only 4 behind West Ham’s leading PL scorer, Paolo Di Canio. Otherwise, he had a steady rather than a spectacular game; perhaps not surprising after a longish lay-off and curtailed pre-season. Despite his shortcomings, he remains the best option available to play alongside Declan Rice. The captain was seen lambasting his forward colleagues for making no attempt to track back in the lead up to Watford equaliser but his remonstrations did little to change behaviour for the rest of the game. As I have mentioned previously, the defensive responsibilities of forward players must be enforced on the training ground, not by the captain on the pitch.
Haller Off The Mark
It was great to see Sebastien Haller grab two goals to open his West Ham account. Have we finally got ourselves a real striker; one who is also prepared to work hard for the team? His second goal was particularly pleasing, and hopefully the first of many to celebrate throughout the season. Interesting to read that he didn’t feel that he had the greatest of games himself. Maybe he would liked to have contributed more in open play but that will come once greater understanding is developed with those around him. There was a lovely piece of improvisation in the first half when Andriy Yarmolenko headed back across goal, but his backheel flick didn’t have sufficient power to worry the Watford keeper. Apparently, when Haller scored he caused West Ham to become the first club to reach the milestone of 150 different goalscorers in the Premier League. Seems we are great at sharing the goals around – just not that many from any individual player.
Depending which way you look at it, the decision to start with Yarmolenko rather than Michail Antonio was either a shocking selection or a tactical masterstroke. Yarmolenko is clearly a talented footballer, with a great touch, but a long injury absence has meant he has yet to prove himself in the rigours of the English game. Having both Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson playing on the wing of their weaker foot is an odd tactic; preventing full use of the pitch as they invariably cut back inside rather than attempting to get behind the defence. The one time that Anderson got to the bye-line (following excellent work from Arthur Masuaku) ended up with the cross for the first Haller goal. Once Antonio was introduced, his power and direct approach added a whole host of problems for the Watford defence – he made a real match-winning difference. The debate will no-doubt continue as to whether the poor defensive shape is down to personnel or the way that Manuel Pellegrini sets up the team. Could Masuaku or Angelo Ogbonna have done better to prevent the Andre Gray goal, or was the damage done when the 4 forward players made no attempt to win back possession?
An Unusual League Table
League tables this early in the season are fairly meaningless but it is interesting to see so many clubs with identical 1-1-1 won, drawn and lost records, sitting on 4 points. The heavy opening day defeat to Manchester City means that West Ham are last of the clutch of the 10 teams in that position (technically tied last with Chelsea with whom we also have an identical goals for and against). A little different this season is that after 3 games, only Liverpool have a 100% win record and that only 4 teams remain unbeaten, including Wolves in 15th place. No surprise that Liverpool and Manchester City occupy the top two positions and there is nothing to suggest that the league will be anything other than a predictable two horse race. Defeats for Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham (very ordinary when the want-away Eriksen is not in their side and no doubt Pochettino is already dusting off his CV) must give encouragement to any teams who is organised and talented enough to chase a top six place come the end of the season. If West Ham are to be one of them they cannot afford to be so open in the middle of the park.
Fabianski (7), Fredericks (6), Ogbonna (6), Diop (7), Masuaku (7), Rice (8), Noble (7), Anderson (6), Lanzini (7), Yarmolenko (5), Haller (8) Subs: Antonio (8), Fornals (6), Sanchez (6)