Party Pooping Palace
Crystal Palace are perennial party poopers on their visits to West Ham and it should be no real surprise that they did it again. In nine visits since their return to the top-flight in 2013/14 the record is four draws, three away wins and two home wins. Despite my natural (probably, arrogant) instinct that the Hammers should easily brush past off their south London neighbours, that is the least probable outcome in recent history. A dominant first half suggested that a third successive win could well be on the cards, but the second half story was very different once the visitors recognised West Ham were well below their best. A single goal lead is always precarious but more so for a side capable of surrendering three goal advantages. In the end Palace were good value for their draw as the game ended in precious points dropped for the Hammers, just as it had on my last ever visit to the Boleyn in April 2016.
The foundation for much of what is good about the current West Ham team is centred on the partnership of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek. Protecting the back line and giving freedom for attacking players to get forward quickly on the break. They have set themselves an exceptionally high bar and unfortunately never quite reached it on Saturday. It may have been a hangover from the exertions of Monday night or a consequence of the newly accused bumpy London Stadium pitch, but both were below their usual standards. Rice with several uncharacteristically poor touches and Soucek rarely getting into advanced positions from open play. A bad day at the office!
Although it was exactly the same team that played against Leicester, there was a noticeable tweak with Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma swapping primary roles. Fornals who had played more centrally against the Foxes moving wide to the left and Benrahma switching from the left to the centre. The rationale, I suppose, was a defensive one, to provide greater support to the full-backs in cutting off the supply of crosses to Benteke. It was quite a negative tactical adjustment to make and I felt neither player’s overall game benefitted from the change. I considered Fornal’s central role against Leicester had been his most influential in a West Ham shirt, but David Moyes had maybe seen it differently and is not convinced by either in the central role. The reason, perhaps, why he remains keen to bring in Lingard and/ or Vlasic before the end of the transfer window.
Defensive (Claret &) Blues
Both of the conceded goals were extremely poor from West Ham’s point of view. Sometimes goals are the result of individual errors but the two on Saturday were the result of collective failures – just as the two at Newcastle had been. Opponents were allowed to carry the ball too far without challenge, more could have been done to prevent crosses and those crosses had to be dealt with better. The second equaliser demonstrated a particularly poor lack of concentration, coming so soon after Michail Antonio’s splendid strike to restore the lead. The Palace goals did feature two very smart finishes from the impressive Gallagher, it has to be said. Although Craig Dawson was implicated both times, the fault was not his alone. Dawson is a committed and honest player but with obvious limitations at this level. The signing of Kurt Zouma will no doubt limit his first team appearances from now on.
No Game Changers
The late introduction of Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko served little purpose other than using up a bit of time. Neither has much to offer these days and the fact they are considered to be the best game changing possibilities available says much about the depth of the squad. A degree of sympathy for Lanzini who has never been the same player since suffering serious injury. Yarmolenko, on the other hand, is technically gifted but just not suited to the pace and frenzy of the Premier League. Even his trademark party trick of cutting in from the right and curling one in with his left fell short on this occasion. If there really is intent to bring in additional midfield players before tomorrow’s deadline, it would be no big loss if Yarmolenko and Lanzini were shipped out to balance the books.
Ratings: Fabianski (6), Coufal (8), Ogbonna (6), Dawson (4), Cresswell (6), Rice (6), Soucek (6), Bowen (7), Benrahma (6), Fornals (7), Antonio (7)