Early winners: West Ham, Moyes and their ‘bubbles and bicycles’

Date published: Saturday 24th October 2020 3:35

Michail Antonio West Ham

David Moyes insisted on Friday that he wasn’t in a “big rush” to sign a new contract at West Ham – but following their latest run of results, it might be the Hammers’ owners who are the ones rushing. West Ham continued their solid start to the new Premier League season as they held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium on Saturday.

Gaining eight points from their opening six matches and sitting tenth in the Premier League table is hardly startling from the Hammers – but it’s the difficulty level of their last five matches which outlines the impressive nature of their start. Hammers fans would’ve been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’ after their opening day defeat to Newcastle United, in which the Magpies scored with their only two shots on target. Moyes’ side finished 16th last term, narrowly avoiding relegation by five points and that result against the Geordies would’ve done little calm their nerves on the first day of the new campaign.

That defeat was only backed up by another loss on the road at an improving Arsenal. The difference this time, though, was that the Hammers had double the amount of shots as Mikel Arteta’s men and looked more threatening throughout. And since then, the results have followed too against Wolves, Leicester City, Tottenham and now Manchester City. Their epic three-goal comeback last weekend to draw at Spurs shows just how far this Moyes team has come.

Michail Antonio, who has been a key cog in the Hammers’ recent good form, fired the hosts into a 19th-minute lead against City when he acrobatically converted Vladimir Coufal’s cross into the net from eight yards with a bicycle kick. That led to one spectator on the BBC Sport live blog to hail West Ham for their ‘bubbles and bicycles’. We all get carried away sometimes. It was his third goal of the season, with only Harry Kane (12) scoring more Premier League goals than Antonio (11) since the restart in June. His physicality adds so much to the way Moyes’ side play, with the former Sheffield Wednesday forward flanked by the impressive Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals in attack. They are starting to form a deadly trio with the Hammers scoring 12 goals already this campaign.

City looked way below par against West Ham, especially before Phil Foden entered the field at the interval. Their attacking play looked devoid of ideas up until the break before Foden started to help them tick. The England international got in between the lines, found pockets of space and, above all else, brought energy to their attacks. It only took six minutes for Foden to have a big impact when Joao Cancelo drilled the ball into the box and the 20-year-old collected the ball, turned and fired the ball into the net.

Shortly after City’s goal, West Ham were forced to substitute Antonio – who left the field with an injury. The Hammers attacks looked leggy after that as the Citizens looked to impose themselves on the match. The introduction of Andriy Yarmolenko, Antonio’s replacment, failed to have the desired effect, while another substitute, Sebastien Haller, barely touched the ball during his time on the pitch. Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez both had good chances late on to snatch the win, but they didn’t and it will go down as another very good result for Moyes’ men.

The performance from City – who already look like they need to spend another £50m on a centre-back – led former West Ham and England goalkeeper Rob Green to declare on BBC Radio Five Live that “the whole air of invincibility that they’ve had in previous seasons has dripped away.” It wasn’t City at their best but this is still an extremely strong City team, managed by one of the best managers in the world and will likely push all the way for the Premier League title once again. And that is now eight points for West Ham from four matches against teams that finished in the top seven last season.

When Moyes was re-appointed last December there were few eyebrows raised but the Hammers are now finally getting it together under their once highly-rated boss. They now look a team that will stay in games until the final minute, when last season they would’ve crumbled. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek gives them a solid base in the middle, while Coufal looks like one of the bargains of the season. That front three is up there with the best in the division outside the top six and will give West Ham confidence they can secure a top-half finish this term.

Joe Williams

 

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