West Ham tore down 10-man Villa, after Ayew’s idiotic dismissal.
Villa, having had their already low confidence further deflated by a transfer window devoid of signings, were determined to prove their wroth in the opening stages of this match. West Ham, who have been so complacent against lower sides this term, allowed Villa to dominate the first 15 minutes, receding timidly and failing to retain possession.
Only when Jordan Ayew’s moment of utter madness struck did the game turn, and violently, with Villa failing to trouble Hammers keeper Adrian from then on. Mark Noble combined with Michail Antonio for the first goal, and then Cheikhou Kouyate killed off any hope of an equaliser with a late, counter-attacking goal.
West Ham returned Adrian to the starting line up, following their FA Cup draw with Liverpool. James Tomkins began at right back, and with Emmanuel Emenike held up from joining the first team by transfer red-tape, Enner Valencia began as the lone striker. Payet started on the left wing, a drifting position he would come to find a little unsuitable.
Villa opted for a progressive 4-4-2 diamond formation, with two strikers, Ayew and Gabby Agbonlahor. Idrissa Gueye retained his holding midfield position, and Remi Garde fielded the same back four that began the last league game.
Jordan Ayew’s red card a gift.
Well, the match, such as it was, was only intact from a tactical perspective until the 17th minute. Up to that point, Villa had shown remarkable spirit, considering their woeful transfer window, not to mention their league position. Pressing with vigour, Carles Gil, Veretout and Ayew swarmed confidently, and Villa had the brunt of possession, dominating the opening 15 minutes. Then, after some regulation grappling with Aaron Cresswell in anticipation of a throw in, Jordan Ayew, in a hot, blind moment of utter idiocy, threw an elbow over his shoulder at the West Ham defender’s face, connecting with vicious intent. Standing as they were in front of the assistant referee, Ayew was dismissed by referee Jon Moss.
As a result, Remi Garde’s plans, which had gotten his team a strong foothold in the match, were shredded instantly, as his striker trudged off. Ayew’s pace and ability to buy time were key to bringing Gabriel Agbonlahor into the match. Agbonlahor is as quick as Ayew, but far less able on the ball, and so, in a way, in losing Ayew they also lost Agbonlahor, his effectiveness suddenly reduced. Having not scored in his last 19 matches, and now without his strike partner, the Englishman disappeared from the match.
Song/Noble midfield proves creative enough.
The West Ham midfield unit of Noble, Kouyate and Song appeared, once Ayew had been dismissed, a little too defensive for the situation. Kouyate surges forward well, and Noble was trying, with less success, to do the same. Alex Song had clearly taken up the task of remaining the deepest of the three, picking up balls from his centre backs, rarely foraying into, or even near, the Villa penalty area. With Villa dropping back, desperate to protect the parity they started with, incisive balls were difficult to pick out in the first half.
But Noble, in the second half, worked out that surging himself wasn’t working, and began to dictate the terms of the match from the centre circle, alongside Song. They made 91 successful passes between them, and Noble’s long passing proved enough to snatch the opening goal, a superb Scholes-esque spanked ball over the defence. When Song and Noble’s passing is on point, there are few things this West Ham midfield can’t do.
Payet drifted to get into the game
All evening, Dimitri Payet found the strength and vigorous tackling of Micah Richards extremely difficult to deal with. Starting out on the left, Richards, at right back, was Payet’s main adversary, and the former Manchester City defender was in fine form. Multiple times Payet was left sprawling on the turf, the victim of a sturdy shoulder from Richards, but the referee went largely unmoved.
Payet did everything he could to get free of Richards, as well as Idrissa Gueye, by drifting across the front line from left to right, or dropping deeper to collect from his centre backs. Too often he occupied space also filled by Noble or Song, and Villa did a fine job tracking him, at least until the ragged final quarter of the match. Perhaps, where so many teams have failed, Villa, even in defeat have found a way to largely stifle Payet; use force and hope for a lenient referee.
Antonio’s slashing a vital threat here.
In a match where a red card forced Villa to defend so deeply, to pack their own half with all 10 players, the aggressive slashing runs of Michail Antonio allowed West Ham to bypass the Villa rampart. The space outside the penalty area, that Payet likes to operate in, was permanently occupied, and so with the match creeping towards the hour mark, the most hopeful source of creativity was held in deep midfield.
Mark Noble’s long passing can be superlative, but he can only work with what’s in front of him. Antonio, for the first goal, peeled off subtly toward the far post and, when Noble trained a perfect ball over to him, he headed with equal perfection inside the post. When usual methods of goal-creation are taken away, supplementary threats must be formulated and it was this medium-range, aerial passing game that wore down, and eventually broke, Villa.
As it usually does, a red card destroyed any chance Villa had to provide a cogent away performance. They defended stoutly for most of the period in which they were numerically disadvantaged, and West Ham deserve credit for finding a way through. Mark Noble was the standout player in this match, and Michail Antonio continues, with gusto, to more than justify his place in the starting XI.