Michail Antonio 45'
Pablo Fornals 89'
West Ham United 2-0 Atalanta
West Ham United clinched an unbeaten pre-season campaign – and their first Betway Cup victory since 2018 – with a professional 2-0 win over Serie A heavyweights Atalanta at London Stadium.
The Hammers put in a promising display ahead of next weekend’s Premier League season opener against Newcastle as goals at the tail end of both halves – both set up by Said Benrahma – clinched victory.
A high-tempo match yielded plenty of entertainment for a buoyant home support, with the win set on its way when Benrahma capitalised on a miscommunication at the back to chip the ball over the top for Michail Antonio, who thrashed home seconds prior to half-time.
West Ham had been the better side during the opening period and continued to carve out opportunities in the second, capped off when Benrahma’s stooping header from Ryan Fredericks' cross was deflected into the net by Pablo Fornals.
A diligent defensive display at the other end, meanwhile, will have delighted manager David Moyes, as his side by and large nullified Serie A’s top scorers in each of the last three seasons.
With the Claret and Blue Army at its strongest inside London Stadium since pre-pandemic times, both sets of players were roared on upon their emergence by an enthusiastic home crowd.
And the tone for an entertaining game was set by an exciting start which saw Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi volley over inside the opening four minutes following a clever pull-back by Germany international Robin Gosens.
West Ham responded immediately, new No8 Pablo Fornals producing an incisive through ball which Andriy Yarmolenko – fresh from a strong summer’s work for Ukraine at the UEFA European Championships – just couldn’t gather into his run.
Atalanta had two half-chances inside the West Ham area inside the opening quarter, but on both occasions, poor touches from forward Roberto Piccoli in the No99 shirt saw the opportunities spurned.
Indeed, it took 25 minutes for either team to muster a shot on target, arriving courtesy of man-in-form Benrahma’s low left-footed drive from 30 yards out. New boy Juan Musso in the Atalanta goal produced a comfortable enough save, however.
That first sighter seemed to spur the game into becoming one befitting the occasion. Fornals picked up a pocket of space in the final third and played in Vladimir Coufal on the right flank, the Czech’s looping cross being left by Michail Antonio for Benrahma at the far post.
In plenty of space, but from a tight angle, the Algerian took two deft touches to chest the ball down and hammer a half-volley goalwards. The Claret and Blue Army bounced to its feet expectantly, but, agonisingly, the ball smacked against the angle of crossbar and post – and away.
Seconds later, Mario Pasalic made a clever run in behind Craig Dawson to get on the end of Berat Djimsiti’s centre – an Atalanta centre-back once again getting forward to support the attack – but the Croatian forward glanced his header wide of Lukasz Fabianski’s far post.
Straight up the other end, lovely combination play between Benrahma and Fornals saw the Spaniard slip Yarmolenko in down the right channel. The Ukrainian cut back onto this left foot and clipped towards Fornals, but the pace of the delivery deceived the No8, who could not make contact.
Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler was the recipient of the afternoon’s first yellow card, clipping Benrahma’s heels after the Algerian had produced a deft touch to scamper away from him in midfield. Aaron Cresswell’s resulting 25-yard free-kick certainly carried the requisite whip and direction to find the top corner, but did not quite have the power to beat Musso, who still had to scamper across to field.
West Ham were certainly carrying the greater threat as the half wore on and were beginning to string together some superb passing moves, the last of the half seeing newly-crowned Hammer of the Year Tomáš Souček threading through for international team-mate Coufal – whose fizzing low cross was nearly turned in at his own near post by Atalanta’s Jose Palomino.
And their persistence paid off when the Italian team's captain Toloi cannoned a clearance into teammate Palomino. The ball popped up kindly for Benrahma, but the Algerian still had plenty of work to do, bringing it down and flicking over the top of a defender for Antonio to himself control on his thigh and thrash past Musso.
It was a tempo the Hammers looked to maintain going into the second half. Declan Rice – in his first game since returning to East London after his UEFA Euro 2020 heroics for England – caught Atalanta defender Matteo Lovato dallying in possession, only for it to squirm away from the West Ham captain at the last.
Moments later, another threaded pass from Souček picked out the overlapping Coufal in acres of space. The Czech Republic full-back looked up and saw Antonio attacking the near post, but the delivery was at an awkward height for the No9, who could only head over.
Atalanta responded by bringing on Copa America stars Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata just shy of the hour mark, the Colombian duo having scored 45 goals between them last year, and the difference in the visitors was immediately palpable when the two forwards combined to afford Zupata space to shoot from the edge of the area – marginally wide of Fabianski’s bottom-left corner.
West Ham manager David Moyes responded with a raft of changes of his own on the hour mark, new signing Alphonse Areola receiving a warm welcome from his new supporters. The Frenchman’s first action was to take a goal kick after Atalanta forward Pasalic again failed to find the target with his head from Joakim Maehle’s pinpoint delivery.
Dawson was the next to see a headed effort clear the crossbar when the centre-back bravely rose amidst a crowded penalty area to meet Ryan Fredericks’ delivery, the Englishman taking a painful tumble over Atalanta’s defender for his troubles.
Chances subsequently dried up in the final quarter of the match as West Ham’s back five soaked up any threat Atalanta attempted to create with all of their possession, but there was still time for one last flourish to the scoreline.
After substitute Fredericks had skipped past his marker on the outside, Man of the Match Benrahma stooped to head his cross goalwards, the ball taking a fortuitous deflection off Fornals on its way into the top corner.
The full-time whistle sounded moments later and the chorus of ‘Bubbles’ resumed as the Irons lifted silverware ahead of the new campaign - a victory made all the better for your return to London Stadium.
West Ham United: Fabianski (Areola 63), Coufal (Fredericks 63), Diop, Dawson, Cresswell, Rice © (Noble 63), Soucek (Coventry 63), Fornals, Yarmolenko (Johnson 63), Benrahma, Antonio (Bowen 63)
Subs: Martin, Baptiste, Alves, Okoflex
Goals: Antonio 45, Fornals 89
Atalanta: Musso (Sportiello 76), Gosens (Scalvini 76), Palomino (Demiral 56), Toloi (c) (Lovato 45), Djimsiti, Maehle (Del Prato 76), Freuler (Pessina 56), De Roon (Da Riva 82), Pasalic (Ghislandi 76), Miranchuk (Muriel 56), Piccoli (Zapata 56)
Subs: Rossi, Pezzella