Four things we loved about West Ham United's win over Wolverhampton Wanderers
1. 3-4-3 worked to perfection
In his pre-match column, Hammers legend Tony Cottee raved about the flexibility afforded by West Ham United’s ‘three-at-the-back’ formation.
Cottee spoke of the system’s many benefits – extra defensive security provided by three centre-backs and a midfield protector, wing-backs with license to attack, and two wider forward players supporting the centre forward.
On Sunday evening, West Ham utilised the system to perfection, stifling Wolves in their own half and repeatedly tearing into them, either on the counter attack or by playing through centre forward Michail Antonio.
The Irons’ first and second goals were superb examples of how 3-4-3 can be devastating.
For the opener, Fabian Balbuena cut out Raul Jimenez’s pass and Declan Rice quickly played the ball forward for Michail Antonio, who was fouled by Willy Boly. Pablo Fornals reacted in an instant to find Jarrod Bowen from his quickly-taken free-kick and, less than seven seconds after entering the Wolves half, the ball was in Rui Patricio’s goal.
For the second, it was just 12 seconds from the moment Aaron Cresswell’s release pass sent Michail Antonio off down the left wing and away from recently-capped England debutant Conor Coady that Bowen was following in to finish after Fornals’ shot had hit the base of the post.
Of West Ham’s 15 goals attempts on the night, 13 came from inside the Wolves penalty area. At the other end, just four of Wolves’ 12 attempts were taken from inside the West Ham box, illustrating just how effectively the Irons defended inside their own third of the pitch.
2. King Arthur
Arthur Masuaku was at his enigmatic best in Sunday’s win.
West Ham United’s DR Congo international is best-suited to his preferred position as a left wing-back, and he produced arguably his most-complete performance in a Claret and Blue shirt in that role against Wolves.
For starters, Masuaku touched the ball on more occasions than any other West Ham player, with 75, and ranked second in passes attempted, just four fewer than Declan Rice’s 51, with 47.
Masuaku used the ball well, too, completing 78.7% of those passes. What’s more, of those 47, one was the cross that provided the assist for Sebastien Haller’s late fourth goal, and four more were categorised as ‘key passes’, meaning they led to a teammate having a shot at goal without scoring.
West Ham’s ‘King of the Dribble’ also showed his ability to run with the ball at his feet, with one eye-catching run seeing him burst past three Wolves players, play a one-two with Michail Antonio, then provide a superb low first-time cross from which Tomas Soucek forced Rui Patricio into a plunging save.
Masuaku’s defensive contribution was considerable too, as the 26-year-old combined with Aaron Cresswell to nullify the threat posed by Wolves’ right winger Adama Traore.
3. Bowen at the double
“I got four in pre-season, and I'll go into the games full of confidence and I know where the back of the net it.
“It's important to get the minutes and. personally for me, to score goals as well, which is what I want to bring to the team going into the new season.”
Those were Jarrod Bowen’s words speaking to West Ham TV following his two-goal showing against AFC Bournemouth in the Betway Cup at the start of September.
However, the No20 did not add to his four pre-season goals in the Premier League – until Sunday evening. Then, the 23-year-old showed all his quality to net two top-class strikes and set West Ham on the way to a thumping victory.
The first was straight out of his Hull City scrapbook, as Bowen replicated many of the 54 goals he scored for the Tigers by collecting the ball wide on the right, running at the opposition defence, cutting onto his left foot and curling an inch-perfect shot into the far bottom corner.
The second was a real striker’s goal, as the January signing followed in to score from close range after Pablo Fornals’ shot had bounced back off the upright.
Now he is off the mark for the season, you can expect Bowen’s confidence to keep growing, and the Premier League goals to continue to flow.
4. Fab-ian Balbuena
It says much for the standard of West Ham’s performance against Wolves that Fabian Balbuena ranked only seventh in the Hammers’ WhoScored ratings – albeit with an impressive score of 7.45.
The Paraguayan, who returned to the starting XI as captain in the 5-1 Carabao Cup win over Hull City in midweek, was rock solid alongside Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell in a back three.
The 29-year-old was making just his second Premier League start since January, and first since the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in late June, but there were no signs of rustiness in the South American’s display.
Balbuena made a team-high five tackles, three clearances and one interception, repeatedly stopping Wolves attacks before they could directly threaten Lukasz Fabianski’s goal.
That one interception was a vital one, too, as the ball broke to Declan Rice, whose forward pass found Michail Antonio. He was fouled by Willy Boly, Pablo Fornals took a quick free-kick to Jarrod Bowen and, seconds later, the ball was in the Wolves net and West Ham were ahead.