LONDON — Three points from Southampton’s 3-0 win at West Ham in the Premier League.
1. West Ham woe continues as Southampton excel
West Ham continue to suffer home discomfort at the London Stadium. Southampton took them apart with a brand of incisive, neat attacking play currently beyond Slaven Bilic’s team; Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster was required to make just a single save.
Charlie Austin’s 40th-minute opener, made for him by Dusan Tadic and Ryan Bertrand, was Southampton’s first proper shot on goal, though the hosts had hardly been pinning them back.
Tadic sauntered through to score Saints’ second 17 minutes after half-time, set up by Nathan Redmond and Austin and following careless play by Winston Reid and Cheikhou Kouyate that was endemic of the Hammers’ mistake-riddled season so far.
James Ward-Prowse’s injury-time goal, created by a Steven Davis run through an utterly disorganised home defence, completed the rout and was scored in front of a stadium that was almost empty. Fans had been peeling for the exit since Tadic’s goal. “We’ve got more fans than you,” mocked the Southampton contingent.
The Hammers’ struggles off the field continued with the latest in the list of glitches at the new stadium seeing the PA system malfunction while the teams were being read out in pre-match. Of greater concern to worried Hammers fans, though, is Bilic’s team losing five of six Premier League matches and the club being mired in the relegation zone alongside Stoke and Sunderland.
Standing at the edge of a vast technical area, Bilic was antsy and agitated throughout. A now dreadful start to the campaign must have him under some pressure, even if club owners David Gold and David Sullivan are not known to be quick to sack managers. Fans are audibly losing faith, though. There had been boos at half-time, and they got much louder once Tadic had scored.
Last season, as the club closed out life at the old Boleyn Ground, Bilic had his team playing attacking football in the West Ham tradition. This performance, like all of their matches so far in 2016-17, has been the other side of West Ham: flaky, inconsistent and infuriating to watch. By contrast to those misfires, Claude Puel’s Saints gave a lesson in combining defensive organisation and attacking play.
In the stands, home supporters near the away fans did not take kindly to being asked to sit down. The club want health and safety regulations adhered to so that they can get licence to increase the capacity to 66,000. Should the team continue to perform like this, though, the London Stadium will be housing Championship football next season.
2. Hosts’ new signings make little impact
A summer haul of 11 new additions ought to make West Ham stronger but bedding them in is proving problematic.
The only goal that Simone Zaza has scored at the London Stadium came in a Juventus shirt in a pre-season friendly last month. The Italian made himself busy enough vs. Southampton, usually pushed up against the last defender as he sought space.
Euro 2016 champion Jose Fonte, though, is a tough nut to crack and his partner Virgil van Dijk is both classy and quick. Zaza struggled for time on the ball and was denied much of a supply from Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio, the trio that make up West Ham’s creative hub.
West Ham have a full-back problem with both left-backs Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku injured and Bilic reluctant to give Sam Byram a chance on the right. As such, Havard Nordveit and Alvaro Arbeloa were both playing out of position.
Nordveit played most of his football as a defensive midfielder for Borussia Monchengladbach, but played right-back here and was left isolated by the quick interchange of passes that brought about Austin’s goal. Arbeloa, a right-back for Liverpool, Real Madrid and Spain, was asked to play on the opposite flank and looked uncomfortable and one-footed.
At half-time, another new signing in Sofiane Feghouli was brought on in place of the anonymous Lanzini, as Bilic desperately searched for something to lift a moribund attack. Like Zaza, Feghouli got little service, though might have won a penalty when his shot struck Bertrand’s hand.
3. Hojbjerg finding his feet
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg holds the record of being Bayern Munich’s youngest-ever player in the Bundesliga but the Dane never quite made the grade in Bavaria, where he eventually fell out with Pep Guardiola, the manager who gave him that opportunity at 17 years and 251 days old.
Hojbjerg is still just 21 and joined Southampton off the back of loan spells at Augsburg and Schalke 04. It was a signing that looked something of a coup, though he is yet to fully establish himself.
The London Stadium was his first Premier League start in a Saints shirt for almost a month and he played within a central midfield triangle, alongside Davis and ahead of the holding Oriol Romeu.
Tall and rangy, Hojbjerg’s is an upright, strolling style, with clear comfort in possession and a desire to push forward, though he took far too many touches when a ninth-minute chance came his way on the edge of the West Ham penalty area and his eventual effort was blocked.
As Southampton found their feet, Hojbjerg became prominent and was able to show off an admirable passing range, especially in the period straight after half-time where the visitors built up the head of steam that led to their second and decisive goal.