West Ham United warmed up for Blank Gameweek 31 in underwhelming fashion on Saturday.
The Hammers fell to a 2-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Cardiff City, a side that had lost all three of their previous Premier League fixtures and who had conceded ten goals in the process of doing so.
This was West Ham’s sixth away match without a victory.
There was more concern for Felipe Anderson‘s owners after the Brazilian winger was hooked at half-time but the positive news for those Fantasy managers with West Ham assets in their squads is that Manuel Pellegrini’s side are at home in Blank Gameweek 31 and are unbeaten in five at the London Stadium.
The Hammers’ latest defeat on the road is the primary focus of this Scout Notes article, while we will also run the rule over the Crystal Palace v Brighton and Hove Albion below.
Cardiff City 2-0 West Ham United
- Goals: Junior Hoilett (£5.0m), Victor Camarasa (£4.6m)
- Assists: Josh Murphy (£4.8m)
Manuel Pellegrini said Felipe Anderson‘s (£7.2m) half-time substitution on Saturday was tactical in nature, allaying any fears of an injury for the Brazil international ahead of Blank Gameweek 31.
While concerns over fitness will have been assuaged, there will still be unease among the 15.8% of Fantasy Premier League managers who own the attacking midfielder ahead of the hugely appealing home fixture against Huddersfield Town next Saturday.
Anderson has been an ever-present in the league this season and is clearly a favourite of Pellegrini’s but the fact that he was withdrawn at the interval after yet another sub-par display must be a worry.
As is the fact that the Hammers are now blessed with attack-minded options ready and waiting for a start: Michail Antonio (£6.8m), Samir Nasri (£5.2m) and Marko Arnautovic (£6.8m) all began Saturday’s game on the bench and came on as substitutes in the second half.
Pellegrini said of Anderson’s withdrawal:
Just a tactical change because we didn’t create chances in the first half and, at least in the second half, Marko had a shot which was blocked by the goalkeeper and we had another shot from Declan Rice off the post.
Cardiff didn’t create too many chances also, but they scored their two goals.
We didn’t have many chances in the first half and that’s why we tried to make tactical changes, first with Marko Arnautovic and after that with Nasri and Antonio.
We improved a little bit but we didn’t create the amount of chances you need if you want to win away.
Anderson has registered just two shots in the last six Gameweeks, neither of which was on target.
The Brazilian midfielder has only created three chances in the last four Gameweeks, meanwhile.
On Saturday, Anderson didn’t register a single shot, key pass or penalty box touch.
He wasn’t alone in turning in a poor performance, however.
Javier Hernandez (£6.1m) also failed to register a goal attempt or create a chance in his awful 90-minute showing up front, while Manuel Lanzini (£6.4m) – who only sporadically flickered into life – did likewise before being substituted just before the hour mark. Robert Snodgrass (£5.0m) was similarly ineffective on the right flank.
West Ham had only two attempts on goal in the first hour and it wasn’t until Arnautovic stung Neil Etheridge‘s (£4.7m) palms after 74 minutes that the visitors registered a shot on target.
The Austrian striker was perhaps one of the few winners out of this defeat, as it would surely only serve to further his chances of a start in Gameweek 31.
Given that bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield visit the London Stadium next weekend, Pellegrini may even decide to play Arnautovic alongside Hernandez in a 4-4-2 and abandon the 4-1-4-1 system he has used recently.
“Out of position” defender Declan Rice (£4.6m), who was on the scoresheet in Gameweek 29, struck the upright from open play in the second half with West Ham’s only real other serious attempt on goal.
The Irons were repeatedly exposed at the back, too, with Lukasz Fabianski (£4.8m) called on to make five additional stops.
Pellegrini said of West Ham’s ongoing struggles away from home:
More than a disappointing result, it was a disappointing performance. We must review what we are doing when we are playing away because in four [of the last five] away games we didn’t score one goal and we conceded too many.
We knew that today we would find a team that was in a difficult moment with three defeats in a row that are fighting against relegation, but they didn’t have to do much to score two goals.
We were not concentrating for both goals. You can play badly but you can at least draw nil-nil. I think that was a very bad performance.
Maybe we improved a little bit in the last 15 minutes of the first half, but we didn’t create chances. We had two in the second half with Marko and one shot hitting the post but this was not enough to win a game away against a team fighting against relegation.
The good news for owners of West Ham assets is that the Hammers face Huddersfield at home in Gameweek 31 – and Pellegrini’s troops are a different prospect at the London Stadium than they are on the road.
The Irons are unbeaten in five matches on home soil and the below comparison of their goal threat in their last six home fixtures (left) versus last half-dozen away games (right) emphasises their more potent attacking menace in east London:
Andy Carroll (£5.4m) missed out on Saturday, meanwhile, with Pellegrini explaining his absence thus:
Andy was not considered for this game. He has some problem in his ankle, so he was not in the [squad] list.
Cardiff assets now take back seat in Blank Gameweek 31 and with both Chelsea and Manchester City to come thereafter (potentially in a Double Gameweek 32), there will be few Fantasy managers interested in their assets despite this much-needed win.
As bad as West Ham were, the Bluebirds were much improved on their recent dismal showings.
Neil Warnock’s side got about their visitors with real venom in the first half, bullying their opponents from the off and showing plenty of attacking intent.
Josh Murphy (£4.8m) and Junior Hoilett (£5.0m) were recalled on the flanks as Warnock reverted to a 4-4-1-1 and it was those two wingers who combined for Cardiff’s opener after just three minutes.
The excellent Victor Camarasa (£4.6m), back in the “number ten” role, bundled in his side’s second goal after the restart and could have had another strike of his own when Fabianski made a terrific double-stop from both the Spaniard and Oumar Niasse (£5.0m).
Niasse also scuffed an excellent one-on-one opportunity wide as Cardiff were well worthy of their first win since Gameweek 26.
Camarasa and Joe Bennett (£4.4m) both limped off in the second half and Warnock provided updates on the pair after full-time:
Victor has got cramp. It’s quite physical to play for us. He apologised when he went off but I said: ‘Don’t worry, you did enough in an hour!’
Joe has just snicked a hamstring, nothing serious. But it’s three weeks until the next game, so he should have an opportunity there.
Warnock praised his side’s performance, meanwhile:
There are a lot of positives today, a lot of answers for the critics. That’s our eighth clean sheet, I would like to see how many other teams in the bottom half have eight clean sheets this year.
The centre-backs and full-backs were fabulous then you go into midfield with Gunnarsson running the show.
Arter got the crowd involved with his energy, Camarasa oozed class and Oumar played a part, the centre-halves knew they were in for a tough game today.
I asked the wide players to contribute to goals and you couldn’t have asked for much more. Wingers always get criticised but today I thought they were fantastic.
Cardiff City XI (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Peltier, Morrison, Manga, Bennett (Bacuna 62′); Murphy, Gunnarsson, Arter (Paterson 84′), Hoilett; Camarasa (Ralls 68′); Niasse.
West Ham United XI (4-1-4-1): Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice; Snodgrass, Noble (Nasri 58′), Lanzini (Antonio 58′), Anderson (Arnautovic 45′); Hernandez.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Goals: Luka Milivojevic (£6.3m) | Glenn Murray (£6.3m), Anthony Knockaert (£5.2m)
- Assists: Andros Townsend (£5.9m)| Lewis Dunk (£4.4m), Dale Stephens (£4.3m)
Crystal Palace and Brighton are without a league fixture in Blank Gameweek 31, as both teams are in FA Cup action this coming weekend.
Saturday’s “M23 derby” was the two clubs’ final league fixture before the international break and there is the very real prospect of both sides having a Double Gameweek 32 when the domestic action resumes at the end of March.
Brighton’s victory over their rivals was much-needed from their point of view but it meant a frustrating afternoon for owners of Crystal Palace assets, with the Eagles yet again demonstrating familiar failings on home soil.
Roy Hodgson’s side have the second-worst home record in the Premier League this season, with only Huddersfield having lost more games on their own patch.
Defensively, they are fairly solid: only six teams have conceded fewer goals on home soil and the Eagles were only beaten on Saturday by two superb strikes from Glenn Murray (£6.3m) and Anthony Knockaert (£5.2m).
Brighton, indeed, only had four shots on goal all game.
Palace’s goal threat is letting them down at Selhurst Park, though: again, only Huddersfield have scored fewer home league goals this season.
The hope for owners of Wilfried Zaha (£6.9m), Michy Batshuayi (£6.5m) et al ahead of this match was that the visit of Brighton would be the perfect opportunity to remedy that problem, as the Seagulls had conceded two or more goals in each of their last five away league matches.
Palace had also scored more goals in the preceding eight Gameweeks than all teams bar Manchester City and had been on the scoresheet in every one of their Premier League fixtures in 2019.
However, Palace again found it difficult to overcome a side that set out to defend.
As blistering as they are on the counter-attack away from home, Palace lack inspiration when their opposition are camped inside their own box.
Their only goal on Saturday came from the penalty spot, with Luka Milivojevic (£6.3m) dispatching his eighth spot-kick of the season after Andros Townsend (£5.9m) had been felled.
Clear-cut opportunities for Palace were few and far between, with Jeffrey Schlupp (£4.5m) – again playing “out of position” in central midfield – blazing the best of their chances over in stoppage time.
A long-distance attempt from Batshuayi and a looping James Tomkins (£4.3m) header were the only efforts that Mathew Ryan (£4.4m) had to deal with, as Brighton’s solid backline blocked seven of the hosts’ 15 shots.
Hodgson reflected on Saturday’s performance compared to their more impressive recent displays:
It’s a poor performance in the sense that we weren’t able to do enough with the amount of possession that we’d got. But they are such different games so I don’t know quite how you compare them. The last two games, we were playing against teams where we’d had 40% of possession against a team that’s had 60% of possession.
We’d had great opportunities to use our counter-attacking threats and to use those opportunities whereas today of course we were up against a packed defence who had the benefit from 15 minutes into the game to be sitting on a 1-0 lead. I don’t quite know how the performances can be compared particularly. Can we play better? I suppose we can.
Chris Hughton meanwhile paid tribute to his centre-back pairing of Lewis Dunk (£4.4m) and Shane Duffy (£4.7m), who played a large part in keeping Palace at bay:
I thought Lewis was very good. Both him and Shane needed to be. Anything less from our two centre-halves and I don’t know if we end up winning the game.
They were put under a lot of pressure, a lot of balls into the box, and they had to stay on their feet. I thought Lewis defended particularly well.
Murray wasn’t even meant to be starting on Saturday but his replacement in the Brighton XI, Florin Andone (£5.0m), suffered a thigh injury in the warm-up.
The veteran striker lashed in a brilliant half-volley from a difficult angle to give Brighton the lead, after Tomkins had misjudged an up-and-under from Dunk in the swirling wing.
Hughton said of his strike options:
Glenn had been playing recently and we have good competition up there. We had Andone on the bench in our last game and he changed the game with the winning goal. He deserved the start.
Sometimes if it’s early in the warm-up, you know you’re making a change, but this was very late, almost as the players were coming off.
If Andone starts, he might have done well and got the winner. But equally if you have to make that change late before the game, Glenn’s not a bad option to bring in.
Away from home you need to try and stretch the team, more so. Andone probably would be stronger at that because he’s got more pace than Glenn so he’d give us more dynamic stretching of the team but Glenn’s clever. He’s very clever in the way that he does it and he works [hard].
Knockaert’s winner was a brilliant curling strike from distance but the winger was perhaps fortunate to still be on the pitch after a first-minute tackle on Milivojevic.
Hodgson said, magnanimously:
He committed a bad foul early on but I don’t think it was a malicious foul. It was a winger’s tackle, wasn’t it? Trying in a derby game to show his commitment. It was over the ball of course and it was a bad foul of course but I presume the referee gave him the benefit of the doubt on that one.
You’d have to ask the referee. We were incensed by the challenge of course, I thought it looked like a very dangerous one. I was very pleased to see Luka Milivojevic get to his feet again. My first thought was to turn to Cheikhou Kouyate and to tell him to get warmed up. I had visions of him not being able to carry on.
Crystal Palace XI (4-3-3): Guaita; Wan Bissaka, Tomkins, Dann, Van Aanholt; McArthur (Benteke 77′), Milivojevic, Schlupp; Townsend (Meyer 77′), Batshuayi, Zaha.
Brighton and Hove Albion XI (4-5-1): Ryan; Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo; Knockaert (March 75′), Bissouma, Stephens, Propper, Jahanbakhsh (Locadia 90′); Murray.
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