West Ham continued their excellent Europa League campaign with a 2-0 win at Rapid Vienna to confirm their place at the top of Group H on Thursday.
David Moyes’ men are fourth in the Premier League but have arguably been even more impressive in Europe, with this their fourth victory in five matches.
Goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Mark Noble shortly before half-time teed up a straightforward triumph, albeit one that was played out without a crowd as a lockdown kept home fans away after West Ham’s travelling supporters had already been banned.
The Rapid faithful would not have been particularly impressed by what they saw if they had been present, as the margin of West Ham’s victory could have been wider.
Jarrod Bowen passed up a huge chance for an early opener when he toed Arthur Masuaku’s superb sixth-minute cross agonisingly wide, but West Ham had the lead they merited six minutes from the end of the first half.
Yarmolenko nodded Nikola Vlasic’s teasing centre back across Paul Gartler for his first Hammers goal since January, before the scorer earned a clip from Maximilian Hofmann for a stoppage-time spot-kick, which Noble dispatched.
11/12 – Mark Noble has scored 11 of the last 12 penalties he has taken for West Ham in all competitions (excluding shootouts), only failing to convert from the spot against Man Utd in September. Reliable.
West Ham kept pushing and Bowen was wasteful again when he shot straight at Gartler at the end of a wonderful run and then when he blasted against the legs of retreating defender Filip Stojkovic after the goalkeeper had parried Tomas Soucek’s header following a smart initial save.
Rapid threatened only fleetingly at the other end, as West Ham’s comfortable position meant they could disregard events elsewhere in the group and hand a debut to Sonny Perkins, who almost scored with his first touch on a productive night for the visitors.
What does it mean?
Hammers in complete control West Ham’s stunning start to this campaign meant it would take a remarkable collapse not to advance to the knockout stage, but they took apart Rapid on matchday five just to make sure.
Although there were occasional lulls in the game, West Ham were always in control with 61.2 per cent of the possession, while their 12 shots had a collective value of 4.15 expected goals (xG).
Masuaku makes his mark
Knee surgery restricted Masuaku to 12 Premier League appearances last season, and Aaron Cresswell established himself as a surefire starter under Moyes in that time.
But the fit-again left-back took his opportunity to impress with an all-action display in Austria. Only Noble had more touches than Masuaku (92) at the time of his substitution, as he excelled at both ends, creating two chances while also making three interceptions, two tackles and two clearances.
Bowen off the boil
If West Ham have great depth at full-back, the same is not quite true up front.
Michail Antonio was rested for this match, meaning Bowen played through the middle in the absence of an obvious natural alternative. While it feels a little harsh to criticise Moyes’ attack in a comprehensive win, Bowen alone could have stretched the scoreline significantly. The winger failed with three shots worth a combined 1.81 xG.
Key Opta Facts
– West Ham have won four of their last five games in European competition, drawing the other (excluding qualifiers), after losing three and drawing one of the four before that.
– This was Rapid Vienna’s 300th game in European competition (including qualifiers), with the club the first Austrian side to reach that milestone.
– West Ham have lost just one of their last 13 away games in all competitions (W9 D3), after losing four out of five directly before that (W1).
– Andriy Yarmolenko netted his first goal in 19 games for West Ham in all competitions, since scoring against Doncaster Rovers in January in the FA Cup.
Having taken care of business, West Ham can return their focus to the Premier League and a trip to Manchester City. Their next Europa League assignment is at home to Dinamo Zagreb on December 9, when Rapid go to Genk.