24 min And here’s Rice now, breaking forward and finding Coufal down the right. Nothing comes of it, but it’s a start.
22 min Brighton are still dominating possession, though West Ham look to be letting them. We’ve barely seen Rice and Soucek so far, when usually they’d be putting themselves about in the grand style.
20 min “Once or twice a season,” says Ian Sargeant, “West Ham have a whole game where beating the first man on any cross appears as far out of our reach as walking on the moon. This might be the first one this term.”
The odd thing is they’re not even trying. I’m going to sound very yer da when I say this, but a corner hit flat and hard towards the near post is an absolute bastard to defend and delivering such should not be beyond a Premier League player tasked with taking set-pieces.
19 min Welbeck’s playing with decent energy and hares after Ogbonna, who’s looking to ease back to Fabianski. Instead, he has to turn and hammer towards nowhere, but Brighton can’t win the second ball.
17 min Slowly slowly, West Ham are inching into game, but as I type that, March curves an absolutely gorgeous cross into the middle that looks perfect for Welbeck, but in front of him, Ogbonna waves a leg in his eyeline and he can’t react quickly enough once the ball’s passed it.
16 min West Ham are a team of behemoth and Brighton are not. Why not stick corners into the mixah and go from there?
14 min Dunk shanks the ball behind to cede another unnecessary corner and have a look! West Ham go short again, and when it’s inevitably cleared, Cresswell sticks back in and Bowen finds himself up against Welbeck, so takes a touch and hooks a difficult shot over the top.
11 min In co-comms, Gary Neville thinks Brighton might be also be playing five at the back.
10 min No, Bowen hits the first man, Bissouma, and again is lucky to win another corner, which he duly clumps straight to Bissouma. This time, Brighton get the ball away.
9 min Better from West Ham, Bowen finding Soucek who spreads to Coufal. He looks to knock the ball back into the middle, so Lallana panics and slices behind; bad move against a side as set-piece proficient as West Ham. But for reasons known to no one, they take it short, and do well to parlay that into another. I’m not sure they’ll try that one again.
8 min Maupay wellies the ball out of play, which is a metaphor of some sort.
6 min My guess is that West Ham plan to outlast Brighton and win this game in the second half, because the more I look at their formation and team, the less necessary it seems.
5 min West Ham half-clear the corner and Brighton look to build again, but can’t make anything happen. So far, the game is being played in the Brighton half.
4 min Nice from Brighton, Maupay playing into Welbeck who, on the half-turn, shovel the ball back into his path – they could work very nicely together – and Maupay’s shot is deflected behind.
2 min Burn’s punt over the top sticks Welbeck running in behind, but with no support he can only shoot, panelling not too far over the top.
2 min It looks like Noble is playing off the front, which all seems a bit unnecessary. That isn’t his position, so why not play a better player there then trust Rice and Soucek to do what they do?
1 min I’m a little surprised Brighton haven’t gone with an extra midfielder. Lallana is a nice player and Bissouma looks capable of becoming a superb one, but the physical and numerical battle against West Ham is a lot.
The players take a knee. Peace and justice people – all black lives matter.
I can’t wait for us to beat corona, so we can get back to wholesomeness of that ilk.
It’s a while since Mark Noble started two games in a row, which is absolutely baffling when you consider how photogenic he is. Come on Davey, help us out.
Graham Potter tells us that Connolly felt his groin yesterday […], so he takes a rest, while Burn is there to add height against the aforementioned shtarkers. Moyes won’t confirm the reversion to a back five, but wants his players to play as they’ve been doing but to finish better.
So where is this game? For Brighton, it’s about trying to pick holes in the blanket of shtarkers West Ham string across the middle of the pitch; I daresay they’ll try and keep their three attackers fairly central, looking to cause trouble with weight of numbers.
West Ham, meanwhile, will be looking down the inside and outside of Brighton’s wing-backs, and seeking to take advantage of their numerical advantage in midfield. The more I look at this, the harder the match-up looks for the visitors.
Leeds v Burnley is done, with the win vaulting Leeds up the table from 16th to 11th.
I’m really looking forward to watching Ben White today, who looks a real talent. It won’t happen because Gareth Southgate is manager, but given England have no serous centre-backs, there ought to be a place or two available in the starting XI for the Euros, never mind the squad.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bamford’s fifth-minute penalty put Leeds in front against Burnley, and with five minutes to go, that remains the case. Rob Smyth has the latest….
As for Brighton, Graham Potter makes two changes: Dan Burn replaces Joel Veltman at wing-back and Danny Welbeck is in for Aaron Connolly at centre-forward, the star on top of their Christmas tree. He’s looking in decent nick, and with Maupay and Trossard behind him, and plenty of scope for the touch and combination play that makes him so much fun to watch when he’s on it.
So West Ham make just the one change from Monday night’s defeat at Chelsea, Pablo Fornals dropping out and Ben Johnson – a nephew of Paul Parker and cousin of Ledley King – coming in for his first league start of the season. That tells us Michail Antonio is still injured and means a change back from four defenders to five, though I’m a little surprised that we’re not seeing an extra attacker as a consequence – or maybe I just think we all deserve 90 minutes of Saïd Benrahma. OK, I do, and I can see why Moyes will reckon that if he keeps things solid, his players will find enough edge to win, but also, give us 90 minutes of Saïd Benrahma please.
West Ham United (a curiously positive 5-3-2): Fabianski; Coufal, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Johnson; Noble, Rice, Soucek; Bowen, Haller. Subs: Randolph, Fredericks, Dawson, Diop, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Yarmolenlo, Fornals, Benrahma.
Brighton & Hove Albion (a festive 3-4-2-1): Sanchez; White, Webster, Dunk; Burn, Bissouma, Lallana, March; Trossard, Maupay; Welbeck. Subs: Steele, Mac Allister, Gross, Jahanbaksh, Alzate, Propper, Zeqiri, Bernardo, Veltman.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Swindon lot)
Just when we think there’s nothing more 2020 can do to surprise us, it allows to write the words “West Ham v Brighton” with the prefix “highly anticipated”. Not by everyone, granted, but by anyone who’s spent any serious time watching these enterprising and idiosyncratic outfits.
West Ham are the very model of a modern David Moyes team – disciplined and dogged but also full of creativity and conviction, full of physical monsters with artistic sensibilities. They’ve had a fine season so far, and though a win today won’t move them up beyond the 10th spot they already occupy, they’ll fancy themselves to reel in at least a couple of the clubs who currently sit above them. Things are working well.
Brighton, meanwhile, are in a more parlous position, clear of the relegation zone by just a point with today’s game in hand. Given the state of Sheffield United and West Brom, the likelihood is that there’s only one relegation slot up for grabs, which is the good news; the bad news it that it’s only them, Fulham and Burnley contesting it, and there’s no good reason to believe the latter won’t escape it pretty easily.
The thing is, Brighton have some lovely footballers – Yves Bissouma, Neal Maupay, Leandro Trossard and Daniel Welbeck among them – which is why that, of the teams in the bottom seven, only Leeds have scored more goals. And Brighton’s defensive record isn’t dreadful either – of the teams in the bottom nine, only Arsenal and Burnley have conceded fewer. Their problem has been not scoring at the right times and conceding at the wrong times, a malady encapsulated by last weekend’s behaviour: given 50 minutes to score against a team with only one point to its name, they then conceded the first goal and had to rely on an 87th-minute scramble to snaffle a point.
With their direct competitors both in decent nick, they can’t keep tossing points, but there are few less pleasant teams to play against than West Ham. They’ll have to go some to get out of this one better off than when they started.
Kick-off: 2.15pm GMT