West Ham hit the top after bringing Brighton’s flying start to an abrupt end | Premier League

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West Ham top of the Premier League, their dreadful record against Brighton reaching a spectacular end, and a victory that must register as a tactical triumph for David Moyes. His old-style pragmatism picked apart the new-wave counter-press that has made Roberto De Zerbi the name to drop among football intellectual circles.

“Are you watching, Declan Rice?” asked the away fans, a tad ungratefully, as James Ward-Prowse, bought with Rice’s transfer fee, had opened the scoring. Rice’s replacement in defensive midfield, Edson Álvarez, was another outstanding performer. Brighton dominated possession but had no answer to the quality of West Ham’s finishing on the counter, though Alphonse Areola also produced a series of excellent late saves. Lucas Paquetá, who would have joined Rice in exiting the club had other matters not intervened, played creative director, and Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio, the other scorers, showed the ruthlessness in attack Brighton could not emulate.

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An object lesson for Evan Ferguson, perhaps the next Brighton player to be sold for a nine-figure sum, making his first start of the season? The teenage Irishman was partnered in attack by Danny Welbeck and flanked by two wingers in what often resembled an old-style 4-2-4 formation, De Zerbi again ripping up the rule books, though this time the Italian’s free-form experimentalism ended up sounding an atonal note. “We can’t forget that we lost three important players,” said De Zerbi, highlighting his club’s summer of sales. “We can lose because we are Brighton.”

Moyes admitted: “We had to defend a lot. Let’s not kid ourselves, it is a part of football and it is not all about attacking. The last couple of games, we have defended really well as a team. Hopefully we improve and the football gets better.”

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Álvarez, making his Hammers debut, fulfilled the deep-lying role that was once Rice’s, though without the forward surges of the former captain. Early on, a couple of flashes from Paquetá signalled the danger of Brighton’s risk-taking. First, the Brazilian looped a header over, and then, employing the vision that had Pep Guardiola coveting his services, picked out Antonio with a pass the lone striker should have done better with.

James Ward-Prowse watches his shot head towards the back of the Brighton net to give West Ham the lead.
James Ward-Prowse’s first goal for West Ham set his side on the path to victory. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Action Images/Reuters

Antonio soon enough played supplier of West Ham’s first-half goal. Adam Webster lost the ball, then tussled with Antonio on the touchline to end up in a terrible mess before Ward-Prowse scored his first West Ham goal – his 50th in the Premier League – at the second attempt. “A lot of effort went in the gameplan, you have to respect Brighton,” said the goalscorer, thriving in new surroundings. “We executed our gameplan perfectly today.”

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West Ham’s stolid determination was such that in the 30th minute they had completed just 13 passes to Brighton’s 220. “They are unique,” said Moyes. “The manager here has done incredible things with the team and we had to find a way to stop incredible things happening.”

His first-half plan could hardly have worked better, and after the break both Bowen and Antonio blew decent chances before getting on the scoresheet within four minutes of each other. Paquetá also attempted a volley that Bart Verbruggen saved well. There was no such chance for Brighton’s Dutch goalie, 21 and another making his debut, with West Ham’s second goal. Created by Saïd Benrahma’s brilliant control, and his taking a beat before playing in Bowen to kill the ball and angle the finish, it was an absolute beauty.

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Next came Antonio’s strike, with less artistic impression but deserved after an expert display in leading the line. This time it was Bowen’s touch and expression that created the chance before Antonio bullied Webster – again – before the move’s completion. “In the second half, we lost the balance,” said De Zerbi. “We made some crucial and important mistakes in the first and third goals.”

Pascal Gross’s low finish reduced the deficit and gave rise to faint hopes of a comeback. Brighton again dominated possession but as 90 minutes loomed, Joël Veltman’s volley was well saved by Areola who next made an even better stop from Ferguson. “He didn’t half pull off a couple of worldy saves,” said Moyes. “The best player on the pitch,” lamented De Zerbi. Maintaining the two-goal margin was enough to put the Hammers top of the table.

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