Preparation for the start of the 2021/22 season continued for West Ham United, as they took the short trip over to the West of London to face newly-promoted Brentford. After a thrilling 6-2 win against Celtic last Saturday, David Moyes would have wanted his team on top form - and that he received. Furthermore, the fixture saw the highly-anticipated return of former Brentford star Saïd Benrahma - who has been a force amongst The Hammers team throughout pre-season. Benrahma broke the deadlock at 65 minutes with a wonderful strike outside the box.
Moyes named a particularly strong team for the battle against their new Premier League rivals - with Aaron Cresswell taking the captain's armband. After an impressive showing in pre-season, Conor Coventry was again chosen in the starting XI. Jarrod Bowen, who was phenomenal in Scotland last week, was out of the squad entirely due to an injury.
Story of the match
Though a ball entered the back of the Brentford net, the score at half-time remained 0-0. Starting from a free-kick deep on the right-hand side in the 31st minute, Benrahma found space behind the Brentford defence. He controlled the ball beautifully, knocking the ball back across the face of The Bee's goal, evading the opposition goalkeeper's effort to stop the chance. Michail Antonio, in true form, found himself in an excellent position to launch the ball into the back of the net. The Hammers new no. 9’s celebration was stopped short, as his close-range shot was disallowed due to Benrahma being offside at the start of the move.
West Ham appeared the dominant side for the first 25 minutes of the fixture, with Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, and Manuel Lanzini playing like they have played together for years. Most of the threats made by The Hammers came through at least one, occasionally all, of those three players.
As the first half drew to a close, apart from the disallowed goal, there was not a lot to shout about. It's clear that both teams were more invested in the fitness element of the game, with only a handful of players showing glimpses of quality. The Hammers held the majority of possession and showed the most danger in attacking areas, yet couldn't provide a goal for the 1,000 West Ham fans making the journey to West London.
The start of the second half proved a slow one for the East London side. Brentford made 5 substitutions before the half commenced, with West Ham just making one - and you could tell. The Bees competed with great energy, pushing Moyes' men to make plenty of defensive mistakes - an uneasy watch for the Claret and Blue Army. Mark Noble's appearance on the field meant he took back the captain's armband from Cresswell, and with that comes his 17 seasons' worth of pre-season experience.
Antonio made the first attacking move for West Ham at 62 minutes, spotting the opportunity to shoot from the outside of the box. It's fair to say, that chance triggered a chain reaction for the East London team. In the 65th minute, poor defending from Brentford gave Coventry the opportunity to drive into the Bee's box. With an outside touch, he shot across goal, narrowly missing the far post. Just a minute later, former Brentford man Benrahma picks the ball up 22 yards from goal, takes a touch that takes him past two defenders, and curls it into the top right corner - a true postage stamp goal.
Brentford's closest opportunity in the game came from Baptiste, who made an unbelievable run into the West Ham box - striking the ball hard onto the post, and thankfully for the Hammers' defenders, could be cleared.
The game finished with no more chances for either team, but a great performance by the boys in Claret and Blue.
Takeaways from the match
Ultimately a good game, but the defence is a worrying spectacle at the moment. Issa Diop and Craig Dawson had the West Ham fans on the edge of their seats at many points in the game, and it is clear to see that a greater deal of quality is needed in that backline. The current reports around Moyes wanting to bring in quality centre-backs is good news, however with the beginning of the Premier League season fast approaching, these transfers have to be made as soon as possible.
Conor Coventry is proving to be a fantastic, reliable young player who is more than ready to make the step up into the senior squad. He will most definitely make appearances within the first team in the coming season, and could potentially be the next Declan Rice.
Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals showed glimpses of the quality that they both have, and the season ahead will be exciting if they can further progress and improve. Fornals, of course, has Europa League experience with his former club Villareal, and now with his favoured number 8 shirt and entering another season in the Premier League, he should be a player that takes the league by storm.
Stand out player
Saïd Benrahma was outstanding for West Ham today. His ability to hold up the play, create pinpoint chances and score world-class goals, with be so vital for his team in the coming season. He also had the pressure of playing against his former team, whose fans did boo him at the beginning of the game. Benrahma, although slow to start in his West Ham career, appears to be taking pre-season by storm, and it is no wonder that David Moyes holds him in such high regard. If he can stay on form, he will be such an important component within this West Ham squad and will light up the UEFA Europa League.