In a routine win in East London, West Ham beat Newcastle United 2-0.
The Hammers began the evening dedicating a stand to club legend Billy Bonds and followed that up with a comfortable victory. What did we learn?
1. The Basmati Busquets has strings to his bow
Declan Rice is a pretty special player. This is not exactly news from this game as the 20-year-old has repeatedly shown this season that he has genuine quality at the base of midfield. He can pass, move and tackle. He can even shoot as he showed against Arsenal when he bent a beautifully arced shot into the top corner to down the Gunners.
But did you know he can also rise majestically to nod the ball home from a header? Well, maybe you had figured it out but on Saturday we had proof positive that Rice can be an aerial threat. The youngster rose supremely to meet Robert Snodgrass’ corner and nodded West Ham into a very early lead. It set the tone and terms of the match (which he later helped control from his midfield position) and made it even more plain that he will surely be snapped up by one of the big six in the summer.
2. Newcastle are admirable but outgunned
Rafa Benitez has done great things at Newcastle relative to the money spent on the side. Getting them up into the Premier League and now whilst they are only six points ahead of the relegation zone there’s no real sensation that they might actually go down even though Mike Ashley is still underinvesting in the squad (yes, even with Miguel Almiron’s arrival!)
So when Newcastle came to West Ham, they were never likely to make anything happen. Yes, 13 of the last 18 points have been won, but they’re usually poor in London, and when they fell behind early the improbable became impossible. Benitez made some substitutions and the Magpies fought back in the second half, Rondon even managing to hit the post with a free-kick.
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3. Lanzini could supercharge the side
Manuel Lanzini came back from injury making his first start in forever on Saturday. Now, he was nowhere near the sizzling kind of form that he was displaying at the end of last season. The kind of form that saw him in line to start for Argentina at the 2018 World Cup. No, he was only alright against Newcastle, but there were flashes of his old brilliance.
When you consider how exciting West Ham already are in attack with Felipe Anderson leading lively counters, if you add Lanzini to that then suddenly West Ham will play with real imagination and verve in attack. Argentina and Brazil linking up in East London, bringing joy, excitement and goals back to West Ham.
4. Fortress Stratford? No, really!
West Ham have had a rough go of things adapting to life in the London Stadium. They’ve named two stands after legends but it didn’t seem to help. But slowly over the course of the season, some solidity has begun to creep in at home.
Spurs have won here (twice!) as well as Manchester City, but after the first two home games of the season (which they lost) the only other team to record a victory in Stratford has been Watford at the end of December.
In fact that loss was their last home defeat. They’ve since gone six straight games without losing, including a big win over Arsenal and a huge draw against Liverpool. This stadium is no longer an easy place for sides to come and it seems fitting that on a day where the Hammers named their third stand after legend Billy Bonds (who has more West Ham appearances than anyone) that they almost confirmed just how good they now are at home.
5. This ain’t your daddy’s West Ham
Good at home? Consistent? Winning games they should do in comfortable fashion? It’s been an age since West Ham were this incredibly solid. They’ve always had an up-and-down reputation but with Manuel Pellegrini in charge, things are finally coming good.
It’s quite a remarkable thing to witness, really. At any moment you expect West Ham to implode and everything to go wrong. It was just last season that things looked like they were heading for crisis, but faith in Pellegrini has led to a team that can seriously aim for seventh in the league and no one really doubts that they’ll be able to pull it off.
This definitely ain’t your daddy’s West Ham!