West Ham are making it impossible to view last season’s exploits as a fluke. On this evidence there is no doubt that they are heading in the right direction under David Moyes, whose tough and talented team look ready to push for another top-six finish after this crushing demolition of Leicester.
Nobody was worrying about West Ham being the only Premierliga side not to have made a permanent signing this summer. Although they need more depth given that they are in the Europa League, there is nothing wrong with their starting 11. Moyes has seen his side score eight goals in their first two games and there were so many positives to take from this victory over Leicester, who lost Ayoze Pérez to a red card in the first half.
This was a chance to test the theory that West Ham benefited from playing in empty stadiums last season. The London Stadium, at full capacity for the first time in 18 maande, has been a disgruntled place in the past and there is an argument that Moyes’s side were able to play a more contained style without a crowd constantly urging them to attack, allowing them to hold their shape and catch opponents out with sharp, precise counterattacks.
Yet Moyes had bristled at those suggestions before this game and there was no sign of the atmosphere holding his players back at the start of the contest. The home fans were up for it and West Ham undoubtedly had a sharper edge than the visitors during the early stages, always threatening when Michail Antonio turned to run at Leicester’s backpedalling defence. The striker was a handful throughout the first half, his impressive hold-up play rattling Daniel Amartey and Caglar Soyuncu, and there was a lot to like about his understanding with Saïd Benrahma, who is looking far more robust and efficient in the final third at the moment.
Leicester were swamped at times, the intensity forcing them to rush their passes. They wanted to build carefully through their playmaker, James Maddison, yet Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek always seemed to be in the right place in front of West Ham’s back four. It became a struggle for Leicester’s creators and it summed up the pattern of play that the opening goal, converted by Fornals in the 26th minute, arrived when Jamie Vardy gifted possession to Rice with a slack pass.
Rice was on to it quickly, instantly starting a West Ham break. The move progressed at pace, Jarrod Bowen involved, and Leicester were in trouble when Fornals found Benrahma on the left. Benrahma has made an encouraging start to the season and the £30m Algerian did not disappoint with his final ball, turning a cross back for Fornals to screw a clever left-footed shot past Schmeichel.
It was no more than West Ham deserved and although they had an escape when Ricardo Pereira missed a chance to equalise, they had a tighter grip on the game after a moment of madness from Pérez. The Leicester winger was rash when he went into a tackle with Fornals, bringing his studs down on the Spaniard’s ankle, and Michael Oliver had no option but to show him a red card after being told to consult the pitchside monitor by the VAR, Darren England.
Leicester’s complaints were impossible to justify. It was clearly dangerous play from Pérez, leaving his teammates in the lurch, and West Ham should have capitalised on their numerical advantage before the interval. Antonio was furious with himself after botching an easy header at the far post.
There were more openings for West Ham at the start of the second half, Soucek jabbing over from Bowen’s flick, Schmeichel somehow repelling an Antonio header. Leicester, their defence weak with Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana and Jannik Vestergaard injured, were under siege. They had no way out of their half and the pressure eventually told, Soyuncu the culprit when he sent a lazy backpass to Antonio, who beat Schmeichel to the ball and turned before teeing Benrahma up for a simple finish.
The only consolation for the hapless Soyuncu is that it could have been any of Leicester’s players making that error. West Ham had taken them out of their comfort zone and it was not long before Schmeichel was prodding a clearance out for a throw, although at least the goalkeeper redeemed himself when he made another excellent save from Antonio.
Leicester pulled one back in the 70th minute. Maddison found Youri Tielemans, who bundled past Lukasz Fabianski after seeing his first effort blocked by Aaron Cresswell.
Yet West Ham restored their two-goal lead when the imperious Rice strode down the left before crossing to Antonio, who shrugged Soyuncu aside before beating Schmeichel.
Antonio, who had surpassed Paolo Di Canio’s record of 47 goals in the Premier League for West Ham, brought the house down by celebrating with a cardboard cutout of himself and he soon scored again, controlling Vladimir Coufal’s cross and prodding home.