It is too early to say whether following their first two European assignments with a couple of late home defeats is part of a worrying trend for West Ham, who have every reason to feel confident before hosting Tottenham at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
These are unusually heady times for the east London club, who maintained their perfect record in the Europa League by beating Genk 3-0 on Thursday night, and David Moyes hopes his side still have plenty left in the tank before facing Spurs. “I want to try and challenge on all fronts if I can,” West Ham’s manager said after another composed performance from his team, who won with something to spare against the Belgian side, using their power at set pieces to move six points clear at the top of Group H.
For Moyes, it is about finding the right balance between taking Europe seriously and ensuring that West Ham’s domestic form does not suffer because of the Thursday night grind. He made changes against Genk, resting Lukasz Fabianski, Michail Antonio, Angelo Ogbonna, Saïd Benrahma, Pablo Fornals and Kurt Zouma, but still fielded a strong side. The crucial duo of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek started again in midfield and West Ham will need them to recover quickly before taking on their London rivals, who should be well rested after an entire second-string side lost to Vitesse Arnhem in the Europa Conference League.
It is a reminder that Spurs, for all their recent struggles, still boast greater resources than West Ham. The north London club have a deeper squad and it will not have escaped their attention that Moyes’s side have struggled after playing in Europe this season, conceding last-minute goals in defeats by Brentford and Manchester United.
“We’re mindful of it,” Moyes said, although his selections suggest that he is not about to start treating the extra workload as an inconvenience. West Ham have fully embraced their first proper European campaign since 2006 and it is possible that too much can be read into those late slips.
After all West Ham did not look sluggish against United, whose late winner came from a piece of individual brilliance by Jesse Lingard, and they should have snatched a point after falling behind. There would have been no talk of fatigue had Mark Noble stuck his penalty past David de Gea with the final kick of the game.
Yet there was a weariness to West Ham when they hosted Brentford at the start of this month, although the issue was less with how they ended the game and more to do with their inability to react as Thomas Frank’s side squeezed them with an energetic high press during the early stages.
Caught cold by Brentford’s aggression in the first half, West Ham improved as the game wore on. They dominated the second half, deservedly equalising through Jarrod Bowen, and were beaten only after the promoted side stunned them with a smash-and-grab goal from a set piece in added time.
All the same, the way that Brentford started that game provides an obvious formula for Spurs, particularly as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min will be primed to take advantage if Nuno Espírito Santo’s side seize the early initiative by forcing West Ham to concede possession in their own half.
The concern for Moyes must be whether Rice and Soucek will be able to take control of the midfield contest. Ideally he would have been able to rest them against Genk, but Alex Kral is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and Noble was only ready for a place on the bench after returning from a minor injury.
“We’ve just got to keep our head down,” Moyes said. “Get on with it. Take on the next opponent. We’ve got a good team.”
Moyes went on to talk about ridding West Ham of their flakiness. They have become fitter under the Scot and, after years of dysfunction in the transfer market, are gradually building a stronger squad. The rotation worked against Genk. The Croatia attacker Nikola Vlasic, who has been slow to adapt since his £25.7m move from CSKA Moscow, got valuable minutes under his belt and Bowen, who will start on the right flank today, produced a driving display after deputising for Antonio up front.
It was an encouraging evening for Moyes, who is making West Ham believe that anything is possible. They do not want to slow down.