David Moyes excited by West Ham’s potential after perfect Europa League start against Dinamo Zagreb

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West Ham got their Europa League campaign off to a superb start in Croatia  (Getty Images)
West Ham got their Europa League campaign off to a superb start in Croatia (Getty Images)

West Ham passed another milestone under David Moyes with a businesslike and surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in their first-ever European group game.

A visit to the lopsided Stadion Maksimir, where Tottenham were humiliated in March, was supposed be a serious examination of a changed West Ham side and, according to Moyes, their toughest Europa League match.

Dinamo were competing in Europe for a 16th consecutive season but West Ham made light work of their more experienced opponents, as goals from Michail Antonio and Declan Rice clinched a deserved victory to leave Moyes giddy at the potential of his squad.

“I’m really excited by the prospect of not knowing how good they can be,” he said. “We brought in two or three different players and we didn’t look any worse for it.”

It has been easy to wonder if last season’s push for a Champions League place was a one-off, a freak top-six finish in a unique campaign.

Moyes, though, clearly believes the best is yet to come from himself and his players, and the professionalism of their performance in front of 2,000 travelling supporters – one unpunished moment of recklessness from Manuel Lanzini aside – suggests he is right.

Increasingly, West Ham feel like a club transformed, more steely and no longer prone to self-inflicted disaster.

Vladimir Coufal, who was rested in Zagreb, spoke on the eve of the game about the squad’s “different winning mentality”, while Croatian Nikola Vlasic, who made his first Hammers start in his country’s capital, insisted he has joined a club who are not scared of anyone.

Sunday’s visit of Manchester United in the Premier League – the first of two meetings between the clubs in four days – will put that rhetoric firmly to test and should provide a revealing barometer of West Ham’s progress.

The Hammers meekly lost three times to Moyes’s former club last season, including in the FA Cup fifth-round, without ever really laying a glove on them.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

In both League games, Moyes ripped up his preferred 4-2-3-1 system and switched to a back-three with wing-backs, which looked too much like deference and an attempt to play for a point.

United gratefully accepted the initiative, coming from behind to win 3-1 at the London Stadium before a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in a tighter but flat contest.

A similarly deferential approach this weekend would play into United’s hands and if Moyes is serious about his squad fulfilling its potential, he should set up his side to hurt the visitors.

United’s strengths since the return of Cristiano Ronaldo are obvious but there will be gaps at the heart of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, and Rice and Tomas Soucek should be capable of establishing a midfield foothold.

The Hammers will likely play on the break but any sense that their priority is to contain rather than counter will surely end badly against a top-heavy United.

Rice demonstrated West Ham’s quality in transition and his own continuing development with a superb individual goal five minutes after the interval to break Dinamo’s resolve.

The England midfielder picked up a loose pass on the halfway-line and drove into the box, finishing low between the goalkeeper’s legs after deciding against squaring to Antonio.

The 22-year-old has said he wants to be more like Yaya Toure and Patrick Vieira, and the goal was another indicator that he can reach those levels.

 (AP)
(AP)

"He had a bit of a ribbing because he does not score enough goals so he’s beginning to stand up and we will have another very good goalscoring midfield player,” Moyes said.

West Ham took just one point from matches against the ‘big four’ last season – a home draw with Manchester City – and their performances were characterised by a lack of substance that remains a caveat to Moyes’s fine work.

To improve on last season’s sixth-place finish, a more assured and robust examination of the top sides is needed, starting with a performance which targets United’s weaknesses.

The suspension of Antonio is a significant blow for the Hammers, leaving Moyes set to play a false nine. Jesse Lingard may have filled that role had he returned to east London but there is considerable buzz at the club and in Croatia about Vlasic, even if this weekend may come too soon for the 23-year-old’s first League start.

Antonio made it five goals in as many games when he beat the goalkeeper to Kevin Theopile-Catherine’s dreadful back pass and rolled into an empty net after 22 minutes last night.

The centre-forward is part of an impressive West Ham spine which has been further strengthened by Kurt Zouma, who was imperious on debut and should keep his place at the expense of Craig Dawson against United.

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