David Moyes handed welcome West Ham selection headache after Nayef Aguerd debut

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

There is often not much to report from this kind of fixture, qualification for West Ham assured and only the slight jeopardy of a point still being needed across two games to dodge a knockout playoff in the New Year.

That aim was achieved thanks to Manuel Lanzini’s first-half penalty and a 1-0 victory over Silkeborg, but if the long-awaited debut of Nayef Aguerd was supposed to offer a layer of intrigue more substantial than the nominal main event then it did not quite deliver.

That is no slight on Aguerd, a £28million summer signing from Rennes who has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury in preseason and who absolutely cruised through his first 76 minutes of competitive action in a West Ham shirt.

It was rather that, at least as far as the centre-back’s defensive qualities are concerned, we learnt about as much from this one match as from the 18 West Ham have played without him already this term.

Positioned at the centre of a back-three (perhaps a deliberately ploy from Moyes to afford him some extra protection on his comeback) in the first half in particular, Aguerd barely came into contact with a blue shirt as the travelling side were penned in, in part by West Ham’s press and in part by their ineptitude - and insistence - in playing out from the back.

In possession, there was the occasional glimpse of the balance Aguerd’s left-footedness will eventually bring to the Irons’ backline, a key factor in Moyes’ attraction to a player he first tried to sign in the summer of 2021, and some fine long passing, too, most notably a terrific switch out to Vladimir Coufal early on. Some inside the London Stadium briefly thought he had a debut goal when meeting Coufal’s high cross on the volley, but the ball flew the wrong side of the far post.

Replaced 14 minutes from time by Thilo Kehrer, there was a beaming and deserved smile on the face of the 26-year-old as he was greeted by first team coach Kevin Nolan.

Moyes though, will surely be keen to find out what’s under the bonnet and may yet be tempted to renege on his vow not to involve the new signing in the Premier League this side of the World Cup.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Forgotten man stakes his claim

It seems an awfully long time ago that, on the eve of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Manuel Lanzini’s ACL injury was being considered a significant blow for Argentina’s hopes.

There is no talk of Qatar four-and-half years on, Lanzini’s last international cap coming in 2019, and at club level the midfielder has, of last year’s regular cast, been most emphatically demoted following Moyes’ summer spending spree.

The Argentine made 30 Premier League appearances last term but has not started since the opening day of the season this time around and has played only three minutes of League football since August.

Stomaching the club-record arrival of Lucas Paqueta is one thing, but with the Brazilian injured, watching Moyes turn to Flynn Downes as a stop-gap solution at No10 against Bournemouth on Monday night must’ve stung.

Lanzini, though, reacted in good fashion here with a sparky showing in midfield, capped off with an extremely well-taken penalty to open the scoring which, if nothing else given the Hammers’ struggles from the spot, is a plus.

It seems unlikely.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Coventry has a decision to make

Quite opposite to Lanzini, Conor Coventry may well have been quietly pleased by West Ham’s summer transfer activity as - while he was impressing in preseason - Moyes tried and failed to bring in more established midfield competition for Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice.

The assumption then, was that Coventry would be afforded plenty of opportunity to impress in the group stage of this competition. That has not turned out to be the case, with Moyes often naming stronger than expected sides and tweaking his shape to grant more senior squad players minutes, even if slightly out of position.

This, then, was Coventry’s first start since the first leg of August’s qualifier against Viborg and there was plenty to like in a tidy, tenacious display, in which he almost opened the scoring with a decent strike that fizzed just wide before the break.

He may get further chances in Bucharest next week and perhaps at home to Blackburn in the League Cup the week after that, but beyond that there does not look an obvious route to regular first-team football, particularly if Moyes this time succeeds in his search for midfield reinforcements in January.