Manchester United clash offers inconsistent West Ham chance to make much-needed statement as World Cup looms

Manchester United clash offers inconsistent West Ham chance to make much-needed statement as World Cup looms

Phase one, done. Victory over Silkeborg last night saw West Ham achieve the first of their minimum requirements for the season with a game to spare, knockout European football the other side of Christmas secured for a second successive campaign.

Five wins on the bounce in the Europa Conference League group stage have made next week’s clash with FCSB a dead-rubber and, coupled with two before that against Viborg in qualifying, the Hammers’ winning streak in Europe has applied regular salve to what has hardly been a pain-free start to the domestic season.

Now though, all eyes are on the home front, with four-and-a-half months until David Moyes next has to consider continental affairs and 13 Premier League games scheduled between now and then.

The first three of those, starting with Sunday’s trip to Manchester United, come this side of the World Cup and results will be key to the evaluation of the first half of their season come the break. Take, say, seven points and the Hammers may, with a bit of luck, be within shouting distance of the top six, but failure to take momentum into the break could make the wait for the return on Boxing Day a long one.

Moyes pointed out last night that his side have won 11 of their 19 games so far this season — “not bad,” he said — though it is hardly a stretch to suggest the Scot would have liked them to be a little more evenly distributed. So far, the Hammers have won just four League matches: at home to newly-promoted Fulham and Bournemouth, and against crisis-laden Wolves and Aston Villa, hardly the most prestigious of hit-lists.

Sunday’s meeting with United is, then, an opportunity in more ways than one. First, because Erik ten Hag’s side have also been subscribed to the grind of Thursday-Sunday football, though Moyes is still frustrated that West Ham were made to play last weekend’s League game against Bournemouth on Monday night. “We’ve had a real smelly couple of days with the way the fixtures have gone,” he said.

Second, because when Moyes talks of infiltrating the ‘big six’, he is hardly hoping to overhaul Manchester City, nor, probably, Liverpool or Chelsea, though the former have, surprisingly, looked most susceptible so far this term. West Ham finished above Arsenal and Tottenham two seasons ago, but it was United in their sights last term, the chance to finish sixth surrendered only with a tame defeat by Brighton on the final day.

Manuel Lanzini scored West Ham’s winning goal in the victory over Silkeborg in Europe (AP)
Manuel Lanzini scored West Ham’s winning goal in the victory over Silkeborg in Europe (AP)

And third, because while the table and the course of a season will ultimately determine the success of West Ham’s bid to trouble the elite, it would certainly be nice to take the scalp of one or two along the way, as well.

Early last season, Moyes’s side managed just that, beating Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool and knocking both Manchester clubs out of the League Cup, but since the turn of the year, they have often competed and never conquered, 10 League games against the traditional ‘big six’ in 2022 bringing two draws and eight defeats, six of those by only the odd goal.

Moyes’s latest return to Old Trafford presents the Hammers’ last chance to deliver a much-needed statement win before the World Cup.