Manchester United vs West Ham: Alphonse Areola must show he’s better than second-best
In the aftermath of Saturday's 4-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest, West Ham fans joked about their game-changing impact substitute: goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
Introduced for the injured Lukasz Fabianski at 0-0 and with little more than 20 minutes to play, he looked on as his previously goal-shy team-mates plundered four in 15 minutes.
Whatever sorcerous effect the Frenchman had, David Moyes could do with it lasting, having yesterday confirmed the more sober fallout from the weekend, in the shape of a fractured cheekbone and eye socket for Fabianski, his long-standing No1. West Ham are yet to determine whether he will need surgery and, as such, there is no timeframe being put on his absence.
But, after starting every Premier League game this season, the 37-year-old is now set for a significant spell on the sidelines, just as the Hammers' schedule ramps back up.
Areola, whose only previous action this side of the winter break had come in the FA Cup at Derby, was always in line for tonight's fifth-round tie, with next week's return to Europa Conference League action in the diary, too.
But around those midweek commitments will, at last, come a headline run for a player who has been involved in as many World Cups as he has made Premier League starts since joining the Hammers on loan from Paris Saint-Germain 18 months ago.
"We told him eventually he will take over from Fabianski," Moyes said of the club's pitch to Areola when making that move permanent last summer. "Let's be fair, Lukasz has played ever so well — experienced, steady, very reliable, very calm. Maybe we thought Alphonse might have been there by now, but it's more to do with how well Lukasz has played."
There was a time midway through the last decade when being able to call on two international goalkeepers seemed the gold standard. In 2014-15, for instance, Petr Cech and Thibaut
Courtois were Chelsea rivals; Victor Valdes and David De Gea at Manchester United; and David Ospina competing with Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal.
By contrast, the second-choice goalkeepers for the Premier League's 'big six' today are the illustrious sextet of Matt Turner, Stefan Ortega, Tom Heaton, Caoimhin Kelleher, Fraser Forster and the injured Edouard Mendy. Having been outed as an unsustainable luxury, the trend has been shelved by everyone other than, unsurprisingly, Chelsea.
As such, in Areola, West Ham boast surely the League's best No2, a player who has already spent too much of his career playing various second fiddles.
At the age of 30, though, there is a sudden chance to seize twin opportunities, with Fabianski out of contract at the end of the season and long-time France No1 Hugo Lloris recently retired from international duty ahead of this month's Euro 2024 qualifiers.
"We've got a very good second goalkeeper, if you want to call it that," Moyes said, before deciding he did not, proceeding like a diplomatic father keen to avoid a fight between two siblings. "I don't call it second," he corrected. "I call it two first goalkeepers."
With one of them out, Areola must belatedly prove he is up to the billing.