Man City vs West Ham: David Moyes facing key balancing act in unique challenge on two fronts

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

West Ham’s trip to Manchester City will revolve around momentum and morale.

David Moyes must determine which quality the Hammers need more, just eight days from their Europa Conference League semi-final first leg.

AZ Alkmaar’s trip to the London Stadium on Thursday May 11 is far from West Ham’s full focus, with two vital Premier League games still ahead this week.

The Etihad Stadium clash is followed by Manchester United’s trip to East London on Sunday.

Moyes’ men effectively only need one more win from five matches to tie up their Premier League safety.

So there is no desperation attached to tonight’s result at City. And yet, more than the scoreline, the impact of the outcome will be vital.

Rest and rotate and risk a thumping from Pep Guardiola’s rampant treble-chasers that Moyes admits could be the Premier League’s best-ever team – or go full-strength and endure an energy sapping Etihad battle.

Neither option appears particularly appealing at this point. How the Premier League reality bites for almost everyone taking on Guardiola’s defending champions.

However Moyes deploys his resources, West Ham’s biggest challenge tonight will be to limit the damage without resorting to damage limitation.

That is to say, select a strong looking but not entirely full bore XI, and then produce a positive, front-foot performance irrespective of result.

West Ham are of course capable of pulling off a victory caper, but the odds are stacked entirely against such a ruse.

The Hammers have not beaten City in the league since September 2015, with that 2-1 victory proving their solitary Premier League win at the Etihad.

City have won 13 of their last 14 matches in all competitions, and have tasted victory in all their 12 home outings this year.

Hammers boss Moyes has also not managed a win in his 10 Premier League battles with City boss Guardiola either.

Hard luck: Moyes has not beaten Guardiola in 10 Premier League meetings (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
Hard luck: Moyes has not beaten Guardiola in 10 Premier League meetings (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Moyes is rightly determined West Ham will take their hosts to task tonight. But then the 60-year-old also conceded no team in England has yet deciphered how to stop Erling Haaland.

The 50-goal striker needs just one goal to set an outright record 35 Premier League strikes in a single campaign.

Moyes joked that maybe the only way to stop Haaland is to kick him. There was no need to signpost the statement as a moment of levity either – because the straight-talking Scot also conceded even that tactic would probably fail against the Norway hitman.

The Hammers should have plenty in hand to secure their Premier League status, with Brentford, Leeds and Leicester still to play, even after facing both Manchester clubs this week.

So the two-legged European semi-final against Alkmaar really ought to remain the centrepiece of this season’s run-in.

The preparation for that first leg on May 11 is already in full swing, whatever West Ham’s protestations of solely focusing on tonight’s clash at City.

The constant conundrum of facing City remains that Guardiola’s men can – and will – dish out a hammering to pretty much any team if in the mood.

Just ask Nottingham Forest, Manchester United and runaway Championship winners Burnley, who have all been hit for six by Pep’s punishers this term – and that’s even without Leipzig who were skittled for seven.

The Hammers could easily play well and be well beaten, given City’s irresistible run. In that framing, Moyes’ men must maintain the mood for Europe at all costs.