Ene old football wisdom says: The next game is always the most important. But before the Premier League game against Chelsea last Sunday, West Ham United coach David Moyes was openly thinking about the game after next: the first leg in the semi-finals of the Europa League against Eintracht Frankfurt this Thursday (9 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the Europa League and on RTL).
Resting some of his key players against Chelsea, Moyes explained his decision as the “big event” ahead for the east London club, who last played in a European semi-final in 1976 – also against Frankfurt. Despite the changes against Chelsea, West Ham presented themselves robustly, but lost 0-1 after conceding a late goal.
Hardly any fan of the “Hammers” would have seriously blamed Moyes. Because not only is undreamt-of European glory within reach, but the Europa League is also West Ham’s best chance of qualifying as a winner for next season in the financially much more lucrative Champions League. They are in seventh place in the league and are unlikely to make it into the Champions League again. But whatever the outcome, with the European adventure and a respectable position in England, it’s already a good season for a club that have been mostly self-absorbed in recent years with the controversial move from Upton Park to London Stadium in 2016.
The fact that things are going better today is thanks to the coach. Moyes first worked for West Ham from November 2017 to May 2018, saving the club from relegation. But the club management did not want to work with the Scot any longer. A more resonant name was needed, so came Manuel Pellegrini, who had previously won the league with Manchester City. The desired success did not materialize and with West Ham once again in danger of relegation in December 2019 they sacked Pellegrini and brought Moyes back.
For him, the success with West Ham is not only professional rehabilitation, but also personal satisfaction. He made a name for himself as manager of Everton FC in the early years of his career. Under his stewardship, Everton came after England’s established top clubs, with Moyes even guiding the club to the FA Cup final at one point. But he then failed at Manchester United, where he succeeded the fabulously successful Sir Alex Ferguson.
United ended the collaboration after less than a year. Moyes, it seemed, was not up to the highest standards. Even with his next stops at Real Sociedad and AFC Sunderland, Moyes could not restore his reputation. The game against Eintracht is therefore also of particular importance for him.
How the workers learned to work
His team is once again concentrating on the basics this season. Instead of forcing their own game on the opponent with a lot of ball possession in the style of the top clubs, she waits and makes dangerous counterattacks after winning the ball. Along with Arsenal, West Ham have scored the most goals from counterattacks this season. They also score regularly from corners and free-kicks – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful from within the game.
In this way, they surprisingly prevailed in the round of 16 against Sevilla FC and in the quarterfinals against Olympique Lyon – both well-known opponents. “They dig in. They don’t worry about the lack of depth. They don’t listen when outsiders talk about exhaustion. They carry on and stick together,” wrote the Guardian about the reasons for the success: “Previous teams were not ready to work, but Moyes has changed the identity of the club.” He has taught the workers’ club to work again.
Despite this, brawny striker Michail Antonio was allowed to rest against Chelsea. He often serves as a direct pass after winning the ball, in order to secure the ball in the opposing half and to set the scene for advancing teammates. Right winger Jarrod Bowen is West Ham’s top attacker in all competitions with 15 goals and 11 assists, having made just one brief appearance at the weekend.
Just like Declan Rice, who is obviously willing to change and who sets the pace in his position in defensive midfield. On the other hand, Craig Dawson wore himself out in defense until he was red carded shortly before the end for an emergency brake. Currently West Ham’s only available centre-back, Moyes switched from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to an improvised back three at the weekend.
For a long time, West Ham United fans were unfamiliar with their new stadium, which initially exuded the charm of an exhibition hall despite all the colorful club decorations. The mood in the vast arena was foul and at home games there were regular brawls between West Ham fans, stewards or supporters of the visiting club.
In the spring of 2018, after a defeat, an angry mob gathered below the box of the two owners David Sullivan and David Gold and chanted “you destroyed our club”. But gradually the fans got used to the stadium, the atmosphere returned – and now their club is facing its biggest football game in decades. Not many in England would have believed David Moyes capable of this until recently.