Why Moyes Will Need All His Guile to Manage Europa League Campaign

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It’s the nature of modern football fans to finish a transfer window feeling unsatisfied. Even fans of ‘complete’ teams like Manchester City will inevitably want more once the window has shut. This is normal, a feature of modern fandom that always points to areas that need improving. And yet for West Ham fans, this has certainly been a quiet summer, at least thus far. We know that some signings will come through the door, including Edson Alvarez, in the coming weeks and days, so it’s not time to panic. Yet, it remains the case that, even if another two or three players are added, West Ham still have a small squad, particularly when there is a Europa League campaign to navigate.

It is an often-cited trope that European campaigns can hurt teams domestically. After all, we can look at the Conference League run last season and perhaps wonder if there was a correlation between that and West Ham narrowly avoiding relegation. However, with all due respect, the Europa League is a completely different prospect to the Conference. If David Moyes wants to do well in the tournament and have a good Premier League campaign, then he is going to need to be crafty.

Moyes will hope to avoid relegation battle

Looking at the Hammers’ 2023/24 Premier League odds, most bookies seem to think West Ham will be comfortable, while not spectacular. There are, for example, ten teams ranked more likely to face relegation. Yet, we know that odds mean little at the start of the season, and we can point to West Ham’s 2022/23 campaign (they were not being tipped for a relegation battle) as evidence of that.

In the 2022/23 Conference League, Moyes was able to give younger and fringe players a chance to play. West Ham strolled through a Group B featuring Anderlecht, Silkeborg and FCSB. The likes of Conor Coventry, Craig Dawson, Oliver Scarles, Alphonse Areola, Manuel Lanzini and Harrison Ashby got game time in the Conference, but rarely in the Premier League. Five players – Fornals, Soucek, Rice, Bowen and Benrahama – played over 50 games for West Ham last season. But overall, Moyes did a good job of spreading the workload.

Europa League will inevitably be tough

This may not work out in the Europa League, however. West Ham have been seeded in Pot 1 for the Group Stage, meaning they will avoid tough teams like Atalanta, Roma, Bayer and Leverkusen, and they will not be able to play against Liverpool or Brighton until the latter rounds. But teams like Sporting Lisbon, Ajax, Rennes, Freiburg and Real Betis are all potential opponents. The latter rounds, too, will throw up tougher opponents than Larnaca, Gent and AZ Alkmaar. It’s often overlooked just how brutal the Europa League knockout stages have become since the Playoff round featuring third-placed Champions League teams came into force. Barcelona, Ajax, Juventus and Sevilla were among the teams parachuted in last year. Winning the group to avoid those teams – and the extra games – should be a priority for West Ham.

Yet it remains case that Moyes does not have a big squad to choose from for a campaign on several fronts. The club has been on the verge of transfer breakthroughs all summer, but there has been little action to show for the money gained from the Declan Rice transfer. Even if West Ham get the new players fit and ready for the Europa League campaign in September, it’s going to be a balancing act from Moyes to make sure the Premier League and domestic cups aren’t failed campaigns. It’s a big ask.

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