Moyes’ man-management and key performers have dragged West Ham back to their best
There were high fives in the boardroom, euphoria in the stands, relief on the touchline and celebrations to Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled in the dressing room following a performance that reminded everyone what this West Ham United team is capable of.
The 1-0 victory over Manchester United, courtesy of Said Benrahma’s solitary goal, leaves David Moyes’ side seven points clear of the relegation zone with three league games remaining against Brentford, Leeds United and Leicester City. Historically, the traditional guarantee of safety has been 40 points. But with West Ham on 37 and given how woeful the teams below them have been, one can assume the objective of survival has been fulfilled.
Declan Rice, Nayef Aguerd and Tomas Soucek returned to the starting XI. The trio recovered from stomach bugs which forced them to miss the 3-0 loss away to Manchester City. Rice, in particular, was ubiquitous — and showed how much he’s improved at running at defenders.
Aguerd and central defensive partner Angelo Ogbonna restricted the attacking quartet of Marcus Rashford, Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst to two shots on target. Soucek was the Soucek of old — and were it not for offside, the midfielder would have scored one of the best team goals of the season.
But, most importantly, the win helps kickstarts an important week ahead of the upcoming Europa Conference semi-final first-leg tie against AZ Alkmaar.
“The significance of that win is massive,” Rice, the club captain, told BT Sport. “As players, you can’t help but look around and we knew a win would give us a nice gap between us and teams in the bottom.
“That was probably our best performance at home this season. The fans were electric. The semi-final is so big. Last year we got to one (semi-final), we know what it felt like. That’s what it’s all about: you want to win trophies. At West Ham, we haven’t won one for years, so we need to stamp our authority — what a massive achievement that would be for the club.”
“It’s massive. It gives us a nice gap.”
“The lads did absolutely everything and it was a thoroughly deserved win.”
How good was Declan Rice this evening? 👏
The Player of the Match reacts to a vital win.
🎙 @TheDesKelly pic.twitter.com/TGvlf8lIvc
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 7, 2023
Moyes’ man-management has been key in recent weeks. There have been times when he and his backroom staff have taken a step back and allowed the players to be accountable for disappointing performances. After the 5-1 loss to Newcastle United, the hairdryer treatment did not come into effect. Instead, he told the players that if he were them he would want to play the following day.
The personal touch has been particularly noticeable with Benrahma. The playmaker scored his tenth goal across all competitions on Sunday. But it was in late February when Moyes’ words had the desired effect. Benrahma provided two assists in the 4-0 victory over Nottingham Forest, and Moyes spoke to the attacker about his inconsistency. At that juncture, he was yet to score or register an assist in the league since the turn of the year, so Moyes challenged Benrahma to produce more hot performances. Since then, he has scored three times and in eight starts.
But there have been other key performers in West Ham’s bid for top-flight survival. Lucas Paqueta is belatedly showing why the club made him a €60million (£52.4m; $66.3m) record signing last summer. He scored in back-to-back games against Bournemouth and Liverpool — and some of the tricks and backheels he produced against Manchester United would have been worth the entrance fee alone.
Benrahma scores the only goal against United (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Before the game, the Brazil international spoke about being appreciative of the support he has received from fans. It has not been an easy debut season, following a slow start and his outburst in the 1-1 draw against Aston Villa in March. But Moyes and his backroom staff have been rewarded for their patience.
“We praised Declan a lot there, I actually thought the three midfielders (played well); Tomas and Lucas have got the opportunity to be a really well-balanced midfield because they all offer different things,” said Moyes. “Paqueta showed magic moments and then some other bits not so good, but overall I think the balance of the three midfield players (was) very good.
“We know that Paqueta is capable of doing different jobs. The one thing I want him to do is make me chances, score me goals and be effective. I think we can give him the ball, (but) I want him to keep it better when he should do. He had a couple of opportunities in the game where he could’ve played people through, but I’m really pleased.”
In March, Moyes promised he would dance with Paqueta if West Ham win silverware this season. Now attention turns to the all-important match this Thursday, where there will be lessons learnt from last season’s Europa League semi-final first-leg loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.
It promises to be an exciting end to the season and, if the scenes after the win against Manchester United were anything to go by, we could be in store for more wild celebrations.
(Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)