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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Moyes now has the tools to build on his complicated West Ham tenure - can he use them?

With West Ham surrendering promising positions and precious points in their first two Premier League games following the first international break of the season, you could have been forgiven for thinking not a lot has changed about David Moyes as he reaches 900 league games in management. Last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield extended Moyes’s record to 72 matches without an away win against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, and arrived all the same despite a promising first-half showing and a Jarrod Bowen equaliser.

West Ham sat back too deep and allowed Liverpool to gently prize victory from their grasp – something that also happened in the defeat to Manchester City the previous weekend, and is an issue that Moyes has been criticised for all too often. But in heavily rotating his side for a pair of cup victories before a straightforward 2-0 win against Sheffield United on Saturday, there may be proof that the 60-year-old now finally has the appropriate tools to help West Ham challenge across multiple fronts and compete with the best the Premier League has to offer.

Moyes made ten changes against Sheffield United from the side that edged past League One Lincoln City in the League Cup in midweek. The least experienced starter at Sincil Bank was 23-year-old Ben Johnson, who has 55 Premier League appearances to his name. “Hopefully whoever we pick can do well,” said Moyes, straight to the point as ever. “Over the past two seasons the players have certainly done well in the cup competitions.”

Bowen was left at home entirely for the cup encounter, and it may have been that freshness that allowed the 26-year-old to so effectively pick apart the Sheffield United defence on Saturday. West Ham’s top scorer should have had an assist after just five minutes when he picked out Tomas Soucek, and he had notched his fifth goal of the season by the midpoint of the first half – Moyes admitted afterwards that he “liked what he saw” in the first thirty minutes.

It was Soucek, the only West Ham player to start all three games across the last six days, who scored the second and effectively settled the game. The goal was classic West Ham under their current manager, as they capitalised on a loose Sheffield United pass before moving possession forward with both accuracy and haste as the giant Czech reprised his role as midfield goal getter from seasons past as he stabbed beyond Wes Foderingham.

It was however Bowen who most caught the eye. He could have had an even earlier goal had Foderingham not saved his header from a James Ward-Prowse corner, and he proved to be a rare spark of attacking threat in a second half that rarely looked like coming to life. “He’s in really good form,” said Moyes. “Looks quick, sharp, he can do a lot of things at the moment. When you score goals in big games it can take you higher.”

Maybe what followed was part of the reason why the relationship between West Ham and Moyes can become uncomfortable at times. He was reportedly just one defeat from losing his job several times last season, and supporters brought home-made banners to games calling for him to go despite the club being en route to a European final. Supposedly it was only victory against Fiorentina in Prague that kept him in a job over the summer.

The physical toll of progressing in Europe saw the Hammers flirt with relegation and fall from seventh to fourteenth in the league standings. Their journey to the Europa League semi-finals the campaign before ended with them winning just one of seven league games as contention for a place in the Champions League gave way to Conference League qualification. Moyes’ reluctance to change his starting line-up saw him use the joint-fewest players across the 2021-22 Premier League season, but the early weeks of this season suggest he now has more faith in the supporting cast.

The summer departure of Declan Rice was always likely to be traumatic given both his importance on the field and his level of influence off it. Delays in allowing his move to Arsenal to go through only stoked frustration further though, and created yet more speculation about the future of Moyes. Rumoured tension with newly arrived technical director Tim Steidten gave way to something of a compromise in the final weeks of the window, with West Ham signing a combination of Premier League-ready Moyes types and lesser-known, possibly more exciting, recruits from the continent.

As much as Ward-Prowse has fitted in seamlessly and Alvarez’s combativeness suits Moyes to a tee, we are yet to see if the Scotsman can get the best out of creative attacking players like Mohammed Kudus. A second half against the side bottom of the league with the game effectively settled would seem the perfect opportunity to prove otherwise. “I wasn’t as happy,” he said on 45 minutes in which West Ham seemingly settled for what they had. “I wanted us to score more goals if we could.”

Having signed and sold £35milion Gianluca Scammacca, and taken half a season to start getting the best out of the brilliant Lucas Paqueta, you feel doubts will remain about his ability to nurture this level of mercurial talent until Kudus is deciding Premier League fixtures. On Saturday, he played just 22 minutes against a defence that conceded eight last week. Moyes' claimed afterwards that he had “no doubt” the Ghanian international will begin to feature more regularly soon enough.

“You have to try and win games to keep you in a job,” was part of Moyes’ response when informed that Saturday’s game would bring up the landmark 900. He summarised after the event: “We got the goals and we got the win, which is what the Premier League is all about.” Whilst this encapsulates his approach almost perfectly, and is reflective of a start to the season that has seen West Ham win six of their first nine, greater ambition and a touch more flair to go with it may be required if the tensions of previous seasons are to be banished once and for all.

West Ham now have the depth and quality in their squad to compete across multiple fronts this season, further proven by a winning start in the Europa League and progress in the League Cup. A straightforward win against the side that is bottom of the Premier League will do little to convince sceptics of Moyes’ desire to “improve” and “evolve” as he claimed ahead of this most recent victory, but he has never been better placed to do so.


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