The West Ham bandwagon rolls onto Genk tonight to kick-off the second round of Europa League group matches. Victory tonight will all but guarantee the Hammers top spot in the group and a straight through passage to the Round of 16 – bypassing the qualifying round against teams dropping out of the Champions League.
The game will also be a landmark for David Moyes as he takes charge for the 1000th time in his managerial career. Of all the managers who have sat in the West Ham hot seat he is now behind only Sam Allardyce (1060) and Harry Redknapp (1395) in all-time gaffer longevity. Although Moyes will also surpass Slaven Bilic’s 111 games as Hammer’s boss tonight, he is only 10th in the club’s own manager stats – some way behind John Lyall’s 708.
It would make sense for Moyes to do everything he can to win tonight, even with a top of the table clash with Liverpool looming at the weekend. Victory would open up greater opportunities to rotate the squad in the final two group games during the busy run of games following the next international break. He will also want to win his 1000th game!
The trickiest selection dilemma will be whether Aaron Cresswell starts yet again at left back. The overworked Cresswell has barely had a rest this season but with no natural left sided replacement it is a dilemma – particularly up against tricky Japanese winger, Junya Ito. Ben Johnson can possibly cover at left back now that Vladimir Coufal is fit again to slot back in on the right. The impressive Johnson has been in terrific form of late and is more than capable of fulfilling defensive duties on the left. He has never looked comfortable, however, getting forward effectively on his weaker side.
Tomas Soucek could be due for a break tonight but I believe that both Declan Rice and Michail Antonio will be starters. My predicted lineup is: Areola, Coufal, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Fornals, Antonio.
I doubt imagine many of us have ever visited Genk, unless you missed your turning on the way from Antwerp to Liege. It is an old coal mining centre whose claim to fame is being the third most significant town in Flanders (at least that’s what Wikipedia says). A Belgian equivalent of Barnsley perhaps, although it may well be very pleasant now that the mines have closed.
After their 3-0 defeat at the London Stadium, Genk went down by the same scoreline a few days later against Gent, before bouncing back with two thumping wins. The first, a 6-0 cup win away to third tier Winkel Sport, followed by a 6-2 Belgian league win at Zulte Waregem. They now sit 7th (of 18) in the standings.
We saw in the home fixture between the two sides that Genk can pose an attacking threat. But they are clearly vulnerable at the back. While the Hammers Europa clean sheet may be at some risk, they should have more than enough firepower to bother and outscore the Belgians. A 3-1 win for the happy Hammers. COYI!