West Ham Plan A Night To Remember On Faraway Flanders Field

West Ham visit Genk hoping to secure top spot in Group H and to celebrate David Moyes’ 1000th managerial outing. Predicted line-up and score.

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!

Resilient Hammers Set To Consolidate Europa Group Top Spot Against Erratic Genk

A third consecutive Europa League victory will put West Ham firmly in charge of the group and on course for early qualification to the round of sixteen in March

A return to Europa League action for West Ham tonight as they face Racing Gent in their third round of six Group H games.  With two wins already in the bag (against a Dinamo and a Rapid) another victory would effectively ensure European involvement extending Christmas. Even if a further win or two may be required to secure the all-important top spot.

If it wasn’t for the success of their football club, I doubt many of us would have ever heard of Genk. How educational following football can be! They have become one of the dominant clubs in Belgian football in recent years, winning four championship titles and lifting the cup five times. They have been regular participants in European competition since the late 1990s and have qualified for the Champions League group stage on three occasions, most recently in 2019/20.

In 2020/21, Genk finished fourth in the regular season but had climbed their way up to second place by the end of the convoluted playoff round. Their reward was entry into the third qualifying round of the Champions League, where they were beaten by Shakhtar Donetsk – and dropped down into the Europa League draw.

The game against Genk will be the third time West Ham have faced Belgian opposition have faced in European competition. The Hammers very first European tie in the 1964/65 ECWC campaign was against Gent (then known by their French name, La Gantoise), which they won 2-1 on aggregate. The second encounter though led to a less successful outcome when Anderlecht defeated West Ham 4-2 in the final of the same competition at the Heysel Stadium in May 1975.

West Ham go into the game in good spirits following an excellent showing at Goodison Park on Sunday. But they will also have one eye on the visit of the Harry Kane eleven at the weekend. As with previous rounds, resources will need to be managed carefully to navigate tonight’s tie while keeping as many of the regulars as possible fit and fresh for Sunday’s blockbuster.

The Hammers squad has a more robust look to it these days. There is greater depth and when we have seen players coming in, they have looked very well drilled as to what the system demands of them. However, with probable absences due to injury and infections, the potential for rotation may not be as great as before.

The main pressure points are well known: striker and left back. West Ham are not the same team when missing the physical strength of Michail Antonio as the arrowhead in attack. It is not just his goals that are important – his presence is pivotal to much of the transition from defence to attack. If he is not risked tonight the attacking threat will be much diminished without an obvious replacement.

 Aaron Cresswell has played every match this season apart from the League Cup tie at Old Trafford. The squad has no specialist left back replacement to give him a break. While Ben Johnson can move across as emergency cover, subject to the fitness of Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks, it is not his best position. Arthur Masuaku is a possibility as left wing back – I doubt that David Moyes will elect to change formation for this one – but gets too distracted when defending.

Elsewhere, there will be likely Europa recalls for Alphonse Areola, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Manuel Lanzini and Nikola Vlasic. Plus, Mark Noble may replace Tomas Soucek in central midfield if his injury situation allows.

Genk have lost each of their last three games and have slipped to midtable in the Belgian League. While they won their Europa League opener in Vienna, they subsequently lost heavily at home to Zagreb.

One player likely to standout for Genk is 6ft 7in Nigerian striker, Paul Onuachu, one of the many strikers linked to the Hammers during the transfer window. Will be interested to see how he does. They also feature an Englishman in Ike Ugbo, a former Chelsea youth teammate of Declan Rice who moved to Belgium in search of regular football in the summer..

Genk appear to get through almost as many managers as Watford. The current incumbent is John van den Brom from the Netherlands who joined in November 2020. The managerial alumni includes Alex McLeish (for one disappointing season in 2014/5) who was once courted for (but turned down) the West Ham hotseat following the departure of Harry Redknapp.

On paper, this looks a relatively straightforward assignment for West Ham. But no game can be taken lightly – or taken for granted. Genk typically score in most of their games, even when they lose, and concentration will be required to keep that Europa league clean sheet intact. It will be an important game to win and victory here, and in the return leg in a fortnight’s time, should be enough seal top spot in the group.

Another 2-0 home win for the Hammers. COYI!