“”Okay, pleased we won. Probably didn’t play as well as I’d like.””
– David Moyes
Those the words of David Moyes in the aftermath of West Ham’s comfortable 2-0 win over Rapid Wien in the Europa League.
Some may think the Scot is being a little unkind – given how comfortable the Hammers were throughout the 90 minutes against their Austrian foes – but if anything it characterises the attitude and belief reverberating around the club and the current crop of players.
This is a team who just under two years ago were heading for a relegation battle under Manuel Pellegrini. A team with very little self belief, very little substance, and if brutally honest, very little backbone.
They were easy to beat, easy to rattle and easy to overcome in the difficult moments. They were also poor frontrunners, often feeling the weight of expectation and pressure.
Fast forward 21 months into Moyes’ second spell in charge of West Ham and things couldn’t be more different.
Now there is a strong group of players who believe in their manager, believe in their process and believe in each other. They believe in sticking to their plans and they believe in working as a cohesive, tight-knit unit. More importantly, they believe they can always be better.
Recruitment has been superb, bringing in individuals who aspire to achieve more in the game, and players have stepped up from a lower level or come in from abroad with points to prove; they are not high earners who have been dressed up as marquee players to lead the club forward.
Furthermore, there is also belief in the stands.
Belief that the club have assembled a group of players capable of delivering on their promise, and belief every time 60,000 fans assemble at the London Stadium that a win is possible.
That was again the case for the visit of Rapid, who are no pushovers when it comes to the European stage. Granted, they don’t have the quality of player to really do any significant damage, but they did have one key ingredient; experience.
A little bit of knowledge around how to manage the pressure of such occasion. But having watched the game against West Ham, you’d have thought it was the Hammers who have been playing in Europe for the last decade.
Like they did against Dinamo in their opening group game, West Ham remained calm, patient and thoroughly professional. They weren’t as good as they were in Croatia, far from it. But there was never any fear that Moyes’ side weren’t going to get the job done. None of those hair raising moments or nerve shredding jolts of fear that a catastrophic mistake was on the horizon.
Instead, West Ham were in complete control after Declan Rice swept them into the lead from close range just before the half-hour mark. They weren’t brilliant and didn’t create a load of chances, but they did what they needed to do – played the opponent and not the occasion. They could have played better, like Moyes said, but they ultimately didn’t need to. They remained focused on the job in hand.
Their reward was a late second goal from Said Benrahma, which added the gloss to an already impressive scoreline. 1-0, 2-0, 5-0, 7-0 – it really didn’t matter. This was as professional as it comes from West Ham, yet the fact that Moyes wanted to see more is the real evidence of the tremendous strides that have been made.
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