It may seem quite bizarre when the younger, “less experienced” players are the ones that look better and put in more effort over the majority of the older, multi-million pound players – but welcome to West Ham United Football Club, which where this has been the case for quite some time now.
Academy products Declan Rice and Grady Diangana have been two of the best performers in recent weeks, which is no surprise to me personally having watched them come through the academy. The duo have always been up there with the most consistent and skilled players amongst the batches of players to feature for our U18 and U23 sides in the last four years and their inclusions (though Rice has been part of the first team for a long time now) plus the likes of Joe Powell and Conor Coventry sends a very positive message to both young players at the club and the fans that academy youngsters will be given opportunities by Manuel Pellegrini – unlike previous managers.
Wednesday’s performance indicated that the younger players were more up for it (bar the introduction of Robert Snodgrass in the second half, who worked hard). Rice and Diangana put in a good shift as did Issa Diop, who along with goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski are strong contenders for signing of the season. The likes of Angelo Ogbonna, once a favourite in the Hammers defence, and £40m Felipe Anderson, who was showing glimpses of quality early this season – just weren’t good enough. Nor were Javier Hernandez (arguably the worst player) and Michail Antonio. But thankfully, that was a somewhat rotated squad, but with the usual injury crisis each season, we may have to see more of them – unless we trust in youth again.
The likes of Reece Oxford (contrary to what some fans may think, does deserve another shot – or would they prefer Ogbonna despite last night’s performance), Jahmal Hector-Ingram (a better option up front than Carroll or Hernandez), Vashon Neufville (technically-skilled and intelligent left-back who unfortunately suffered from injury problems) instead of Cresswell or Masuaku (both been bad as each other), and players such as Conor Coventry and Joe Powell who have been on the bench a couple of times. There’s no shortage of players who’d play for the shirt so to speak, more than those in the first team would.
Looking ahead to Burnley (at least the exit in the Carabao Club allows us to focus on the league more), Rice, Diangana, Diop and Snodgrass are the only players from last night who deserve to start. Lucas Perez, who got our goal may do too, plus Pedro Obiang perhaps, but the rest of the team may be switched around.
The Clarets haven’t been in particularly fantastic form this season, with their last win (against Cardiff City) coming at the end of September. It will be a tougher test then people may expect if we play the same way that we did last night against Tottenham, but hopefully a team of players actually willing to make the effort will see the game through. Former Hammers loanee Joe Hart will be expected to start for them, as will the likes of Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Sam Vokes, who will be their key threats agaist us.
Likely Starting XI: Lukasz Fabianski; Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Issa Diop, Pablo Zabaleta; Pedro Obiang, Declan Rice; Lucas Perez, Robert Snodgrass, Grady Diangana; Marko Arnautovic.
Prediction: West Ham 2-1 Burnley