The Hammers lost a heartbreaking game against Sheffield United, but three points were there for the taking. Despite a strong side, was team selection the real first blunder of Moyes’s second stint at West Ham?
The team sheet revealed some shocking information for a lot of West Ham supporters. David Moyes was sticking with a three at the back formation, most notably, which was reminiscent of his previous time at the club. This was a net positive until the second shoe dropped.
Aaron Cresswell was back fit and starting… at centre-back!? Cresswell was deployed as the left centre-back under Moyes in the past with Arthur Masuaku ahead of him as the wingback, but it was assumed this was due to lack of defensive options. Issa Diop was on the bench to force Cress into the team which was unexpected and unorthodox.
The centre-back shift wasn’t the issue, though. Hindsight included, Cresswell played fine and it was Masuaku who needed replacing by Robert Snodgrass to push the team forward in the last half hour of the match.
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A surprise to everyone was the inclusion of not one, not two, but three youth team players on the bench. All the more impressive was the fact that the top two candidates for call-ups, Nathan Holland and Conor Coventry, had both been loaned out (or were close to it). Goncalo Cardoso, Jeremy Ngakia, and Bernardo Rosa all made the bench for the first time in their West Ham careers, and despite not featuring, replaced the likes of Carlos Sanchez and Albian Ajeti.
There was a lack of options off the bench to overwhelm the opposition, and despite the inclusion of these kids it wasn’t the possible blunder that ended up costing the Hammers. No, this was due to playing Manuel Lanzini over Pablo Fornals.
Lanzini helped Moyes complete his Premier League survival mission last time around at the club, so undoubtedly there is some trust and a preexisting relationship between the player and the manager. The issue is, that with Declan Rice and Mark Noble in the lineup, only one of Fornals and Lanzini can start, and Moyes picked the wrong one.
This won’t be a career-defining issue for Moyes at West Ham, but it does show a respect and level of trust between the manager and “his” player. Due to Lanzini going missing for 84 minutes when he was replaced by Fornals, I doubt we see this mistake happening again, though.
A promising gig has turned back into a relegation survival bid for Moyes in East London. The next run of fixtures compounds the issue as well. Moyes will need players he can rely on to make an impact with likely limited chances. For him, this means sourcing his best players and leaning on them to carry out his game plan. Right now, Lanzini isn’t doing it.