West Ham have already sealed top spot in their Europa League group with one match to spare.
David Moyes’ side now face Dinamo Zagreb at the London Stadium in a ‘meaningless’ match for West Ham as they are already through to the Round of 16. The Croatians, on the other hand, still need to secure 2nd place in Group H to qualify for the knockout play-off round and not drop to the Conference League.
The Hammers can afford to make some changes to the team and give key men a rest. So what youngsters could be given a start on Thursday night?
West Ham have secured top spot in their Europa League group, David Moyes now has a chance to rest and rotate so what academy stars could play?
It is important to bear in mind West Ham will still want to win this gam for momentum purposes, remain undefeated in Europe this season and give minutes to the likes of Nikola Vlasic and Alex Kral, not forgetting captain Mark Noble in his farewell campaign.
With right-backs Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks (predicted) to be out with injury there could be a chance for Harrison Ashby. The Scot is an attacking full-back who has scored two goals and assisted many more. This wouldn’t be Ashby’s debut if he does start, he’s made two Carabao Cup appearances last season in wins over Charlton and Hull. The 20-year-old is highly rated by Moyes and was on the bench for the weekend’s win over Chelsea.
The versatile defender celebrated his 18th birthday just less than a month ago and is tipped for big things. He made his first team debut in the FA Cup victory over Doncaster last season and was even given the honours by Noble to lift the pre-season Betway Cup when West Ham beat Atalanta. The teenager plays centre-back for England at youth level and could be needed in this game following the injuries to Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna.
The 6ft 4in centre-back could be another to benefit from the injury crisis West Ham have with just Craig Dawson and Issa Diop as senior fit central defenders. Alese also made his debut in the Carabao Cup demolition of Hull early on last season. Either side of that appearance he has had loan spells at Accrington Stanley and Cambridge United. The best way to sell Alese is by watching his solo goal for the Under-23’s earlier this month. Wow!
We saw a small glimpse of Perkins’ talent in the previous Europa League game, the 2-0 win over Rapid Vienna. The 17-year-old came off the bench and nearly scored with one of his first touches. The rise of Perkins has been fully document on our site but it is a remarkable story from being a midfielder in the Under-18 team at the beginning of this campaign. To a Under 23’s striker following an injury crisis, to impressing in the first-team.
With Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen set to be rested, could Perkins start?
We briefly saw a cameo from Chesters in the Europa League 3-0 victory versus Genk. He put in an energetic few minutes in the closing stages of the game but the attacking midfielder will be hoping for some more time on the pitch. He is capable of opening up defences and creating chances. He has registered five assists and a goal in the Academy of Football this campaign.
Bonus – Armstrong Oko-Flex
The Irish winger has been in outstanding form for the Under-23’s. Signed from Celtic over the summer, the 19-year-old impressed in pre-season and has looked too good for youth team football. He has been the most prolific attacker for the Hammers, who are top of the Premier League 2 by four points. Oko-Flex has scored 13 goals, six of which have been penalties. He has been linked with a move to a Championship club on loan. Unfortunately, Oko-Flex isn’t eligible for the Europa League games, Thursday isn’t his night but he’s certainly one for the future.