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Hot Off The Press: West Ham United

The Athletic's Roshane Thomas on The Hammers' season so far

9 April 2022

West Ham are sixth in the Premier League table as we speak, just three points outside the top four. What have you made of what you have seen so far in 2022?

So far this year, West Ham have been really good and have still been able to exceed expectations. You have to remember they have been without the majority of their key players, with the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Jarrod Bowen spending long spells out injured. It is just remarkable what David Moyes has been able to do with a small squad. Said Benrahma (main picture) has stepped up in Bowen’s absence and has really impressed – and hopefully against his former team he will impress once more! It was always going to be a tough ask to get into the top four, but they have shown they definitely have what it takes to be in contention for a top six finish. There have been important results and my mind goes back to the 1-0 win over Watford and the 2-2 draw against Leicester, but they have also won ugly, which is not something you would associate West Ham with previously. The main gist is that Moyes has really got the best out of his squad, despite many key players going down with injury.

Tell us about West Ham’s Europa League adventure, which seems to have gone incredibly well so far. There are obviously a lot of great teams still in the competition with them, but do you think they will fancy their chances of getting to the final?

I will start by saying they have done so well to adapt to playing the Thursday-Sunday schedule, because initially, a lot of West Ham fans thought it was great being in Europe, but the schedule would become a problem, again, because of the size of the squad. I remember around October/November time, Moyes said in one of his press conferences that he hoped they would still be in the competition by December. To say that and for them to now be in the quarter-finals, is amazing. What gave them belief was the win against Sevilla because prior to that, there was the joke that they were on a European tour and going to the final, but beating a club that have won the competition so many times gave supporters belief that they can do it. I am confident West Ham will beat Lyon, but a potential semi-final meeting with Barcelona… that’s tough. But they can beat anyone on their day, so I would not rule it out at all.

As always, there has been plenty of speculation about where Declan Rice’s future lies recently, so I just wanted to get your opinion on how important a player you think he is for West Ham and your personal idea of their chances of keeping hold of him?

As I have mentioned in numerous interviews, I believe that he is a generational talent – he is that good. West Ham fans have always championed how talented he is, but his performances at the Euros made other people realise it, too. I heard Gianfranco Zola say in an interview that had Rice not been taken off in the final, England might have won the final, which goes to show how far he has come as a footballer. He is always the first name on the teamsheet and the scary thing is that he is nowhere near his prime. At 23, he has lots to learn; he wants to become more of a box-to-box midfielder in a similar mould to Patrick Vieira or Yaya Toure and I would say he is capable of becoming a match-winner like Steven Gerrard. He still has a long-term contract, which expires in the summer of 2024 and there is also a one-year option so, for the time being, West Ham hold all the cards when it comes to Rice’s future. But if he were to leave, I would not rule out a move to a foreign club like Real Madrid. I believe he is that talented that he will have other clubs from Europe casting an eye on whether he will be available or not. In the short-term, the club have the mindset that he is staying, they will hopefully get top four or top six and recruit more players this summer to convince players like Rice and Bowen that they are building for the future and to stay and be a part of it.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Sunday afternoon?

It has to be Benrahma, who is playing with so much confidence right now. The thing with him is – and I’m sure Brentford fans will remember – that he can be a bit inconsistent, so he will have an amazing game and then be quiet for the next five games, which has been the case for a lot of his time at West Ham. But over the past two months, he has been a lot more consistent and he looks like the Benrahma of old. He is the sort of player that needs a bit of confidence, who needs to be told he is going to have a good game for him to play well.

How is David Moyes likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?

You only have to look at the last 10 games or so – it never changes! The back four will likely be Aaron Creswell at left-back, Craig Dawson and Kurt Zouma at centre-back and Ben Johnson at right-back as Vladimir Coufal will be touch-and-go for that; in midfield, Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek; on the left flank Pablo Fornals, Manual Lanzini as a No 10, Said Benrahma on the right and Michail Antonio up front.

I’m sure Brentford fans will look back on the last meeting with bigger smiles that those of the West Ham fans… what’s your score prediction this time around?

I think it is going to be a tight game because, in the return fixture, Brentford made things really difficult for West Ham. With that in mind, I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

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