Everton’s European hopes are on the line as they visit high-flying West Ham United on Sunday.
After another home defeat last weekend, this time to Aston Villa, the Blues sit eighth, two points behind Liverpool in seventh and six behind the fifth-placed Hammers (who have played a game more than them).
Former Everton boss David Moyes has transformed West Ham’s fortunes this term having led them to safety last season, and they are just three points shy of the top four with four games left.
Though Everton beat them 4-1 in the EFL Cup at Goodison Park in September, Moyes’ men won the reverse fixture 1-0 in the Premier League on New Year’s Day.
RBM: Firstly, virtually everyone has been surprised by just how well West Ham have done under Moyes this season. What’s been the key to their success?
Dan: Firstly, Moyes’ transfer business. Vladimir Coufal has been a revelation at right-back and an absolute steal at just £5 million – it’s a position that we’ve been lacking in quality since Lucas Neill left us for the Toffees over a decade ago.
Craig Dawson has had a real impact at centre-half and Tomas Soucek has proved that his highly impressive loan spell in the second half of last season wasn’t a flash in the pan. He’s been a real threat in the opposition penalty area all season.
Jarrod Bowen is adapting to Premier League life very nicely and Said Benrahma, who has been introduced more gradually, is starting to show his quality more consistently. Jesse Lingard was an inspired loan move in January and has really helped us kick on since he joined.
Secondly, the work that Moyes has done with those already at the club. Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals and Michail Antonio have always been very good players for us but Moyes’ influence (and that of his coaching staff) has seen them move up a level in their performances. The work on the training ground by Moyes, Alan Irvine, Stuart Pearce, Kevin Nolan and Paul Nevin has seen us improve at attacking set-pieces and, generally, defensively.
Finally, team spirit. There’s clearly a togetherness that Moyes has fostered among the squad which was maybe lacking under Manuel Pellegrini. Our dead wood has mostly been shifted out and, while we have a small squad, it’s crucially a happy one. Everyone’s pulling in the same direction and the results are there for all to see.
RBM: When Moyes led Everton to the top four in 2005, he was voted LMA Manager of the Year. Regardless of whether he repeats that feat with West Ham, should he win it again this year?
Dan: I think so. The turnaround has been superb and he deserves recognition for that. Marcelo Bielsa has done an excellent job at Leeds but I think Moyes’ achievements in getting us to the brink of European football surpass his.
RBM: West Ham’s home form last season was the fifth-worst in the league; this year, it’s the second-best. Why do you think they’ve fared so much better on their own turf this campaign?
Dan: The same reason our away form has been so much better – we’ve improved defensively and have been more clinical in taking our chances when we’ve been on top in games. It sounds simple, but that’s partly the joy of Moyes – he hasn’t over-complicated things and has made us more effective both as a defensive and an attacking unit.
It’s been suggested in some quarters that the supporters haven’t been there to make the players nervy in some games, but we’re so far away from the action at our new stadium that I’m not sure if we can have as much of an effect anymore!
RBM: Jesse Lingard has scored nine goals since joining on loan from Manchester United in January. How high a priority would you make signing him permanently this summer?
Dan: Up there with securing a new striker, definitely. His impact has been huge, on the pitch and in the dressing room and I hope a deal can be done – he’s out of contract in summer 2022, so we shouldn’t be held to ransom.
I hope he’s enjoyed his time with us enough for him to see the next stage of his career should be with us. European football and a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the Euros will hopefully show him that he can be a success at West Ham.
RBM: Some argue that the Europa League has too much of a detrimental effect on your league form. Should West Ham qualify for it next season, how would you feel about that?
Dan: I’d be delighted. Obviously, the Champions League would be incredible but, if we do fall short in our top four push, I’d still be more than happy with Europa League football.
A club like West Ham can’t turn their nose up at any form of European football – it’s an opportunity to progress and develop the club. The chance doesn’t come around too often and we should seize it, not shy away from it.
We’ve had a few false dawns in recent years and I’m hoping we can now show steady progress year on year, as Moyes did for most of his time at Everton.
RBM: What’s the general feeling among West Ham fans towards the club’s owners at the moment? Despite the team’s excellent season, do you sense many still want them to sell?
Dan: I don’t think one very good season will change many West Ham supporters’ minds about the owners – the problems run too deep over recent years for many to simply forget.
For the last five years or so. we’ve generally had a pattern of ‘good season, followed by poor season’ – the owners have to support Moyes moving forward and allow him to build on our achievements this season, not rest on our laurels. When we’ve qualified for Europe a couple of times in the last 15 years, we’ve generally sought to improve the squad depth, rather than improving the quality of the first team.
I’d rather sign one or two quality players to immediately improve us, rather than six or seven average players who just make up the numbers. Moyes has earned the opportunity to be trusted in the transfer market and I hope that continues this summer.
RBM: How do you expect West Ham to line up on Sunday?
Dan: Lukasz Fabianski in goal. A back four of Coufal, Dawson, Issa Diop and Cresswell – Ogbonna has been superb this season, but he’s an injury doubt for Sunday.
Soucek and probably Lanzini in holding midfield – Lanzini was fantastic at Burnley on Monday night in that deeper role and really helped us build from defence to attack in the continued absence of Rice.
The front four will more than likely be unchanged with Fornals, Lingard and Benrahma behind Antonio. Bowen will be pushing to start, but Benrahma had a great game on Monday, and Fornals’ work rate is never underestimated by Moyes.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Dan: If he can last the 90 minutes, I’d say Antonio. He helped pull the game in our favour at Goodison Park earlier in the season when he came off the bench, and I think he could give your centre-halves a challenging afternoon with his strength, pace and goal threat.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Dan: Everton is always a tough game for us, home or away. We’ve only beaten you once in the league in east London since 2007 and your away record this year is impressive; having said that, I read that Carlo Ancelotti has never beaten a team managed by Moyes.
I think both teams could cancel each other out with the game ending in a draw.
Our thanks to Dan for his time.