This is the team David Moyes must field at Larnaca because the Aston Villa game is now just too important for West Ham.

As the old saying goes ‘you reap what you sow’.

And in West Ham’s case their dismal Premier League campaign now means the manager must protect key players from their last 16 Europa Conference League clash.

West Ham don’t play in Europe that often. The fact this is the club’s second consecutive season in European competition proper for the first time in its entire history tells you that.

It is also one of the reasons Moyes has lasted so long in the job against the backdrop of just 15 wins for West Ham in their last 52 Premier League matches.

With the Hammers struggling on the brink of the relegation zone with 13 games to go, it means the manager is facing some difficult decisions this week.

Brighton & Hove Albion v West Ham United - Premier League
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On one hand West Ham have a three-week break on the horizon beyond next Thursday (March 16th).

So does Moyes push his key players to play three games in a week in the knowledge they will have plenty of time to rest and recover thereafter?

Or does the Scot wrap his core stars – if you can call them that this season – in cotton wool when West Ham make the 5,000 mile round trip to Cyprus to face AEK Larnaca on Thursday night, with the clear priority being the league home game against Villa this Sunday?

On paper you would say a West Ham second string should be able to go to Larnaca and get a result. Certainly one that means the Hammers are well in the tie when welcoming the Cypriots back to the London Stadium for the second leg next Thursday.

That would be the sensible way to go. Injuries to any key players could be disastrous for West Ham’s Premier League survival. And it is just not worth the risk.

AEK Larnaca v Dundalk - UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round 2nd Leg
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This is the team Moyes must field at Larnaca because the Aston Villa game is just too important for West Ham.

As frustrating as it is that West Ham have put themselves in this situation, Sunday’s game against Villa must take priority over the Europa Conference League first leg match three days prior.

A case could be made for West Ham’s “second string” to replace those who put in that meek surrender to Brighton last time out.

But Moyes believes that was down to fatigue, which makes the case for leaving the main players out of the Larnaca trip all the more relevant.

Moyes should be making at least seven or eight changes for the Larnaca game.

He may have to play Alphonse Areola again because throwing a young, untested goalkeeper in to a European knockout match is far from ideal.

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If Vladimir Coufal has a chance of being fit for Villa then he must not play in Europe this Thursday and be kept back because Ben Johnson is nowhere near good enough in that position at Premier League level. If Thilo Kehrer is better after illness he can be played at right wing back in Europe instead.

Kurt Zouma got on against Brighton and must also be kept back for Villa. So Angelo Ogbonna can start alongside Johnson and Aaron Cresswell in a back three with Nayef Aguerd rested.

Emerson can play left wingback with Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Flynn Downes coming into midfield.

Said Benrahma only got 45 minutes against Brighton so he could be played again in Europe with Gianluca Scamacca starting up front.

Another school of thought might be that West Ham should just field their strongest possible team and try to get some rhythm together and perhaps even get the tie settled. But the Hammers have made their bed and it’s just too much of a risk.

I would even go as far as to say some key players should be left in England rather than put all those air miles into their legs for the big game on Sunday.

West Ham will likely not get back into London and home until Friday afternoon and then have less than 48 hours to recover and prepare for Villa.

The team Moyes must field at Larnaca because the Aston Villa game is just too important for West Ham:

Areola, Kehrer, Johnson, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Emerson, Downes, Lanzini, Fornals, Benrahma, Scamacca.


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