Graham Keeffe > The congested fixture schedule between domestic and European games has been a hotly contested topic by managers, players, pundits and fans all throughout this season. There is no denying that the run of games some clubs have had to endure has resulted in an increase in injuries. Despite a lack of European football, West Ham are not exempt from this conversation. For the most part, the Hammers have been lucky in that the injuries sustained have been in positions where there is a degree of depth. Losing Ogbonna to Manchester United in the FA Cup a few weeks back was unfortunate given his form, but we were fortunate to have both Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena waiting in reserve. If a long-term injury were to occur anywhere else on the pitch however, it could prove disastrous.
At present, first-team players out injured include Fornals (groin), Masuaku (knee) and Yarmolenko (knee). While all are a loss, the versatility of Pablo Fornals is arguably missed most. The Spaniard has shown his capacity to play all along the left flank as well as through the middle. Having a player with such adaptability has allowed the Hammers to somewhat paper over the cracks in squad depth. This is perhaps why, when someone such as Fornals sustains an injury, it feels like a double whammy positionally. Speaking last Friday, Moyes described Fornals as “improving” with Masuaka and Yarmolenko being “much closer” to a return.
After Sunday’s 3-3 draw, social media has rightly been awash with concerns over injuries and squad depth. West Ham currently sit in fifth on 49 points. European football is still very much on the cards but spots are being hotly contested. In this regard, the international break has come at a good time for both Moyes and the squad. It will allow the Scot to regroup and formulate a strategy for the final nine games and give those players not involved in international duty the chance to recuperate. The flipside, however, is that those players out on international duty have several games to play over the two week break and remain at risk of injury. There is then the added issue of potentially contracting COVID-19 and having to isolate and recover. While international call-ups are a big positive for players and their club, they are very much a double-edged sword when that club is injury stricken and lacking depth.
The return of those players out injured will no doubt bode well for the Hammers as they enter the business end of the season. However, this problem will continue to resurface if key starters are not afforded an ample rest when possible and transfer market activity is not increased. If European football is achieved come the end of the season, it is imperative that the owners back Moyes. Having already proven he can find talent on a budget, they now need to provide him with the means to build on this season’s successes to keep West Ham in the top end of the table.