With the international break now over David Moyes has the unfamiliar predicament of juggling European football with domestic duties as West Ham embark on a potentially season-defining run-in.
The Scottish manager has plenty to ponder heading into the weekend with Jarrod Bowen nearing a return while Said Benrahma is likely to be rested following his arduous trip to watch Algeria’s defeat to Cameroon which saw them miss out on World Cup qualification.
It almost has the makings of a domestic cup game for the Hammers as they host Everton at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Irons have bigger fish to fry with a huge Europa League quarter-final against Lyon to look forward to on Thursday night too.
Summer signing Nikola Vlasic was once on Everton’s books as they signed him out of Croatia in 2017 for £10m before sending him permanently to CSKA Moscow in 2019.
He has been a regular in the cup games so far for the Hammers this season, starting six in the Europa League and two in the FA Cup and has managed just one goal in 449 minutes in the Premier League in his first campaign, as per Transfermarkt.
Vlasic impressed as West Ham knocked Manchester City out of the Carabao Cup back in October and he earned rave reviews from The West Ham Way analyst Dan Woofenden, who tweeted:
Thought Vlašić was very bright and had one of his best games in claret & blue. Personally would have given him a full 90 minutes, especially with space starting to open up as the game progresses.
— Dan Woffenden (@danwoff98) October 27, 2021
Given his ability, the Croat is a prime candidate to carry the attacking burden for the Hammers this weekend as they attempt to improve on their current position of seventh in the table while also managing their squad correctly ahead of a massive European tie just four days later.
On the chalkboard
The £26.8m acquisition has been used evenly in attacking positions so far this season with spells on the left, on the right and in the centre behind the frontman.
Something that Moyes has spoken about already this season, praising the versatility he can bring to the side.
“He can play several roles for us which is important, but we also want to give him the chance to adapt and adjust. He’s only been really impressive since he’s been at the club and we’re really hopeful that he’ll turn into a really good player for us,” he said.
In the Europa League last-16 first-leg defeat to Sevilla, the former CSKA Moscow star played on the left-wing before being replaced by Benrahma but given the Algerian’s travel schedule and how Manuel Lanzini is ‘lucky to be alive’ after surviving a scary car accident, Vlasic will surely have a major role to play against the Toffees.
The 24-year-old maestro has made a slow start to life back in England and that can’t be ignored with a measly 6.23 WhoScored average rating this season but a run of games in the league between now and the end of the season could be huge to his development.
At just 20 years of age, he proved what he could do on the biggest stage as he scored three goals and chipped in with two assists in CSKA Moscow’s 2018/19 Champions League campaign that saw them eliminated in the group stage.
He scored the only goal as the Russian side defeated Real Madrid in their first meeting and earned a 7.7 SofaScore rating as he grabbed an assist in their 3-0 win at the Bernabeu.
The attacking midfielder was involved in 16 goals in 26 appearances for his former employers last season but his playing time has been almost halved this term and it is clear that has had an effect.
A run in the side is certain to bring Vlasic back to his wizardry ways. He led Los Galacticos on a merry dance in their own backyard and was flying high last year with a litany of goal contributions, albeit in a lesser league.
It goes to show, however, that confidence is key in this game and the Split-born attacker is certainly well-equipped to take his levels through the roof with a dazzling display against Frank Lampard’s low-lying side.
AND, in other news, West Ham identify Moyes’ next star