Kurt Zouma’s return to the West Ham line-up for their clash with Eintracht Frankfurt was craftily hidden by boss David Moyes .. and turned out as a mixed blessing
- Kurt Zouma was a surprise inclusion in the West Ham line-up for the first leg tie
- Hammers boss David Moyes played it coy at his pre-match press conference
- It was a brave decision from the Scotsman to include the centre-back in the side
You can imagine the shout once Wednesday morning’s 15-minute open training session was over and those pesky reporters were ushered away. ‘Right, Kurt, out you come, they’re gone.’
Kurt Zouma’s return to West Ham’s line-up was craftily hidden by his club, while manager David Moyes was equally as coy at his press conference in the afternoon.
Zouma started this semi-final first leg to the surprise of most and definitely Eintracht Frankfurt, who thought West Ham had only one available central defender in Craig Dawson.
Kurt Zouma’s return to West Ham’s line-up was craftily hidden by his club and David Moyes
Manager David Moyes (pictured) was equally as coy at his press conference in the afternoon
It was a risk from Moyes, handing the Frenchman his first start since damaging his ankle at Brentford earlier this month, and one which didn’t deliver him the clean sheet he craved.
They were two cheap goals to concede in a Europa League semi-final first leg and Zouma, along with others, did not cover himself in glory for either.
Moyes ultimately saw this as the best option of a bad bunch. Without Zouma, the manager might have had to move Declan Rice from midfield to central defence, as he did for the final few minutes against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Without Zouma, the manager might have had to move Declan Rice into the defence
He might have had to field a back three, placing Dawson in between Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell, when he prefers having four in defence.
So he took a gamble, hoping it would boost the back line. With Zouma comes a certain authority, after all, though there was rustiness here.
For the London Stadium to truly feel like a home, it needs big nights such as these, and the club did all they could to ensure the atmosphere was at its best.
That included showing highlights from their famous 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over Frankfurt on the big screen.
But if you want your fans at their loudest, they need inspiration from the field. Conceding after 49 seconds acted as a silencer.
Ansgar Knauff scored it and the defending was likewise naff as Zouma, Dawson and Rice all stood off Rafael Borre, giving him the time and space to cross.
Zouma and the rest of West Ham’s defence will need to raise their game in Frankfurt
Zouma went some way to making up for the part he played in that poor defensive phase by heading across goal for Michail Antonio to equalise from a set-piece.
In that moment, Moyes might have felt his decision to start the 27-year-old was suddenly vindicated.
Yet when Daichi Kamada gambled by ghosting behind the West Ham back line after 54 minutes, no one went with him.
Zouma stood and ball-watched as the Frankfurt forward scored the rebound from Alphonse Areola’s save.
The one bonus is Zouma will be ready for that all-or-nothing second leg next week, fitter and sharper for these 90 minutes at the London Stadium.
He and the rest of West Ham’s defenders will need to raise their game in Frankfurt, for it was two balls in behind that got the better of them here.