Tonight’s Carabao Cup action gives Slaven Bilic the chance to rest a West Ham squad that has battled through their last two Premier League fixtures, beating Huddersfield 2-0 at the London Stadium in a highly-physical game before seeing out a scoreless draw against West Brom at the Hawthorns.
While the Irons gaffer has a sizeable senior squad to call upon, managers usually see the early stages of the League Cup as the best opportunity to test some of the younger talents at the club breaking through. With tonight’s opponents Bolton currently rock bottom of the Championship, the Hammers will be in their comfort zone in the London Stadium and can afford to field a few youngsters, even if they don’t have a particularly great night.
Here’s a look at three Hammers youngsters who should start tonight…
Perhaps the most obvious suggestion considering he’s already made five appearances for the Hammers this season including two starts in the Premier League. Declan Rice perhaps hasn’t uprooted trees since his debut at the end of last term but Slaven Bilic is clearly a big fan of the 18-year-old, who can operate in defence or midfield, and he needs as much time on the pitch as possible to really bed himself into the first-team squad.
Already a bit of a fan favourite in east London despite being yet to make his competitive debut for West Ham, many Irons fans have high hopes for former Valencia youngster Toni Martinez. The striker left the Mestalla outfit with an impressive scoring record at youth level and continued that with the Hammers’ U23 squad last term – leading to a loan spell with Oxford United in League One. Martinez could only manage on goal in the third tier but he did encounter Bolton in a 4-2 defeat and that prior experience could give him a unique edge against the Trotters.
Despite the summer arrival of Pablo Zabaleta, right-back still appears to be a bit of a problem position for the Hammers with Slaven Bilic seemingly unconvinced by Sam Byram. That could justify a first-team outing for U23s right-back Alex Pike. Bilic saw enough in the teenager to grant him an outing in Europa League qualifying at the start of last season and he’s made the joint-most appearances for the U23 string this term. Pike received a taste of senior football on loan at Cheltenham last season, making five League Two appearances, and will relish the chance to test himself once again.