West Ham United ended their Europa League group stage campaign with defeat as they were beaten 1-0 by Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night.
Irons boss David Moyes rang the changes at the London Stadium as he opted for a fully-rotated starting XI, in which a mixture of youngsters and fringe players featured.
One of the academy starlets to be handed a start was Manny Longelo, who was deployed at left-back in the absence of the injured Aaron Creswell and Ben Johnson, whilst he was chosen over Arthur Masuaku.
The Scot’s gamble paid off, even if their unbeaten European record came to an unfortunate end.
Ultimately, the Barking-born 20-year-old wasn’t at fault for the Croatian champions’ only goal of the game – a wonderstrike from Mislav Orsic – after an uninterested Andriy Yarmolenko gave the opposition winger time and space to fire a rocket past Alphonse Areola on the other side of the penalty area.
Longelo was actually one of the Hammers’ rare positives from the night as he was frequently involved for the team. Indeed, he registered the second-highest number of touches (87) in the whole game, just as Moyes’ wing-backs often do, so he was clearly adept on the ball and wasn’t fazed by the occasion of making his senior bow.
Only the skipper, central midfielder Mark Noble, had more (93).
He always tried to be productive up and down that left flank, also recording 37 accurate passes, and whilst none of his four crossing attempts found a player in claret and blue, it still suggests that he was trying to create things in the final third. He did compete 100% of his dribbles, by contrast.
Elsewhere, he put in important defensive work, managing two clearances (second-most for West Ham) and two tackles, as well as one interception (second-most), per SofaScore.
The young Hammers sensation left a lasting impression on many observers at the game, including Evening Standard reporter Jack Rosser, who waxed lyrical in his post-match ratings column, where Longelo was graded as Moyes’ joint-best player.
‘Encouraging first start for the 20-year-old full-back. Confident going forward with a number of driving runs down the left. One to keep an eye on,’ he said.
Similarly, The Athletic’s Roshane Thomas believed he “caught the eye” throughout the 90 minutes.
With Cresswell and Johnson likely to still be on the treatment table heading into a busy and hectic festive fixture list, Longelo could well provide Moyes with a solid option in the left-back role going forward.
Even going into the future when the 31-year-old moves on, the youngster has done himself the world of good, potentially handing Moyes a selection dilemma heading into this weekend’s tricky trip to Turf Moor, even despite the midweek defeat.