West Ham United may have already qualified for the Europa League knockout stages but they still have two more matches to play out in Group H, with the top spot still on the line.
David Moyes’ men head to Austria to face Rapid Wien knowing that a victory would see them finish the group stages in first place but they will need to perform better than at the weekend, having lost 1-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.
The Scot has often rotated his starting XI in this competition and tonight should be no different, though he is contending with injury problems, with Hammers stalwart Angelo Ogbonna ruled out for the remainder of the season.
His absence at the weekend saw Craig Dawson come into the starting XI, meaning he is unlikely to resume his European duties at the Allianz Stadion this evening, not that he should, anyway.
Instead, Moyes could make a bold call to start one of the Irons’ most promising defensive talents in Jamal Baptiste, perhaps alongside Issa Diop, who will be hungry for minutes and a chance to impress.
With Ogbonna facing serious time on the sidelines, this encounter presents a solid opportunity to see what the 18-year-old gem can do at a senior level. He’s already playing for the U23s despite his age, so that’s an encouraging sign indeed.
Baptiste has earned high praise from Hammers legend Carlton Cole during an appearance on the ‘Irons Inside’ podcast.
After describing him as a “massive prospect”, he added: “He’s going to be the next Anton Ferdinand hopefully or the next Rio, so hopefully we can these boys on the right track and help them transition into being a professional footballer full-time.”
Whilst former academy director Terry Westley described him as a “monster” who is “one of the finest young prospects at the club without any doubt” to Claret and Hugh.
“He’s got everything, height, power, pace and is already, at such a young age, making a serious impact on the under 23s,” he added.
The teenage sensation is certainly a player that is on the radar of Moyes’, too, having revealed his intention to include in first-team training back in August.
It’s time to see what he can do in the claret and blue, starting with the trip to Austria this evening. It could be huge for their season.
AND in other news, ExWHUemployee drops big transfer claim ahead of January transfer window…