West Ham United could be forgiven for wanting to forget the last time they met Manchester City in the EFL Cup. In a two-legged semi-final played in January 2014, City humiliated Sam Allardyce’s Hammers by an aggregate score of 9-0.
The first leg at the Etihad Stadium, which ended 6-0, was notable for defender Roger Johnson enduring a nightmare debut. “We couldn’t cope,” said Allardyce. “It was a very difficult night for us all.”
Things are very different now at West Ham under David Moyes. On a run of seven wins in nine games, they are fourth in the Premier League and talk is of how high they could finish rather than whether they will get drawn into a battle against relegation.
They have made a flawless start to life in the Europa League, where they have won three from three without conceding, and eliminated Manchester United to set up Wednesday’s fourth round date with City.
Resilience has been a key feature of their improvement since Moyes returned in December 2019. They may lose occasionally, but they are no longer being embarrassed.
Their only defeats this season have come by a single goal conceded in the dying moments, while Moyes has also ended City’s habit of running amok at the London Stadium. Having won on their previous four visits to Stratford by an aggregate of 17-1, last year they had to fight back to draw 1-1.
“We’ve completely transformed the way we are, as players, as people and that’s down to the manager,” said Hammers captain Declan Rice.
“It’s down to the players buying in to what he wants and every time we go out there, even if we’ve got beaten, we come off the pitch knowing we’ve given everything.
“We’re always in it to the end and we’re sat fourth in the table and we want to keep looking forward. We are a top side. We’re proving that in Europe and we’re proving that in the Premier League.”
Cup campaigns have tended to take a back seat to staying in the top flight at West Ham. Not since the 1980 FA Cup have they lifted a domestic trophy, while their best showings in the EFL Cup were the semi-final appearances of 2011 and 2014.
City, by contrast, have won this competition four seasons in a row and last tasted elimination in October 2016, in the very early days of Pep Guardiola’s managerial tenure.
Both sides are expected to rest players this evening. Moyes made 10 changes when he took West Ham to Old Trafford and caused a major upset in round three. Manuel Lanzini, the matchwinner that day, Mark Noble, Andriy Yarmolenko, Nikola Vlasic, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson and Alphonse Areola could all feature.
Guardiola named a youthful back four and star-studded attack at Wycombe Wanderers. He will surely add more experience in east London, but the widespread changes lend the tie an element of unpredictability.
West Ham have succeeded in selling all 60,000 tickets for the match, in part due to an admirable “kids for a quid” promotion coinciding with half-term week. City, who have won nine of their last 12 games, will naturally be favourites to progress.
But although Guardiola’s team have already scored five or more in a game on five occasions this season, the hosts’ progress under Moyes suggests this is unlikely to be another drubbing.