West Ham manager David Moyes outlined what he wants to see Declan Rice add to his game, and gave a glowing endorsement of Nikola Vlasic’s first start.
If West Ham were nervous about their first European match since 2016, they certainly did not show it in Zagreb. The Hammers dominated from first minute to last in what on paper was their hardest tie of the group.
Chosen to start ahead of his enforced absence at the weekend through suspension, Michail Antonio did what he does best when causing havoc in the opposition box.
Antonio pounced on a loose back-pass to put his side in front, but even he had to play second fiddle to Declan Rice.
The subject of frequent transfer speculation with England’s heavy hitters, Rice produced a stunning solo goal that showcased every great aspect he possesses in one fell swoop.
From that point on, the Hammers controlled the tempo and dictated proceedings like a team with a hundred European matches under their belt.
Speaking in his post-match press conference (via Football London), Moyes said: “I was really pleased with the way we played because Zagreb have a good history in European football and developing exciting players.
“It is new to someone like Declan Rice who is used to international but not European football.
Declan Rice! He kept going and going! 💨🍃
The West Ham skipper takes matters into his own hands, running all the way from inside his own half!
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 16, 2021
“We are learning. I am excited at the prospect of not knowing how good we could be. We made changes and we did not look any worse for it.
“My target is to make sure we have European football after Christmas. But it is only one game and we have to try and continue the level we are at.”
Regarding Rice who again produced another superb all-round display, Moyes added: “What he has tried to do is take himself to the next level. He is a terrific player who is getting better.
“He was the captain of West Ham in Europe away from home and he scored a goal. You must not forget he is 22-years-old, a young boy with a big future.”
When asked about Rice’s celebration that drew the ire of Zagreb’s players, the Scot said: “That is still the young player which we have all seen. But his ability to surge away from people with his power and speed is a great trait.”
Outlining his desire to see Rice add more goals to his game, Moyes concluded: “His goal was similar to the one against Southampton last season and we would like to see more of that and him score goals because he got a little bit of ribbing for that.”
Moyes delivers Vlasic verdict
Summer recruit Nikola Vlasic was handed his first start for the club. The Croatian is capable of operating in a variety of attacking positions, and Moyes gave his first start two thumbs up.
“I see him playing as 7, 10 or 11,” said Moyes. “We can use him in all positions. What I saw I really like the look of, he needs time to settle with us, the speed and how we play but he is a brilliant boy with a fantastic attitude.
“I want goals, assists in whatever position he plays and I know he can bring that. Coming home to Croatia was a good place for him to start and hopefully, we have a really top player in the future.”
When reminded by a reporter Vlasic has previously played as a false nine – a position in which West Ham are perilously short of options – Moyes joked: “Thanks for the words of wisdom. Maybe we can use him there!”