Although a late Astra Giurgiu equaliser downgraded what would have been a very good result to a decent one, there were plenty of encouraging signs for Slaven Bilic’s experimental West Ham side in Romania, as the first leg of their Europa League qualifier ended 1-1.
Youth players and news signings were on show for the Hammers in the briefly-named Stadionul Marin Anastasovici and, after playing out the draw on a particularly ropy surface, the Premier League side should progress serenely enough back at the London Stadium.
Bilic has already stated that he intends to put out his strongest side for the return leg, so that will be an extra boon to the Irons’ chances of making the group stages – priced up as 4/11-shots to win the match.
Here are five things we fathomed from their initial meeting with the Romanian champions:
1. The young guns are a real asset
West Ham have always been famed for their academy strength and their investment in youth looks to be paying dividends yet again. Reece Oxford is the best known and still just 17, the centre-half giving the kind of accomplished display that has seen clubs such as Manchester United come sniffing. On the left of defence, rangy 19-year-old Reece Burke also looks a fine prospect, while 18-year-old winger Marcus Browne’s 15-minute cameo produced flashes of skill as well as the pass to Michail Antonio that should have seen the game sealed 2-0 by the former Nottingham Forest man.
2. Jonathan Calleri possesses attributes to succeed
The Argentine, who starred for Boca Juniors last season, was thrown in at the deep end on debut having hot-footed it from the Olympics to join his new club on a season-long loan. While he squandered a decent headed chance, he showed his prowess in the air and Calleri’s all-round contribution was tidy. He should prove a hit.
3. Gokhan Tore can create goals
Another loan man to impress was Turkish international Tore. He has two quick feet and although perhaps over complicated things at times, there is a locker-full of tricks to excite Hammers fans in the coming months. His dead-ball delivery was also first-class, with his dangerous corner the catalyst for the hand ball that earned West Ham their penalty.
4. West Ham must be more clinical in Europe
As mentioned above, Antonio’s miss was a howler and although he wasn’t chastised by his manager, Bilic will sorely hope that won’t prove costly. Others such as Calleri were also guilty of spurning chances and in European competition there’s little room for such wastefulness.
5. Sam Byram is a better option than Antonio at right-back
Converting wingers to full-backs is a viable transformation in many circumstances, not all however. As shown several times last season and straight away in the Premier League this time around, Antonio is just too forward-thinking and not disciplined enough to perform the task. Former Leeds man Byram put in a very astute display and should be given a run in his favoured position.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.