October may well have held the furthest evidence yet that we have entered some kind of West Ham multiverse. Travelling home after watching us comfortably dispatch Genk – after being slightly uncomfortable for about 20 minutes – I tuned in to TalkSport to hear the hosts and a caller discussing whether or not West Ham could beat Barcelona were the two sides to meet in the latter stages of this season’s Europa League.
The conversation progressed with seemingly all parties deciding that we would, in fact, be able to give them a game. Now whether I agree with this optimism is inconsequential (I do for the record, though can’t quite accept that I do), the very fact that this is a meaningful and not simply laughable question speaks to the way in which we have tackled the task of Europa League football on a Thursday night.
As I write this, we are sitting top of our group with a perfect record of three wins from three, with an as yet unbreached defence and seven goals to our name. If we manage to make it four in a row, we will have secured qualification with two games to spare.
In reality, one more win from the remaining three games should be enough to finish in the top two of the group regardless, but there is a definite feeling that Moyes’ Boys want to finish in pole position. We have approached our first European adventure in a number of years, not with the dread of Damocles Sword looming over us, but with real intent to hang in there as long as we can.
The experience has been embraced by all involved in the club. Moyes has named strong sides for all the games. The players have entered every game with the mindset that it is an opportunity to test themselves rather than an inconvenience.
And even the powers that be have invested in some epelitic fit-inducing pyrotechnics to open our home ties. It has been a welcome reward for the sell out crowds who have arrived at the London Stadium or travelled away on a Thursday night to get behind the side. To actually see the first team (give or take an Antonio) compete rather than a second string side just take part.
And, truth be told, we have thus far made it look relatively easy. Both home games had moments where you felt that Rapid and Genk were growing into the match, but equally you felt we had another gear or two we could have gone into had we needed to. On neither occasion did we need to. I suspect that the return fixtures will pose us a few more problems as the importance of each game increases.
The blistering start we have made has seen us installed as one of the favourites to win the whole thing. There are of course a number of European heavyweights also in contention themselves. Lyon, Monaco and Marseille (with a certain Mr Payet) are sides capable of winning it.
Leverkusen and Napoli are doing well in the domestic leagues, whilst Real Sociedad top La Liga (at the time of writing). Galatasaray and Lazio are also sides with good European pedigree. Lifting the trophy would be no mean feat, given such esteemed foes. And that’s before the super heavyweights join the fray. As it stands, defending French champions Lille, Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon and Porto, both Milan sides, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk and RB Leipzig all face the possibility of finishing third in their groups and joining us in the next round. As do Barcelona.
When you look at that list of teams, it vindicates the decision Moyes and the squad have taken to commit fully to the competition. We are in illustrious company. When we hear the tiresome talk of Declan Rice needing to leave to test himself, to progress, we can rightly point to the teams we may well face in the not too distant future.
And when TalkSport are debating whether you could beat Barcelona, why would you want to be anywhere else but on a Europa adventure in this glorious Hammer-verse we are currently living in.