West Ham v Dinamo Zagreb
Thursday 09 December, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Hammers have earned the right to rotate
West Ham’s attitude to the Europa League has been exemplary so far, and they have secured a place in the last 16 as group winners with one match still remaining. Given the punishing nature of their schedule (they have plenty of Premier League fixtures coming up, as well as a League Cup quarter-final against old foes Tottenham), the ability to play a heavily-rotated side for this group-stage finale is doubtless welcome for Hammers boss David Moyes. Ben Johnson and Kurt Zouma both picked up knocks in the thrilling 3-2 win over Chelsea, and Angelo Ogbonna has already been sidelined.
West Ham showed terrific determination to twice come from behind against the European champions, but it says a lot about Moyes’ current mindset that he was far from completely happy, and demanded more consistency from his charges.
That said, it has been a tremendous season so far – West Ham are in the mix for a top-four spot in the league, they will play knockout football in Europe after Christmas and they are just a couple of rounds away from a Wembley final.
There have been suggestions that youngsters like Harrison Ashby, Jamal Baptiste and Sonny Perkins could feature here, and it seems unlikely that Moyes will name a full-strength side. Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals could both return to the starting XI.
Dinamo must avoid defeat to make sure
The best Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb can do in this group is finish second to guarantee a playoff against a Champions League dropout. However, they need a point to make sure of finishing second, because if they lose, Genk can overhaul them with a win over Rapid Vienna.
Dinamo aren’t in great form. They lost 3-1 at home to Rijeka in the cup, and then went down 2-0 at home against old foes Hajduk Split. It’s been a chaotic and unstable season, and coach Zeljko Kopic is only in charge in a caretaker capacity at present.
Dinamo are five points off top spot in the Croatian top flight, and the likes of Hajduk and Rijeka seem as if they can mount a challenge this term.
Kopic will name a strong side here, and there is plenty of attacking talent. Centre-forward Bruno Petkovic is a real handful, Mislav Orsic is capable of producing moments of magic, while Luka Ivanusec is a danger either out wide or through the middle.
Hosts’ victory chances are tough to decode
West Ham are priced at evens to win this, and even though they have won their group and they beat Dinamo in the reverse fixture, that just seems a little short. The Hammers are light in terms of defensive personnel, and it’d be a head-scratcher if the likes of Declan Rice and Michail Anotnio were asked to start here.
Dinamo may try to play for the draw, and their impressive 3-0 win at Genk offered a glimpse of what they are capable of. If you’re going off motivation, Dinamo certainly have the greater imperative to get a result here, and I can’t quite recommend the home win.
Both teams can find the net
Dinamo have scored in both of their away games in the group stage, and they have players who can trouble what could be an inexperienced West Ham rearguard. West Ham have scored in all but one of their home games in all competitions, and I’ll back Both Teams To Score here at 1.84/5.
Drama from Benrahma?
Said Benrahma has found the net three times in the group stage, and he started the season scoring in back-to-back Premier League matches. He should get a prominent role here, and he seems a bit overpriced in the To Score market at 4.216/5.
At the other end, Petkovic was excellent in wins against Genk and Rapid Vienna, and he has three group-stage goals. The Croatian international is priced at 4.03/1 to find the net.