East Ham have overcome countless hurdles to reach this historic point, but now they may face their greatest yet under David Moyes.
The Hammers will field an almost entirely second-choice back-four in tonight’s quarter-final second leg against Lyon.
Kurt Zouma is injured and could be out for the season, while Aaron Cresswell is suspended following a controversial red card in the first leg last week. These two join long-time absentee Angelo Ogbonna in only being able to watch as West Ham try to make history.
What was already a difficult task for a novice team on these occasions became an even greater challenge in the space of a week.
West Ham have already done remarkable things this season. The Hammers stormed through their group, remain in a fight for the Premier League’s top six and knocked out Europa League kings Sevilla in the final round.
Now they face a rematch at another established European side. The pressure of those chances is something to be savored rather than feared, but Moyes doesn’t want his players to treat it like a novelty. The Scot has transformed the mentality of his team but now instructs his players to go further.
If West Ham are to qualify for the semi-finals, where Barcelona or Eintracht Frankfurt await, their key numbers must stand up and be counted.
“We have a great chance,” Moyes said. “Being 1-1 is a really powerful position. We have a tiny bit of toughness in us that we can show. We played 45 minutes with 10 men last week, let’s see what we can do with 11.
“We have to show our quality levels, they have to go up. We probably showed our best qualities in this tournament, against Sevilla in particular. So we have to do it. It’s a big game and a tough game, but we’ve been good this year when we’ve been challenged.
“Against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea we were challenged and overall we rose to the challenge. Hopefully we can do it again.
Moyes and his team have to shoot on those occasions tonight. When they beat Liverpool, they did so after losing Ogbonna to injury in the first half, while Zouma was sent off in the win over Chelsea.
In those encounters, West Ham showed plenty of character and a cutting edge on the counter-attack, which has eluded them in most games since. However, West Ham have a knack for big moments, and Moyes has his squad full of confidence.
Another cornerstone of West Ham’s rise under Moyes has been the reliability of certain numbers.
It’s a stroke of history and a chance for the Hammers to truly establish themselves in Europe.
Whether it’s Michail Antonio causing trouble in the forward line or Declan Rice dominating midfield, the Hammers are at their best when these players drive them.
They too must rely on the performance of the start of the season to overtake Lyon. Antonio hasn’t scored in the Premier League since New Year’s Day and has scored just one FA Cup goal since then.
Despite setting high standards earlier this season, Rice has been ineffectual in West Ham’s last two outings. These are the times when the best players rise. It’s a stroke of history and a chance for the Hammers to truly establish themselves in Europe.