David Moyes has challenged his West Ham players to take the next step in their development by winning the big games required to seal a top-six finish.
The Hammers have made great strides this season and are firmly in the race for European qualification ahead of Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Tottenham.
While the London Stadium outfit have registered impressive victories at Leicester, Everton and Aston Villa, they have yet to beat any of the traditional top six during the campaign and their last five league defeats have been to Liverpool (twice), Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Including this weekend’s clash with Spurs, West Ham face four of the so-called big boys over the next month and Moyes knows success in those results is crucial, especially approaching the business end of the campaign.
He said: “You need to keep very level and take it a game at a time.
“What you tend to find, and I wouldn’t say we are in the run-in period yet, we’ve probably got another five or six games before you start talking and using the word run-in, but I always thought in the run-in you had to win some big games.
“I always remember Sir Alex (Ferguson) talking about nothing really gets decided until the back end of February, March and April when you’re competing for big games, league position, semi-finals and finals of cups.
“If we are truthful, this is the time we need to start getting into really good form and getting ready to win the big games which will count and make the difference.”
The prospect of guiding West Ham to their highest finish this century is appealing for several reasons but one key benefit from securing a Europa League or Champions League berth would be the message it would send to the potential suitors of Declan Rice.
With captain Mark Noble no longer a regular, the academy graduate has worn the armband this term and impressed despite speculation over his future.
Moyes added: “I also want to do it because I want to put a message out to the media that we are here to stay and for people to see West Ham are for real and we will go about our business well, do things correctly and try to bring in good players when we can.
“I think for the likes of Declan and the young players we have got, I want them to see we are building a young team for the future.”
Victory over Tottenham would move West Ham nine clear of their rivals and aid their efforts of being London’s top team this season.
New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has turned around their campaign to go back above the Hammers in the table, but they, like Spurs and Arsenal, will have the knock-out stages of their respective European competitions to worry about this month.
“If someone could give me a position in the top six, I would be ecstatic and I wouldn’t care if it had to be above or below any teams in London,” Moyes said.
“I am interested in West Ham. I want us to do well. Keeping us near the top is a big, big challenge but we’ve proved that we are up for it.
“A lot of the teams in the top six have European games to come, midweek fixtures and we have to hope that we can get our players back fit and try to maximise the recovery time and use that to our advantage.”