After playing 31 matches in 12 different countries in UEFA competitions over the past two-and-a-half seasons, David Moyes is looking forward to playing match number 32 in country number 13 on Thursday evening.
The West Ham United manager will lead his team out in Serbia when the Irons take on FK TSC on UEFA Europa League Group A matchday five – the first time in his long and illustrious career that he will coach a game in the Balkan nation.
The UEFA Europa Conference League champions have visited Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Romania and Spain since returning to Europe in September 2021, putting together a British record 17-match unbeaten run at one stage and losing just five of those 31 games in the process.
Moyes knows he, his coaching staff, his players and the Claret and Blue Army have thoroughly enjoyed their European tours, and wants the latest one to continue long into the New Year.
Therefore, a victory in Bačka Topola that would ensure a top-two finish and a place in the Europa League knockout stages, and put them within a point of topping the group, is top of his immediate priorities, while the Scot is also mindful of the fact his squad will play ten games in three different competitions over the next 34 days.
Juggling resources is a challenge
Team news wise, [apart from Michail Antonio, who continues to recover from a hamstring injury suffered while on international duty with Jamaica], Jarrod Bowen hasn't travelled.
We have got another couple who have some illness who haven't travelled, but I am not prepared to say who they are tonight.
It's been very difficult over two years trying to juggle the European games with the Premier League games [when it comes to team selection] but for most of it we've done quite well, reaching one semi-final and one final, so we'll try and do much the same.
It’s difficult and the group we're in this season is a very hard group and that means it's hard to make too many changes for European matches.
We're aware of FK TSC's good form
I find every game in Europe difficult.
Nothing is easy and we're fully aware of the very good result they had at the weekend [beating previously unbeaten Serbian SuperLiga leaders Partizan Belgrade 4-0 away from home].
TSC played very well at London Stadium in the opening game in the group. I thought it was a good game, but fortunately we got the result [winning 3-1, after falling a goal behind].
We respect all the opponents we play. We'll come here tomorrow and try and win because we're in a strong position in the group.
The stadium is small in comparison, but the pitch looks good. It’s a nice night tonight, a little bit cold but nice conditions to play in, so hopefully we'll perform well on Thursday.
We've really enjoyed our European tours
I think, if you'd said that to me three years ago when we started that we’d have played so many games in Europe in so many different countries, and won a major European trophy, I don't know if I'd believed it.
We've also just gone 17 games unbeaten in Europe, which I think is a record for any British team, so we have really enjoyed our European journey over the last few years and we continue to enjoy it now and we are coming to another new city.
When we first got into Europe, we wanted our supporters to enjoy their trips, enjoy going away, behave well and hopefully see their team doing well in Europe and I think, three years on, they'd all stand back and say we've had a couple of really good years in Europe.
Our away record in Europe has been brilliant
We've been doing well in Europe over the last couple of years.
We had a record when we went unbeaten, our first defeat [of this campaign] was at Olympiacos a few weeks ago [on matchday three], so I'm hoping we can continue our really good form in Europe.
We’ve been good wherever we've been, we’ve had some draws, we’ve had some wins and in the main we’ve not lost so many games.
In fact, we've only lost one game away from home in nearly 18 months, since the UEFA Europa League semi-final at Eintracht Frankfurt [in May 2022], so we’ve been in pretty good form and I hope that can continue and I'll do everything I can to make that the case on Thursday night.