Rice names the four reasons why West Ham are in Champions League contention

The irony is richer than the clubs that have tried for so long tried to poach their best player.

West Ham could finish in the top four – above the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs.

If you’d have suggested that at the start of the season they’d have asked, with apologies to Liverpool owner John W. Henry, what you were smoking here in the capital.

Now the Hammers have the last laugh on Roman Abramovich after many believed it would be only a matter of time before the Russian billionaire returned for the £70million-rated midfielder released from Chelsea’s academy.

Rice, among the stars of West Ham’s surge up the table, has made no secret of his desire to play Champions League football.

He now has the fabulous chance to do so with the club where he has become a star. Admitting his excitement, he said: “I’d be wrong to sit here and say that that’s not something I am thinking about.

“I want to be in those places now. This club is a massive club. We’ve got the quality and that’s where we need to be pushing.

“The next four games for us are going to define that. We’ve got City, then Leeds, then United then Arsenal – four massive games. If we get through those with a good amount of points then who knows?

“We’ll be down to single figures (in terms of games) and we’ll be able to start counting down in terms of how long we’ve got to go.”

While many of the clubs below them have thrown away the points from their games in hand, West Ham have remained consistent with seven wins from their last nine games.

Boss David Moyes has had his men over-performing even without an orthodox striker after selling flop Sebastien Haller to Ajax at a loss in January.

The Scot has earned the trust of fans after instilling a winning mentality at the London Stadium and laying the foundations for lasting success.

Rice told TalkSport: “We are going out there now and we don’t fear anybody.

“The West Ham of last season would have caved in in the second half and conceded goals. But now it is completely different.

“We won’t cave in to anyone. We know we can score goals. We’ve got quality in the attacking end of the pitch as well. So long may that continue for us.”

Although Moyes has another year left on his contract, West Ham’s owners are set to reward him for the club’s outstanding season with a lucrative new deal.

The ex-Manchester United boss saved the Irons a fortune in the transfer market when he responded to Burnley ’s request for a staggering £50million for defender James Tarkowski by snapping up Vladimir Coufal from Slavia Prague for a tenth of the price, adding Craig Dawson on loan from Watford for £1million.

The icing on the cake, however, was landing United winger Jesse Lingard who has hit the ground with three important goals in four games – two of them decisive.

Rice added: “I knew this when I played with him at England, he's a top, top player. When you give him the ball on the pitch you know he'll do something with it. He's also got a great personality and the lads have taken to him really well. Hopefully he's still here next season’

“Honestly, I can say first hand this is the best West Ham team I've been a part of in the four years I've been in the team.

“There's a unity, the love the lads have for each other, the banter on a daily basis and the mentality has changed completely.”

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