West Ham United will continue their hunt for UEFA Europa Conference League glory in the semi-final first leg against AZ Alkmaar at the London Stadium on Thursday night.
After missing out on the Europa League final last season, West Ham United are determined to go at least one step better this season when they host AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of this Europa Conference League semifinal.
The Hammers’ European adventure has been the only genuine bright spot in their season thus far. But they have recently shown signs of progress domestically lately and head into the clash on the back of a morale-boosting 1-0 victory over Manchester United, which leaves them just one win away from safety.
David Moyes’s side has been fighting relegation all season. And for the first time, they can breathe a sigh of relief, with seven points now separating them from the bottom three. While they are not mathematically safe yet, they will switch their focus to the continental stage, hoping to cap off an appalling campaign with European glory.
Moyes’s men cruised over KAA Gent in the previous round, as they ran out 5-2 winners on aggregate. However, standing in their way to Prague’s showpiece final is an AZ Alkmaar side that edged out Belgian outfit Anderlecht through a penalty shootout to book their ticket to the semi-finals.
AZ Alkmaar currently sit fourth in the Dutch Eredivisie and will return to the Europa Conference League next season. They are battling it out with third-placed Ajax to get into the Europa League. Of course, they will get promoted to the second-tier European competition if they win this competition. AZ are unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions without conceding a goal.
The Cheeseheads claimed a big giant killing in the form of Lazio earlier in the competition and look a cut above the teams West Ham have previously played. Pascal Jansen’s side secured a deserved 0-0 draw at Eredivisie heavyweights Ajax last time out, so they certainly won’t be intimidated by the challenge in hand in east London on Thursday night.
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West Ham United
A European semi-final at London Stadium awaits.
We will see you there, Hammers ⚒️ pic.twitter.com/gvK6rk6Hsr
— West Ham United (@WestHam) May 10, 2023
Gianluca Scamacca, who has not to featured since the middle of March due to a lengthy knee layoff, will miss out again here. Manager David Moyes is still sweating on Kurt Zouma’s fitness after the Frenchman picked up an ankle injury during their dramatic defeat to Crystal Palace. Likewise, Vladimir Coufal will not feature on Thursday night.
Moyes could decide to stick with the same 4-2-3-1 formation that was utilised against Manchester United and will tend to keep changes to a minimum. Alphonse Areola will operate between the sticks for West Ham after he secured a clean sheet in his last appearance. Nayef Aguerd will resume his defensive partnership with Angelo Ogbonna at the heart of the defence as they look to keep the AZ attackers frustrated throughout the game.
Thilo Kehrer could be picked to slot in the right-back role, while Aaron Cresswell fills in on the other side as the left-back. Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice will make up the midfield as they focus on controlling the game and impose their physicality in the centre of the park. Meanwhile, Lucas Paqueta will offer energy, and try to orchestrate enough chances for West Ham.
Said Benrahma will try to catch the eye with his trickery as the left-sided wide player while Jarrod Bowen will be a buzzing presence on the other flank as the right-winger. Having recorded five goals in his last six appearances in all competitions, 33-year-old Michail Antonio will once again spearhead Moyes’ attack at the London Stadium.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Areola; Kehrer, Aguerd, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Paqueta, Benrahma; Antonio
AZ Alkmaar are still dealing with extended injury issues and will travel to east London on Thursday night without the likes of Jesper Karlsson (leg), Dani de Wit (foot), Bruno Martins Indi (thigh), and Sem Westerveld (knee) in midweek.
Former Brighton & Hove albion goalkeeper Matthew Ryan has impressed since making the move back to Holland in January and has established himself as the number one for the visitors. He will once again start between the sticks here, with Pantelis Chatzidiakos and Sam Beukema pairing up to form the central defensive pairing in front of him.
Japanese defender Yukinari Sugawara and Mees de Wit will be the two full-backs tasked with providing width in attack, especially the former, who has been in top form domestically and has eight assists and three goals in the Eredivisie.
Tijjani Reijnders is a versatile playmaker and will look to dictate the game in the double-pivot alongside Jordy Clasie. Attacking midfielder Jens Odgaard is another key player and has been in scintillating form since arriving from the Italian outfit Sassuolo at the start of the 2022/23 season.
Sven Mijnans and Myron van Brederode will also look to create good scoring opportunities and make sharp, and tricky runs into the box. Recovering from a slight knock away at Ajax last weekend, 24-year-old Vangelis Pavlidis should keep his place in attack here.
The Greece international has surely caught the attention of many European clubs with his attacking exploits this season, having bagged 22 goals and ten assists for his club. He has also played a pivotal role in their UECL run this term, scoring five goals across as many UECL matches. AZ will yet again rely on him to provide the goods in the final third.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ryan; Sugawara, Beukema, Hatzidiakos, M. de Wit; Clasie, Reijnders; Odgaard, Mijnans, Brederode; Pavlidis
- This is the first time West Ham United are playing against AZ Alkmaar in this competition.
- AZ have won only two of their past 14 European meetings with Premier League sides (D5 L7) and have lost all six away games against such opponents by an aggregate score of 20-5.
- West Ham boast the lowest tally of goals surrendered among teams with more than three games in the UECL this term, and only Fiorentina (+19) have a better goal difference than David Moyes’s side (+18).
- The Eredivisie side have won three of their last four games in all competitions (D1), which is a pleasant change for Pascal Jansen’s side, which had failed to win any of the previous four (D1, L3).
- The Hammers have lost just a couple of their last 11 appearances at the London Stadium, a run that dates back to late December.
Player to Watch
Declan Rice’s future looks set to dominate the headlines this summer as he bids to secure a big move, and he’ll be looking to do so on a positive note by probably leading the club to their first major silverware in a long time. The home crowd will undoubtedly be rooting for their star midfielder. The Hammers have time and time again seen the world-class quality Rice brings to the table.
He currently leads the way in terms of tackles and interceptions across the Premier League and dominated the midfield against Manchester United, going toe-to-toe with Casemiro in every battle for the ball. The 24-year-old England international can also find the back of the net himself, and we are talking about types of goals that are atypical of the defensive midfielder.
Just like the strong solo run strike against Gent. He picked up the ball in his natural central midfield position after Paqueta battled for possession, leaving Rice to race across the halfway line all the way through to Gent’s box before slotting it home with aplomb. He will look to bring all of his well-rounded attributes to this game as the Hammers look to gain an advantage heading into the away leg.
West Ham United 3-1 AZ Alkmaar
West Ham United have played the majority of their best football while on continental duty this season. And they certainly seem to have hit their stride at the right moment in terms of their overall form.
AZ Alkmaar have proven their mettle by knocking out the likes of Lazio and Anderlecht. But they cannot be taken for granted at this level, although they have endured a considerable drop-off in the Dutch top-flight in recent weeks, having won just two of their last six league appearances, with European football probably taking the toll on them.
It has largely been plain sailing for David Moyes’s side in Europe this season. But AZ could be the biggest test yet. The Hammers were roared to victory at home against Manchester United on Sunday, and a similar London Stadium atmosphere can power them to a first-leg lead this midweek. Their relegation fears are easing, and they can just about concentrate on winning the third-tier European competition.
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