Preview: AZ Alkmaar vs. West Ham United

Preview: AZ Alkmaar vs. West Ham United

West Ham United travel to the Netherlands to lock horns with AZ Alkmaar at the AFAS Stadion for the second leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final on Thursday night.

Both teams still have dreams of reaching next month’s showpiece event in Prague against either Basel or Fiorentina, but it is the Hammers who hold the advantage courtesy of their 2-1 first-leg victory at the London Stadium last week.

AZ Alkmaar appeared to be in control of the first leg heading into half time, with a long-range effort from Tijani Reijnders putting the possession-hungry visitors in front against a frustrated West Ham side on the 41-minute mark.

However, the tie was turned on its head in the final 25 minutes as a converted penalty kick from Said Benrahma restored parity for the Hammers before Michail Antonio prodded home in the 75th minute to condemn the Dutch outfit to a first-leg loss.

AZ remain firmly in the contest, though, and manager Pascal Jansen is sure to remind his players of their quarter-final triumph over Anderlecht last month in which they bounced back from a 2-0 first-leg defeat to draw level on aggregate before winning 4-1 on penalties in front of their home supporters.

Jansen’s side quickly put aside their defeat in the English capital when they secured a thumping 5-1 home victory over FC Emmen in the Eredivisie on Sunday, with Sam Beukema (2), Sven Mijnans, Myron van Brederode and Jordy Clasie all scoring in a first-half onslaught to help the Cheeseheads climb above Ajax into third place with two games remaining.

AZ enter Thursday’s second leg with an impressive unbeaten home record in European competition, winning 17 and drawing eight of their last 25 matches, including qualifiers, in Alkmaar, while they have won all eight home games in this season’s Europa Conference League by an aggregate score of 25-5.

The Dutch side, who are seeking to reach their first European final in 42 years, also boast a solid home record against English opposition having only lost one of their previous eight such meetings, although that defeat was against an Everton side who were managed by current West Ham boss David Moyes in 2007-08.

Twelve months on from losing their Europa League semi-final to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt, West Ham are in the driving seat to reach their first European final since 1976 following a dogged comeback victory in last week’s first leg over AZ.

The Hammers are making a name for themselves as comeback specialists having won four ECL matches when conceding the opening goal, beating FCSB, Silkeborg, Gent and now AZ, and they are the only team who are yet to lose in this season’s competition, putting together a 13-game unbeaten run.

West Ham, who have progressed from all nine of their previous European knockout ties when winning the first leg, require just a draw on Thursday to reach next month’s final, although their form away from home is sure to be a concern for David Moyes as his side have lost six of their last 10 matches on the road in all tournaments, including each of their last three.

The Hammers’ latest setback on their travels came against Brentford where they suffered a 2-0 Premier League defeat on Sunday, with first-half goals from Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa condemning Moyes’s much-rotated side to their 19th top-flight defeat of the season.

Unlike AZ, West Ham have endured a disappointing domestic campaign and have been languishing at the wrong end of the table for some time. Despite that, they have all but secured their Premier League status for next season as they sit six points clear of the relegation zone with just two games remaining, meaning that the East Londoners can now essentially prioritise their European campaign.

The pressure remains on Moyes’s shoulders, though, with the Scotsman tasked with ending the club’s 43-year wait for silverware and securing the first trophy of his managerial career, a feat that could potentially save his job in the Hammers hotseat.

AZ Alkmaar Europa Conference League form:

AZ Alkmaar form (all competitions):

West Ham United Europa Conference League form:

West Ham United form (all competitions):

We say: AZ Alkmaar 2-2 West Ham United (West Ham United to win 4-3 on aggregate)
Fresh from their five-star performance in the Eredivisie last weekend, AZ Alkmaar must continue their clinical form in front of goal if they are to overturn the one-goal deficit in front of a fired-up home crowd on Thursday.

Indeed, the hosts will be confident of breaching West Ham’s leaky backline, but the visitors – who are set to see a number of key players return to the first XI – have an attacking threat of their own that can help secure the second-leg draw they need to progress to the final on aggregate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *