On Thursday, the first leg of their Europa Conference League semifinal match between West Ham United and AZ Alkmaar will be played.
AZ is currently in fourth place in the Eredivisie, two points behind Ajax, while West Ham is currently in 15th place in the Premier League rankings.
David Moyes, the manager of West Ham United, was in a high mood following last time’s first league victory against his old team, Manchester United, in more than ten years. With that 1-0 victory, the Hammers have finally accrued enough Premier League (PL) points to guarantee their survival in 10 of the previous eleven campaigns, just in time to fully concentrate on defeating AZ Alkmaar to go to the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) final.
The Irons, who this season became the first club in the competition’s brief history to earn all possible points in a group stage, might not be phased by their return to UECL play. Moyes would hope that lessons were learned after losing to eventual champion Frankfurt at this stage last season, but a 17 goals haul from six UECL home games this season (W6) gives cause for hesitant expectation.
AZ, a perennial underdog in Europe, is aiming to destroy that hope. The senior team may find motivation from the young AZ crop that won the UEFA Youth League last month. The future may be promising, but the European past has not been, as AZ has lost each of their last three brief trips across the North Sea and each of their previous six trips to England, where they have conceded at least four goals.
After a rock solid stretch of more than six hours of competitive play since giving up their last goal, there is a compelling argument to be made for the Cheese Heads to buck that trend. In order to keep their dreams of finishing in the top three of the Eredivisie alive, they held Champions League calibre Ajax to a scoreless draw at the end of that run, which included a portion of a comeback triumph in their quarterfinal second leg (3-0 AET).
Tomá Souek is aware that a great start will help him achieve his goal of playing in the final match against Fiorentina or Basel in his old club Slavia Praha’s Eden Aréna. After scoring seven of his past eight goals, the powerful Czech midfielder is accustomed to doing just that. Funny enough, Jens Odgaard for his team AZ has the same statistic. The 24 years old Danish forward is certain that “we’re capable of doing big things” in this titanic match.
Moyes might start the same outfield players that performed well against Manchester United on Sunday, barring any additional injury concerns.
Tomas Soucek took a head hit during that game, but the midfielder played the whole 90 minutes and was deemed fit.
Although Moyes has been coy about the seriousness of Kurt Zouma’s ankle injury, he is expected to miss out, and Alphonse Areola will start in goal again.
After sustaining a thigh injury in the first half of Sunday’s scoreless draw with Ajax, Jens Odgaard is a significant question mark for AZ.
While AZ will undoubtedly be without Milos Kerkez due to suspension, one of Mayckel Lahdo or Dani de Wit is in line to fill in on the right side.
He could be replaced at left-back by Mees de Wit in the defense.
West Ham United possible starting lineup
Areola, Kehrer, Aguerd, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Bowen, Paqueta, Benrahma and Antonio.
AZ Alkmaar possible starting lineup
Ryan, Sugawara, Beukema, Hatzidiakos, M. de Wit, Clasie, Reijnders, D. de Wit, Mijnans, Brederode and Pavlidis.
We predict: West Ham United 1-1 AZ Alkmaar
AZ deserve a lot of respect going into this match, even though West Ham are the slight favorites to take a little lead from the first leg. In light of this, we are tipping the Dutch team to secure a point at the London Stadium, leaving the match in a tight position before the rematch in the Netherlands.