Europa Conference League Preview | West Ham United vs AZ Alkmaar

AZ Alkmaar travel to the London Stadium on Thursday to face West Ham United in the 1st leg of the Europa Conference League semi-final. Both sides are looking to continue impressive campaigns in Europe. Currently, West Ham sit in 15th position in the Premier League and AZ occupy fourth place in the Eredivisie.

David Moyes’ side head into this one fresh off the back of a 1-0 win over Manchester United. The victory saw the Hammers steer further away from the Premier League relegation zone, just in time to fully focus on reaching the Europa Conference League final. Getting past AZ Alkmaar certainly won’t be an easy task. Pascal Jansen’s side held Ajax to a 0-0 draw on Saturday, having beaten Waalwijk 3-0 the week before. 

West Ham have suffered just four defeats in their last 14 matches in all competitions. They hold a 12-game unbeaten streak in Europe, having extended that run with a 4-1 win (5-2 on aggregate) over Gent in the Conference League quarter-finals. However, this time last year the Hammers lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals. They’ll need to have learned a lesson from that heartbreak. 

AZ Alkmaar shocked Lazio in the last 16 of the competition, winning 4-2 on aggregate. In the quarter-finals, they managed to overturn a 2-0 aggregate deficit to Anderlecht to eventually win on penalties. AZ’s all-time record against English clubs is W2 D5 L7, with six defeats out of six in England. AZ famously lost 3-0 to Ipswich Town In the 1980/81 UEFA Cup final first-leg, before losing 5-4 on aggregate. That still is their only major final appearance.

Here is the form of both sides in their last five games in all competitions:

West Ham: W-L-L-L-W

AZ: L-W-W-W-D

Players to watch

West Ham’s squad is filled with top-class talent. Captain Declan Rice has been linked with a move away from the club following fantastic performances week in and week out. 25-year-old Lucas Paqueta has finally found form, scoring three goals and providing two assists in his last six appearances. Algerian winger Saïd Benrahma is certainly one to watch on Thursday night. The 27-year-old has scored nine goals and provided four assists in all competitions this season. He scored the only goal in Sunday’s victory over Manchester United.

AZ have an average squad age of just 23.1 compared to West Ham’s 28.2. Pascal Jansen has some incredible youngsters at his disposal each week. 19-year-old left winger Myron van Brederode and 19-year-old Hungarian defender Milos Kerkez are just two of the stars in the squad. Unfortunately, Kerkez won’t be available for this clash due to suspension. AZ’s main men to look out for on Thursday night are Greek striker Vangelis Pavlidis and Danish winger Jens Odgaard. Pavlidis has scored 22 goals across all competitions this season. Odgaard has scored 12 times and provided six assists this season. 

Whatever the outcome at the London Stadium, this Europa Conference league clash is going to be entertaining. It should set things up for an exciting second leg at the AFAS Stadion next week. In the other Europa Conference League semi-final on Thursday, FC Basel take on Fiorentina. Both sides will have eyes on playing West Ham or AZ in the final.

GBeNeFN Hugo Hargreaves

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