Just one year on from semi-final disappointment, West Ham once again have a European final in their sights. They host AZ in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final clash, and we preview a tie that will have huge repercussions on both sides’ seasons.
West Ham vs AZ Alkmaar: Quick Stats
- The Opta supercomputer has West Ham as clear favourites ahead of this match with a 50.0% chance of victory – almost double the likelihood of an AZ win (26.2%).
- West Ham have won each of their last six home matches in Europe, with their last such defeat coming against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals last season.
- AZ have won just two of their 14 meetings with English sides in European competition (D5 L7), while they have lost all six of their away matches against such opponents.
West Ham host AZ in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final clash on Thursday night – a tie that will mean so much to both sides’ seasons.
This is the first time that these two teams have met in European competition, although the two outfits have had rather differing fortunes when facing opponents from the same nations. West Ham have won three of their four matches in Europe against opponents from the Netherlands (L1), winning each of the last three. The Hammers’ only such defeat came in the 1975-76 Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals via a 4-2 loss to ADO Den Haag in the first leg.
Meanwhile, AZ are winless in their last five meetings with English opponents in European competition (D2 L3) since their 2-0 victory over Newcastle in the 2006-07 UEFA Cup last 16 second leg. It’s pretty grim reading for AZ in away games with sides from England, losing all six such matches by an aggregate scoreline of 20-5.
Both sides have entertained the masses in this season’s Conference League, and there’s little to suggest that trend won’t continue in this match. AZ have scored two or more goals in seven of their 10 games in the competition proper this term, while West Ham are the tournament’s second top scorers with 24 goals. David Moyes’ side have notched 14 goals in their five home matches in the competition, including four in both of their last two such games.
The Hammers are looking to reach the final of a major European competition for the first time since their 1975-76 Cup Winners’ Cup final heartbreak to Anderlecht. The English side will also use last season as motivation heading into the match, after crashing out to German side Eintracht Frankfurt at this stage in the UEFA Europa League.
AZ have advanced to the final four of a European competition for the third time, and the first since they were eliminated from the 2004-05 UEFA Cup semi-finals to Sporting. The Dutch side last reached the final in Europe in 1980-81, as they went on to lose to Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town 5-4 across the two legs. Pascal Jansen’s side are hot on the heels of Ajax for third place in the Eredivisie table, but they can be more than forgiven for shifting their focus towards a very first continental success.
West Ham have had a turbulent run of form over the last few weeks. Moyes’ side have lost three of their last four Premier League games – conceding nine goals across those three defeats. It marked the third time that they have lost 3+ consecutive league games this season, which is their most in a single top-flight campaign since 2009-10 (also three).
However, the Hammers will hope to have turned a corner following victory in their most recent game, after they defeated top-four challengers Manchester United 1-0 at the London Stadium on Sunday evening. The win brought a huge sigh of relief across East London. The victory meant that the Hammers moved seven points clear of the bottom three with just three league games remaining.
Still, it’s been a hugely underwhelming campaign for the Irons domestically this term, as they sit in 15th with just 37 points. The Hammers have only had a lower points tally after 35 games in one of the previous four Premier League seasons – earning just 34 points at this stage in 2019-20. However, the supercomputer has West Ham safely avoiding relegation, with a 0% chance of dropping down to the Championship for the first time in over 10 years.
It has been a completely different story for Moyes’ side in Europe this season. West Ham are unbeaten in all 10 of their Europa Conference League matches across 2022-23, with their nine victories the joint-most in the competition (alongside Fiorentina). The Hammers have reached the semi-finals of a European competition for the sixth time in their history – progressing from three of the previous five.
Meanwhile, AZ are currently on a four-game unbeaten streak across all competitions (W3 D1). Jansen’s side have bounced back from a disappointing run in March – which saw them slip down the Eredivisie table – and now trail Ajax in third by just two points. AZ held Ajax to a 0-0 stalemate in their most recent match to keep their hopes of Europa League football next season alive. The supercomputer has them at an 11.2% chance of finishing third and securing such a feat.
Jansen’s side may yet seal their spot in the competition via victory in this term’s Europa Conference League, after reaching the semi-finals of a major European competition for only the second time. And they’ve done it the hard way. AZ’s fairytale run to the final four has entailed victory at Serie A high-flyers Lazio, before overturning a two-goal deficit to defeat Anderlecht in the quarter-finals.
West Ham: Lucas Paqueta
The Hammers will greatly rely on the influence of midfielder Lucas Paqueta to get over the line in this tie. The 25-year-old has exuded quality throughout the campaign but has particularly shone in recent weeks – showcasing exactly why the Hammers went big to bring him to the London Stadium last summer.
The Brazil international has been a vibrant addition to Moyes’ side, lifting the West Ham fans off their seats with his silky touches and smooth body feints.
Paqueta has predominantly acted as the creative hub for the Irons, looking to progress the ball forward at every given opportunity. The 25-year-old has played 18 through balls in all competitions this term, which is more than any other West Ham player. The midfielder’s importance to the side was highlighted during the Hammers’ last Europa Conference League match, as he shone with a goal and two assists in the 4-1 thrashing of Gent to seal their passage into the semi-finals.
Paqueta is equally as significant in the defensive side of things for Moyes’ side. The midfielder has won 58 tackles across all competitions this season – the most of any of his West Ham team-mates and sixth-most among all Premier League players. It shows that despite his ability in the final third, Paqueta has no qualms with doing the dirty work. In fact, the Brazilian has committed more fouls than any other Hammers player this season in all competitions (61).
AZ: Vangelis Pavlidis
There is little doubt that AZ top scorer Vangelis Pavlidis will have to continue his fine goalscoring form if AZ are to produce a shock in the English capital on Thursday. The Greece international has been the focal point of Jansen’s side, netting 22 goals in all competitions this season – the joint-most of any Eredivisie player (alongside Feyenoord’s Santiago Giménez).
Pavlidis has scored five goals in this edition of the Europa Conference League, which is the most of any AZ player. In fact, he has scored five of AZ’s last seven goals in the competition, including an eight-minute brace in the previous round against Anderlecht to get his side back into the tie.
The 24-year-old is seeking to become the first Greek player to score six goals in a single season of a European competition since Stefanos Athanasiadis for PAOK in the 2014-15 UEFA Europa League.
The striker is a huge danger in the penalty area and will pose a constant threat to West Ham’s backline. He has averaged 1.4 shots on target per 90 in the Eredivisie this year, which is the eighth-highest of any player in the division.
Pavlidis’ prolific nature will sound alarm bells around the London Stadium. Only Manchester United (665) have faced more shots than the Hammers among Premier League sides in all competitions this season (628).
West Ham vs AZ Alkmaar Prediction
With West Ham clear favourites ahead of this match according to the supercomputer, Moyes will hope that his side are able to put this tie to bed in order to avoid any potential hiccups in Alkmaar.
The Hammers’ win probability of 50.0% is almost double AZ’s 26.2%, with the draw 23.8%. The Irons have an emphatic home record in the Europa Conference League and will hope to build on the shock victory over Manchester United to all but secure their Premier League safety.
AZ are clear outsiders for the first leg and will hope to keep the tie alive for the return leg in the Netherlands. Jansen’s side were routinely beaten 2-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final with Anderlecht yet showed great spirit to overturn the result and advance through to the final four during the second leg.