We look ahead to the second leg of this Europa Conference League semi-final tie at the AFAS Stadion with our AZ Alkmaar vs West Ham United prediction and stats preview.
AZ Alkmaar vs West Ham: Quick Stats
- The Opta supercomputer has AZ as slight favourites to win the game in 90 minutes (41.2%).
- West Ham United have progressed from all nine of their previous major European knockout ties when winning the first leg.
- West Ham are looking to reach their third final in a major European competition, having done so twice in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964-65 (winners) and 1975-76 (runners-up).
West Ham’s quest to reach their third final in a major European competition reaches its climax on Thursday night as they visit the Dutch city of Alkmaar to take on AZ.
A draw will be enough to see David Moyes’ side through to the Europa Conference League showdown, and it would mark a first continental final since their Cup Winners’ Cup defeat to Anderlecht in 1975-76.
David Moyes’ side bring a 2-1 lead into the second leg and – while nothing in sport is a sure thing – historically that’s been a very, very good omen. West Ham have progressed from all nine of their previous major European knockout ties when they’ve taken a lead into the second leg.
So, job done then?
Well, not quite. To get there they will have to overcome AZ’s ferocious home record. Including qualifiers, Pascal Jansen’s side are unbeaten in their last 25 home games in European competition (W17 D8). They won all eight games on home soil in the UEFA Conference League this season by an aggregate score of 25-5 (including qualifiers).
AZ’s AFAS Stadium has been a fortress this season and has already been witness to one first-leg turnaround. AZ lost the first leg of their Conference League quarter-final against Anderlecht 2-0, before winning the return leg by the same margin and prevailing 4-1 on penalties.
English clubs have rather enjoyed themselves against their Dutch counterparts at this stage of European competition. Each time an English team has faced a side from the Netherlands in a major European semi-final, the English team has progressed: Arsenal vs Ajax in 1969-70 in the Fairs Cup, Nottingham Forest vs Ajax in 1979-80 in the European Cup, and Spurs vs Ajax in 2018-19 in the Champions League.
West Ham will be hoping to add their name to that list.
West Ham 2-1 AZ: 11 May 2023 (Europa League Conference Semi-Final)
On the balance of play, West Ham were well worth their 2-1 victory in the first leg. They outshot their Dutch opponents 18-8 and registered almost three expected goals to AZ’s 0.3. Yes, there was a penalty within that, but still, the home side had the run of the play.
The visitors took the lead against the run of play just before half-time. Tijjani Reijnders picked the ball up just outside the box and hit a devilish strike that swerved and dipped just in front of Alphonse Areola. The Frenchman could only get a glove to it as it bounced through him and into the net.
It was not too dissimilar to an effort that Saïd Benrahma had in the opening 10 minutes, but the former Brighton and Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan (yes that one!) was equal to it.
Jarrod Bowen went close on the hour mark, a fizzing left-footed shot flying wide of the post.
But West Ham got their reward five minutes later, with Ryan momentarily forgetting he was playing an 11-a-side football match and opting to clothesline Bowen in the six-yard box.
“How is that a penalty?” The Aussie goalkeeper asked referee Halil Umut Meler after the Turkish official pointed to the spot.
The camera didn’t show us Meler’s response, but we can presume he said something like “Well, Mat, you basically just punched a guy in the head inside the box.”
Up stepped Benrahma to coolly dispatch the penalty and make it 1-1.
Ten minutes later and West Ham had turned it around. Declan Rice scooped a loose ball into the box and Michail Antonio was on hand to poke the ball into the net after a goal-line scramble.
The Hammers have conceded the first goal in four of their Conference League games so far this season. On each occasion they’ve got onto win those matches, though, beating FCSB (September), Silkeborg IF (September), KAA Gent (April) and AZ Alkmaar (last week).
Previous Meeting Line-Ups:
West Ham: West Ham XI: Areola; Kehrer, Aguerd, Zouma, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Paqueta, Benrahma; Antonio
AZ: Ryan; Sugawara, Beukema, Hatzidiakos, M. de Wit; Reijnders, Mijnans, Clasie; Odgaard, Pavlidis, Van Brederode
The Hammers have hit a rough patch of form over the last few weeks. Moyes’ side have lost four of their last five Premier League games, conceding 11 goals across those defeats.
Irons’ fans might have thought their side had turned a corner following a 1-0 victory over top-four challengers Manchester United and a win in the first leg of this tie, but they saw their side slump to a 2-0 defeat away at Brentford at the weekend. In fairness, with their Premier League survival all but secured, Moyes made nine changes in west London with one eye clearly on this second leg. In Europe their form has been completely different. West Ham are unbeaten in all 11 of their Europa Conference League matches across 2022-23, with their 10 victories the most in the competition.
Meanwhile, AZ enjoyed themselves domestically at the weekend, thumping FC Emmen 5-1 to extend their unbeaten run in the Eredivisie to four matches. Jansen’s side accumulated 29 shots worth 3.4 expected goals in that match – their most in a single game so far this season.
AZ have bounced back from a disappointing run in March, which saw them slip down the Eredivisie table, and they now trail Ajax in third by just two points as the pair battle for Europa League qualification. Despite running Ajax close, the supercomputer has AZ as big outsiders to finish third (9.3%).
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 included victory at Serie A high-flyers Lazio, before they overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Anderlecht in the quarter-finals.
AZ Alkmaar: Tijjani Reijnders
You might have thought we’d pick AZ top scorer Evangelos Pavlidis for this one, but oh no. Some things are worth more than goals…
Well, not quite.
Anyway, Reijnders, who scored AZ Alkmaar’s lone goal in the first leg, has been the Dutch side’s star man throughout this campaign. The midfielder has been involved in 71 open-play shot-ending sequences in the UEFA Conference League this season, the most of any player in the competition.
Those have come via a healthy split of shooting himself, creating chances for teammates or being involved in the build-up to AZ’s shots, showing his importance in linking defence to attack.
West Ham: Michail Antonio
Michail Antonio’s Premier League campaign has been a disappointing one. The forward has laboured to just five goals, which is his lowest return since the 2017-18 season.
But in European competition he has thrived, scoring six goals in seven appearances in the Europa Conference League this season for West Ham. The only player to score more goals in the competition than him this term is Fiorentina’s Arthur Cabral, who has made 12 appearances.
Antonio is putting up 4.1 shots and 0.61 expected goals a game in European competition, compared to just 3.4 and 0.33 in each category in the Premier League. Granted, the calibre of opposition he’s playing on average will be lower, but those are still impressive numbers.
West Ham will hope Antonio remains sharp on Thursday.
West Ham vs AZ Alkmaar Prediction
This tie is on a knife’s edge as we head into the second leg.
AZ did what they needed to do in the first game – ensure a return to Alkmaar with the match still in the balance, and it certainly is.
The Opta supercomputer has AZ as slight favourites to win the game over the 90 minutes (41.2%) but West Ham are a credible threat to emerge victorious (33.9%) as well.
The draw has the lowest probability at 24.9%, and that’s because it’s a result that wouldn’t be enough for the home side to progress. AZ need a win on the night, and that opens the door for West Ham to counter attack.
A win or a draw is enough for the Hammers then, if they are to reach just the third major European final in the club’s history.