Monday, May 29, 2023

West Ham 2-1 AZ Alkmaar: What Did We Learn As The Hammers Mount A Stellar Conference League Comeback At The London Stadium?

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While West Ham might have gone about things that hard way on Thursday night, the Hammers opened their Europa Conference League semi-final with a 2-1 victory against AZ Alkmaar at the London Stadium.

Left stunned as Tijjani Reijnders handed the Dutch side a shock lead thanks to a thunderous strike four minutes before the half-time interval, David Moyes was calling on his side to avoid what would have been real banana skin in the capital.

Although the Hammers might have failed to find any real attacking fluidity throughout the first 45, the Londoners came roaring back as Said Benrahma powered home from the penalty spot midway through the second-half.

With many tipping West Ham as the standout contender from the final four to get their hands on a first piece of silverware in 43 years, Thursday’s hosts will feel like they deserved to leave east London with a first-leg advantage as Michail Antonio poked home with 14 minutes left.

However, although Alkmaar might have eventually been left heartbroken following their second-Alf collapse on foreign soil, the Eredivese’s top-four chasers will return to Holland next week still smelling the chance to claim another notable Conference League scalp.

On a night when West Ham produced another thrilling European comeback at the London Stadium, what did we learn from Thursday’s first-leg showdown in the capital?

Is Conference League success the only way that Moyes keeps his job?

Picking up some perfect momentum last weekend as they clinched what could prove to be a season-saving 1-0 victory against Manchester United, that result should be enough to extend on West Ham’s Premier League status.

However, although the Hammers might have dragged themselves away from a looming relegation scrap, the former Manchester United boss has found himself under a huge amount of scrutiny this season.

Breaking the bank last summer as they spent £180million on new arrivals such as Brazilian ace Lucas Paqueta, Thursday’s hosts have failed to find any kind of consistency and many feel that Moyes’ tenure in the capital could be inching towards the end.

While Moyes might have now guided the Hammers to consecutive European semi-finals, West Ham’s recent success and their controversial move to the London Stadium back in 2016 have certainly seen their expectations increase.

Failing to claim a single piece of silverware since their famous FA Cup victory way back in 1980, fans around east London are right to believe that this is the best chance in a lifetime to get their hands on a European trophy.

Making the trip to Holland in seven days’ time holding a marginal lead, Moyes’ squad face what will undoubtedly be a phycological test on foreign soil next week. With the West Ham board still yet to make a decision on who will be in charge come next season, Conference League success could be the only way that the 60-year-old keeps hold of his job.

Antonio is still West Ham’s main man

Although West Ham might have paid Aston Villa £15million as they welcomed Danny Ings to the London Stadium back in January, the one-time Liverpool striker has failed to cement his spot as a first-team regular in Moyes’ side.

Likewise with Gianluca Scammaca not expected to feature for the remainder of the campaign after undergoing knee surgery, it is Antonio who has only continued to cement his spot as the Hammers’ attacking talisman.

While it might have been suggested that the Jamaican international could be eying a move away from the London Stadium during the January transfer window, it now appears a smart move that the West Ham hierarchy didn’t allow the 33-year-old to leave.

Getting back to his intimidating best since returning from March’s international break, Antonio once again proved to the difference maker here as the Hammers’ all-time leading goal scorer poked home the winner with just 14 minutes left.

Sending the home support into overdrive and also writing another piece of European history as he notched his ninth continental goal, the ex-Nottingham Forest man has now notched five goals in his last seven appearances across all completions.

Likewise, with Thursday’s winner now meaning that Antonio has five goals in just his last four Conference League outings, there is no doubt that Moyes’ chief marksman has a key role to play in West Ham’s charge for European history.

Positives in heartbreak for Alkmaar

Although Alkmaar might have eventually suffered second-half heartbreak at the London Stadium here, the Dutch outfit will undoubtedly still believe that they can claim another eye-catch Conference League scalp in seven days’ time.

Frustrating the Hammers throughout the first-half, Pascal Jansen’s men have continued to gain a string of plaudits on what has been an iconic European run for the Cheeseheads.

Shocking everyone across Europe last month as they stormed their way past Italian heavyweights Lazio thanks to a remarkable 4-2 aggregate victory, the midweek guests have already proven that they should not be looked past.

Putting in another gritty performance last week as they claimed a 0-0 stalemate away at Ajax, Jansen’s side had impressed with their recent defensive resolve.

While Benrhama’s second-half equaliser might have been the first goal that Alkmaar had conceded in over 400 minutes of action, AZ will be excited their continued Conference League success at the AFAS stadium.

In fact, including a famous 2-1 victory against Lazio on March 16th, Alkmaar are unbeaten in all 12 of their European appearances in Zaan – a run that has seen them muster 11 wins.

Match Report

West Ham: Areola, Kehrer, Zouma, Aguerd, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Paqueta, Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma

Subs: Fornals, Ings

AZ Alkmaar: Ryan, Sugawara, Beukema, Chatzidiakos, De Wit, Reijnders, Mijnans, Clasie, Odgaard, Pavlidis, Van, Brederode

Subs: Lahdo, Mihailovic

Goals: West Ham: Benrahma (67’ P), Antonio (76’)

Yellow Cards: West Ham: Paqueta – AZ Alkmaar: De Wit, Ryan, Clasie

Red Cards: N/A

Referee: Halil Umut Meler


Tom Dunstan

Formerly of The Independent, Tom has spent the past six years as one of our senior writers and betting experts. Alongside working with numerous publications from across the globe, Tom also graduated from the University of Falmouth in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Digital Media.
Spending almost the past decade working in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, he has also spent time featuring in sports radio. Tom can be followed on Instagram - @iamtomdunstan



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