Thursday 18 May 2023

Moyes faces massive dilemma against AZ Alkmaar


Here we go, the second leg of the Europa Conference semi final awaits David Moyes and his men tonight at the home of the 'Cheeseheads'. AZ Alkmaar will feel they are very much in this tie as they seek to overturn a 1-2 deficit from the first leg. 

AZ played a canny game at the London Stadium last week and as the Dutch media have been keen to point out, West ham have an underwhelming away record this season. However, that has most definitely not been the case in Europe where the Hammers remain unbeaten away from home, with five wins and a draw.

Alkmaar engaged in a fair amount of shithousery during last week's game, aided by a series of unfathomable refereeing decisions that pushed Rice and Co. to the limits of their patience. But the Hammers demonstrated that they had learned from last years dramas with Eintracht Frankfurt and this time around they kept their cool, just.

And so to tonight. Alkmaar proved that they could ping the ball around with ease but the vast majority of that activity was restricted to their own half which merely ate up time without creating any real opportunity. This week Alkmaar will have their left back and left wing regulars returning to duty which should add some bite to their attack. In truth, they were fortunate with their goal last week as Paqueta was fouled in the build up and Areola uncharacteristically lame in goal.

But while last week revealed little of West Ham's vulnerabilities, Alkmaar were clearly shaky at the back as their CBs got away with a lot of heavy treatment of Antonio, who will feel he has their beating tonight. Benrahma tormented their right flank and once the Hammers decided to go for it they repeatedly opened up the Alkmaar defence.

And therein lies the dilemma for Moyes - start offensively and look to outclass the Dutch or play it tight and counter? Tomas Soucek has suggested in the prematch talk that the Hammers are here to attack but we shall see.. 

But tonight's game will almost certainly bring out the conservative tactician in Moyes, with a blanket defence looking for turnover ball and fast counterattack. The first goal will be absolutely crucial but if the Hammers fall behind you'd expect the gloves to come off and (hopefully) a repeat of the final half hour of last week.

Alkmaar are a much younger side, which almost certainly was the driving force behind Moyes decision to omit nine regular starters from his line up against Brentford at the weekend. AZ meanwhile, fielded a strong side in the Eredivisie and delivered a 5-1 thrashing in their hunt to catch Ajax for third place in the league.

The match referee looks like a sensible bloke and it appears Antonio will be fit to start. You've got to feel that this is a big chance for the Hammers - their quality, squad depth and experience will be huge assets tonight. And, of course, there's the issue of Declan Rice's desire to go out by gifting a trophy to the fans.

It's gonna be a massive night!


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