Going Dutch: West Ham Require Courage To Complete Double Over AZ Alkmaar

Can West Ham go one better than last season to reach a Euro semi-final. It would provide a silver lining to a dismal season but are David Moyes and his team brave enough to pull it off?

West Ham face a Dutch reckoning this evening when they travel to the North Holland city of Alkmaar for the second leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final. Holding a slender 2-1 advantage from last Thursday’s opener, the Hammers must silence a passionate home support if they are to reach a first European final since 1976 and remain on course for their first senior trophy in 43 years.

A more adventurous approach at the London Stadium would surely have put the Hammers in pole position against what, on the day, was an underwhelming AZ Alkmaar outfit. The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession but had few ideas going forward. Even so, they had earned themselves a half-time lead courtesy of shoddy defensive covering and poor goalkeeping by the Hammer’s rear-guard. But West Ham were able to turn the tie around with a far more aggressive second half performance which clearly unsettled a shaky Alkmaar defence.

Chances are it will be a very different AZ side that we see today on home turf. Their record in front of their own supporters, both in Europe and domestically, is impressive and they have won all eight of the home fixtures played so far in this season’s Conference League. The return from suspension of Milos Kerkez, a fleet-footed 19-year-old full-back, will add an extra dimension to their attacking play which was badly missing in the first leg. They will be highly motivated to add a Premier League scalp to the list of conquests.

The big worry for West Ham fans is how will David Moyes approach the game. In his pre-match interviews, he was keen to point out that European football had been a new experience for the team last season and that they would have learned from the experience of the semi-final exit against Eintracht Frankfurt. A more pertinent question, however, might be what lessons did he take on board from the two legged defeat? Will he oversee yet another typically slow and timid start from his charges – one that again pays his opponent far too much respect – or does he demonstrate belief in his players having the talent and ability to cause major problems for the Alkmaar defence, and put the tie beyond doubt on their own terms?

It would be out of character for Moyes to allow players greater freedom, but maybe the players will take it on themselves not to let caution deny them a shot at glory in Prague next month. It is puzzling to see the Hammers still being described as a fast counter attacking team. That may have had some justification two seasons ago, but this term the statistics show only one goal (in the Premier League) being the result of a counterattack. Away from home especially, West Ham have become almost exclusively a set-piece team.  We really do need to see more than that tonight.

Defeat for the Hammers second string at Brentford on Sunday told us little that we didn’t already know. The key takeaways being: despite last summer’s recruitment the squad depth and balance remains below standard, in the absence of Michail Antonio there isn’t even the semblance of an attacking plan, and the handball rule gets more ridiculous each week. The only player starting on Sunday to start again today is likely to be Nayef Aguerd, ironic in some ways because he had a hand in both of the goals conceded. He does, however, look more composed alongside Kurt Zouma. My predicted line-up is: Areola, Kehrer (or Coufal), Zouma, Aguerd, Cresswell, Rice, Soucek, Paqueta, Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma.

West Ham’s Dutch connection is not a strong one. The only previous competitive encounter with Dutch opponents was the stirring quarter final come-back against Den Haag – now floundering in the second tier of the Dutch league – in March 1976. And while the Premier League has seen a breath-taking array of Dutch talent pass through, including Bergkamp, van Persie, van Dijk, van Nistelrooy, Stam, Hasselbaink, Overmars, and Gullit, none of these have made it across to the east-end. The best the Hammers have been able to offer is Atteveld, Boere, and Boogers. Quite surprising that players from the Netherlands and Belgium are rarely on the West Ham radar.

Experience tells us that tonight will not be plain sailing. It’s just not the West Ham way. I have been growing my finger nails all week to ensure there is something to chew in the final 15 to 20 minutes as the Hammers retreat further and further back towards goal – and also allowing for extra time and penalties. I do believe with the right attitude we should be able to control the game and come away victorious on the night as well as on aggregate. I only see the manager getting in the way of that expectation. Or can he changes his ways? As Newcastle manager Joe Harvey might have said back in 1969 “Faint heart never won Fairs Cup.” Go for it, Dave. COYI!

8 thoughts on “Going Dutch: West Ham Require Courage To Complete Double Over AZ Alkmaar”

  1. As you suggest Geoff, we need to punch our weight and go for it. Alkmaar will be more positive and this should open up space that we can exploit. It’s time for our quality players to show what they can do. The over-cautious approach in the 1st half in front of a full stadium was such a downer. We failed because of negative tactics to gain a decent lead. Time to atone! COYI!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really excited that West Ham have made it to the final but disappointed again by the timid approach. Moyes will believe the end justifies the means but this stifling way of playing is not a one-off it is a way of life. No surprise that Moyes was name checking Jose Mourinho after the game – someone else sucking the joy out of football. Yet his Roma team are now in the Europa final having bored Leverkusen to death with 28% possession and one shot all night. Still, really buzzing that we’ve made it to a final.


      1. Alkmaar were largely stifled and we scored on the break. But we’re not defending one goal leads away from home in Europe every week. Yet that’s how we play. Thank goodness for Paqueta. And we also give the ball away too much. Benrahma’s crosses drive me to despair. Still, a great night for the club and for Fornals! The team spirit was fantastic. Hoping that Areola is soon no. 1, and that Paqueta can be given a forward or two who can read his intentions. Soucek must be in heaven with final in Prague. Little doubt who the locals will be supporting!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well thought out piece, as always, Geoff. I want to see passion, determination and very high energy tonight. Treat this like the Cup – tie it is and chase down every ball, win every 50/50 ball and honour the shirt.
    This is not a game for intellectualising, it’s a game to take by the scrum of the neck, and WIN.COYI

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought the players did put a lot of passion and energy into the game – just not in an attacking sense. Our forward play was pretty anonymous. Antonio was OK in parts but Benrahma as frustrating as ever and Bowen certainly not ‘on fire’. Excited to see West Ham in another European final – the next one is due in 2070!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: