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This has been an excellent season for West Ham. After finishing sixth in the Premier League last term, many wondered whether David Moyes’ side would be able to sustain the same level of performance this time around. They are unlikely to finish sixth again, but that is in large part due to their recent prioritization of the Europa League. West Ham has shown that they are not one-season wonders.
Their progress to the semi-finals has been fantastic. West Ham made light work of their opponents in the group stage, accumulating 13 points from a possible 18 against Rapid Vienna, Genk, and Dinamo Zagreb. West Ham then beat Sevilla, the most successful side in the history of this competition, in the round of 16, before easing past Lyon 4-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals. In their 10 games before last week’s semi-final first leg, West Ham kept six clean sheets.
Last Thursday was a disappointing night for the Hammers, though. Eintracht Frankfurt took the lead through Ansgar Knauff with just 50 seconds on the clock, and although Michail Antonio leveled the score midway through the first half, the German outfit scored the winner when Daichi Kamada put the ball past Lukasz Fabianski in the 55th minute. Moyes conceded after the match that his team had been far from their best.
“[It was] not what we wanted – we didn’t play well enough to get a result tonight but it’s still there, it’s not gone,” the Scot said. “We’ll go to the second leg probably not fancied and do what we can to still make it.”
Perhaps Moyes was a little harsh with his assessment. West Ham created better chances on the night. Had they been more clinical in the final third, they could have emerged victorious. Many felt a draw would have been a fairer reflection of the 90 minutes at the London Stadium, but Frankfurt would no doubt argue that they deserve credit for making the most of the opportunities they fashioned.
Like West Ham, Oliver Glasner’s side are now all-in on the Europa League. They sit 10th in the Bundesliga at the time of writing, although Frankfurt will face Bayer Leverkusen on Monday night and would move up to ninth with a win. Their last five games in the league have not produced a single win. Their slim hopes of a top-six finish have now been extinguished. If Frankfurt want to participate in a continental competition next season, they will need to win the Europa League.
They are certainly a favorable position at the midway point of this tie. Frankfurt have been plagued by inconsistency in the Bundesliga this term, but they have been hard to beat throughout their European campaign: indeed, Glasner’s team are unbeaten in their 11 matches up to now.
With a one-goal lead, there is a danger that Frankfurt could be caught in two minds on Thursday. They will have to get the balance right between extending their aggregate advantage and protecting it. That is not always an easy balancing act.
West Ham, on the other hand, knows exactly what they need to do: anything less than a win would see them eliminated from the Europa League. A one-goal victory would bring extra time, while a triumph by a two-goal margin or more would send West Ham through to the final of the competition.
The task facing the Hammers is daunting, but Moyes and his players will not be fazed. They showed in the first leg that they can create chances against this Frankfurt side. In the quarter-finals, they ran out 3-0 winners against Lyon away from home. This West Ham team possesses grit and character in abundance – and they are not short of quality either. This tie is still alive.
Frankfurt will look to play on the counter-attack again on Thursday. They will be able to sit back and invite West Ham onto them, before attempting to break into open space when the ball is turned over. It is a strategy which bore fruit in previous rounds and also brought Frankfurt success at the London Stadium.
West Ham will look to score an early goal in a bid to cancel out the aggregate deficit. If they can do that, Frankfurt may grow nervy. The odds on a West Ham win are attractive – take up the offer ahead of Thursday’s second leg.
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|Eintracht Frankfurt vs West Ham United Information|
|Teams||Eintracht Frankfurt vs West Ham United|
|Location||Deutsche Bank Park, Frankfurt, Germany|
|Time||Thursday, 5 May 2022, 3.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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