Strength West Ham lies in midfield, AZ’s chances are at the back
With West Ham United, AZ will certainly not meet a big unknown tonight in the Conference League semifinals, but for the average soccer follower it will still be no mean feat to name the Hammers’ starting eleven. It is no Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United.
Last Sunday, Scottish coach David Moyes’ team won 1-0 over Erik ten Hags United, taking a big step toward survival in the Premier League. West Ham is now fifteenth in the Premier League. We introduce the team.
Captain Rice steals hearts
The engine of the team is captain Declan Rice. The now 24-year-old controlling midfielder switched from Chelsea youth to West Ham ten years ago. Rice was born in London, but has Irish grandparents. This also allowed him to play for Ireland, which he did.
In 2019, he decided to switch to England, later allowing him to come out at the 2021 and 2022 European Championships. Rice is West Ham’s most valuable player not only on the field, but also financially.
England’s top sides are after him and, according to Sky Sports, potential buyers have to put down 138 million euros for him. His contract runs through 2024, with an option for another season.
Just for comparison, 138 million euros is four times the entire AZ budget for this season.
Rice goes viral
Last weekend, Rice showed his kindest side. After the game with United, he thrilled a young fan by giving him his shirt, even though Rice had actually promised it to Marcus Rashford. The video below of the moment went viral.
Rice is joined in midfield by Brazilian international Lucas Paquetá. Last summer, West Ham made €43 million to Olympique Lyonnais to acquire the attacking midfielder, and that amount could rise to €62 million via bonuses.
The former Flamengo and AC Milan player, often compared to his illustrious compatriot Kaka, had some adjustment problems in England, but seems to have found his feet.
Against Manchester United, the 25-year-old Paquetá was one of the team’s boosters. With further Czech international Tomás Soucek in the ranks, it becomes clear that West Ham’s strength lies in midfield.
There are opportunities for AZ in the English side’s defense. Coach David Moyes has changed often there this season. Last season he achieved success with experienced players like Angelo Ogbonna (34), Aaron Cresswell (33) and Vladimír Coufal (30). But these players do not stand the test of time on a physical level either.
Results were disappointing and Moyes grabbed back to Ogbonna after all. He now forms the central duo together with Aguerd, who left a good impression at the World Cup with Morocco, but was injured after the eighth final against Spain.
In the summer, 26-year-old Thilo Kehrer was recruited. The right wing defender came over from Paris Saint-Germain for a fee of 16 million euros. The German played almost everything before the winter break, but is regularly sidelined in the second half of the season.
In attacking terms, West Ham is not yet making a fantastic impression either. And that despite having invested heavily with striker Gianluca Scamacca, who was acquired from Sassuolo for about 40 million euros.
There was once much ado about Scamacca, when PSV plucked him away from AS Roma as a youth player. However, the tall striker never broke through in Eindhoven, after which he was mainly a benchwarmer at PEC Zwolle as well, failing to score in eight premier league matches. That same Scamacca, now 24 years old, is now worth a fortune as an Italian international.
The striker scored three goals in both the Premier League and the Conference League before dropping out in January with a knee injury. Top scorer Michail Antonio (33) – 12 goals scored in all competitions – is at the point of attack. In the quarterfinal against KAA Gent (4-1), the strong forward, who has been with West Ham since 2015, scored two goals.
Rapacious dribbler Saïd Benrahma (nine goals) – just last weekend’s matchwinner against Manchester United – controls the left flank. Englishman Jarrod Bowen, responsible for ten goals and seven assists this season, is on the right.
“The win over Manchester United was great for everyone at the club,” he said this week. “If we hold on and win the Conference League, it will be a nice end to a mediocre season. We have studied AZ well. We are ready.”