Previewing West Ham’s trip to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League

This might have seemed an easier fixture for West Ham had they been drawn against the same German opposition last season, but now it feels as if they have landed the hardest possible tie.

Leverkusen were in Bundesliga relegation trouble last season, until Xabi Alonso rode into town. Now the Hammers visit a Leverkusen side in unbeaten in a staggering 41 games. Alonso had been linked with a switch to either Liverpool or Bayern Munich this summer but has confirmed he will stay at Leverkusen to continue his extraordinary journey.

Leverkusen are 16 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and are on course to win the title. They have conceded only 19 goals in 28 league games.

They reached this stage in dramatic circumstances, scoring twice in stoppage time to win 5-4 on aggregate against ten-man Qarabag. Alonso’s side never knows when they are beaten but face a West Ham side who have the same winning mentality in Europe. 

Under manager David Moyes they were unbeaten all throughout their Conference League winning campaign last season and were on a similar trajectory in this season’s Europa League until they lost their first leg tie 1-0 to Freiburg in the last round. Moyes’ side responded in east London and thrashed their German opponents 5-0. Their next opponent, German too, may cause them one or two more problems. 

Jarrod Bowen will be one of four key players missing from the squad in the first leg due to injury, with Kalvin Phillips, Edson Alvarez and Alphonse Areola ruled out too. West Ham’s star player Mohammed Kudus will have a huge part to play, alongside striker Michail Antonio who will be looking to provide the goals for the Premier League side.

As for Leverkusen, they will be without Adam Hlozek due to an ankle issue. Alonso’s side have a plethora of talent including former Arsenal man Granit Xhaka.

Leverkusen love to play with attacking full backs. Alejandro Grimaldo, Jeremie Frimpong, and former Southampton man Nathan Tella are rotated and it is a huge part of Alonso’s side’s playing style. 

Attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz, 20 has had a magnificent season, scoring 14 goals and getting the same number of assists. Wirtz will have to be on the radar of the West Ham defence if they are to progress. Patrik Schick is the danger man upfront, scoring eleven goals in all competitions this season.

West Ham may find themselves light in midfield with no Phillips and Alvarez but have two good options in Tomas Soucek and James Ward-Prowse to fill the void. Both midfielders also know how to find the net. Ward-Prowse always holds a threat from set-pieces. 

Alonso versus Moyes is also a fascinating clash of experience and styles in what should be a fascinating two-legged tie.

West Ham will need to stay in the game and hope their incredible European home form helps them next week in the second leg. It promises to be captivating. 

1st Leg Prediction 2-1

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