Soccer Europa Conference League - Play-Offs Prediction
Gent vs West Ham - Match Preview
⚽ 13 April 2023 - 16:45 GMT +0
Manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck insists his Gent side “have a chance” of reaching the Europa Conference League (UECL) semi-finals, although he does accept they face an uphill battle to do so. The Buffalos, who have reached the last eight of a European competition for the first time since 1991/92, face West Ham, who their boss has described as a “real power team.”
To boost their prospects of progression, Gent will hope they can register a crucial first-leg home victory here. And although they welcome Premier League opposition, confidence in front of their home fans should be high given the hosts have lost just one of their last 15 competitive outings at Ghelamco Arena (W10, D4) which includes three victories in this tournament.
The Irons will fancy their chances of ending that run, though, particularly as they have impressively won each of their ten games in the UECL this season. Fans of a certain age will also be relishing the return to Belgium, as West Ham’s only previous meeting with Gent ended in a 2-1 aggregate victory in the first round of the 1964/65 Cup Winners’ Cup, a competition they went on to win!
This time around, the UECL is providing a welcome distraction from the Hammers’ relegation battle in the Premier League. Yet it has done nothing to lift the pressure on manager David Moyes, as banners calling for him to be sacked were unveiled during their weekend win over Fulham, despite that being their third victory in four games (L1) across all competitions.
📋 Key battle: Hugo Cuypers has netted first or last in 11 of his last 12 goalscoring appearances for Gent. Trying to outdo him will be West Ham forward Jarrod Bowen, who has scored half of his ten goals this season in the UECL, becoming West Ham’s all-time leading scorer in European football - with eight strikes - in the process.
⚡ Hot streak: Only one of West Ham’s last nine away games in European competition has seen both teams score.
Anderlecht vs AZ Alkmaar - Match Preview
⚽ 13 April 2023 - 19:00 GMT +0
The UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) round of 16 saws Anderlecht pull off a shock win at 2021 Europa League (UEL) winners Villarreal to scrape through 2-1 on aggregate. Now they are back in a continental final-eight after a six-year wait, though, not since the 1989/90 Cup Winners’ Cup have they managed to secure a European semi-final appearance.
A 2-0 victory in the home leg of those quarter-finals helped Anderlecht progress easily (W 3-1 agg. vs FK Admira). On that note, Sunday’s First Division match against Westerlo (D 0-0) gave Brian Riemer’s men a fifth straight clean sheet overall, though, a return of just one home shutout in this season’s UECL proper (W2, D2, L1) suggests they’ll do well to get a sixth.
Most recently continental semi-finalists in the UEFA Cup of 2004/05, visitors AZ Alkmaar will be feeling confident after the previous round’s brace of 2-1 comebacks over Lazio, despite winning none of their Eredivisie games since the second leg (D1, L2). They now reacquaint themselves with Anderlecht 11 years after a UEL tie that saw them prevail via two 1-0 wins.
AZ’s lack of shutouts across their last seven European games (W6, L1) is worrisome, but as one of the four quarter-finalists to have played at least ten UECL away matches including qualifiers (W6, D2, L3), the Cheeseheads’ travelling pedigree could be an asset. Five of those wins came by a single-goal margin too, showing their tenacity on foreign shores.
📋 Players to watch: Islam Slimani scored the second-leg goal that sealed Anderlecht’s progress to this stage, with that strike being the second of three match-winning openers across his last four goals. But the potent Vangelis Pavlidis netted in both rounds of 16 legs, ensuring that his previous three goalscoring European matches have all ended 2-1 in AZ’s favour.
⚡ Hot streak: Each of AZ’s last three UECL games have produced a 1-1 half-time scoreline.
Basel vs Nice - Match Preview
⚽ 13 April 2023 - 19:00 GMT +0
As if the pressure of a European quarter-final isn’t enough, both Switzerland’s FC Basel and France’s Nice must deal with being their respective countries' final participants in any continental setting this season. The similarities stop there though, as they’ve taken contrasting routes to this season’s UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) last-eight, with Basel needing a penalty shootout after their tie with Slovan Bratislava ended 4-4 on aggregate, while Nice coasted to a 4-1 win across two legs against Sheriff Tiraspol.
After securing their quarter-final berth, Basel has only tasted victory once in their four games since (D1, L2), a form which will be a worry for manager Heiko Vogel. His side’s struggles against Nice’s countrymen reared their ugly head again in their UECL Round of 16 loss against Marseille last season though, meaning they’ve only ever won four of their 16 encounters with French opposition (D4, L8).
Those victories all came in Switzerland however, adding to the optimism bred by the fact the RotBlau have lost just three of their last 22 European games at St. Jakob-Park (W17, D2). That could spell trouble for Nice, with this not only being their inaugural game against Swiss opposition but also their first taste of a major European quarter-final in 63 years!
The Eaglets take flight from the southeast of France to the northwest of Switzerland having avoided defeat on their UECL travels this season (W2, D2), their longest unbeaten away run in European competition. They did experience defeat over the weekend though, with a 2-0 loss to PSG ending their remarkable 14-game unbeaten streak, but Didier Digard’s men should still be able to garner confidence from that impressive run.
📋 Players to watch: Zeki Amdouni has scored his last four goals on the continental circuit for club and country recently, scoring home and away in Basel’s UECL Round of 16 ties, before netting in both of Switzerland’s Euro 2024 qualifiers. Meanwhile, Nice’s Terem Moffi will be looking to have his usual impact on the road, with 11 of his last 15 goals coming away from home.
⚡ Hot stat: Only one of Nice’s last 11 matches has seen a scoreless first half.
Lech Poznan vs Fiorentina - Match Preview
⚽ 13 April 2023 - 19:00 GMT +0
Lech Poznań geared up for their return to the European stage with a 2-0 derby victory over Warta at the weekend, extending their unbeaten run to seven matches (W5, D2). Coach John van den Brom felt that result ‘bodes well before the match’ with Fiorentina, as the Railwaymen look to build on their best-ever European campaign which has seen them become the first Polish side to reach a major UEFA quarter-final in 27 years.
Their continental success has been built on a strong home form, with Lech unbeaten across nine European matches (W8, D1) this season at Stadion Miejski Poznań. Having kept seven clean sheets during that sequence, the hosts are likely to bank on their defensive strengths to extend that form and carry an advantage into the second leg.
Replicating that form won't necessarily be easy for the hosts as opponents Fiorentina are on an eight-match winning streak in this competition, netting 3.13 goals per game during the sequence. The Viola have been red hot of late, although their nine-match winning streak in all competitions was halted by a 1-1 draw with Spezia in their latest outing.
With European qualification next season via the league set to be a tough battle until the season's end, progression in the UECL will be high on the list of Fiorentina’s priorities, although a likely Coppa Italia final would also offer another avenue into Europe. They should be confident here based on their current form and an unbeaten record in trips to Poland (W2, D1), while they’ve also won seven of their previous eight major UEFA quarter-finals, including each of the last four.
📋 Players to watch: Mikael Ishak warmed up with an assist over the weekend for Lech and has scored the match opener with his last three UECL goals. Fiorentina may look to Arthur Cabral to get on the scoreboard as his five strikes in this competition have come in four wins.
⚡ Hot stat: Across a combined 14 Lech home matches and Fiorentina away matches in this season’s UECL, only three games have seen goals at both ends.
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