Soccer Europa Conference League - Play-Offs Prediction
AZ Alkmaar vs Anderlecht - Match Preview
⚽ 20 April 2023 - 16:45 GMT +0
Semi-finalists in the UEFA Cup back in 2005, AZ Alkmaar have a mountain to climb after a 2-0 first-leg defeat to Anderlecht in this UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) quarter-final tie. However, with the ‘away goals’ rule no longer in place, the Dutch side can throw everything at their visitors in order to maintain a perfect UECL home record this term (W7).
Still, it has been 16 years since AZ managed to even level a tie after a first-leg deficit of two goals in any post-group stage UEFA knockout tie and proceed. That means they must be able to start and finish well, possibly by continuing a trend that has seen them score either side of half-time in all of their four UECL proper home fixtures this term.
Only a total collapse from Anderlecht will see them denied a first continental semi-final in 33 years. While they travel on the back of a 5-2 loss against Genk, Brian Riemer’s men are often the envy of defences in this competition, especially when going abroad where all four of the Paars-wit’s prior European away wins this season were accompanied by a shutout.
Satisfyingly for Anderlecht fans with longer memories, the UEFA Cup winners of 1983 are also primed to avenge their Europa League elimination to AZ in 2012. But there is also a wider club agenda across the border, with no Anderlecht side getting an away win against Dutch opponents since conquering the nation’s greatest club (Ajax) 3-1 in December 2009.
📋 Players to watch: Jens Odgaard opened the scoring in AZ’s 3-0 Eredivisie victory over Sittard at the weekend, ending a run of more than two months without a goal. Ten years his senior, Islam Slimani has the experience that could be an asset to Anderlecht, especially after netting their Round of 16 away leg winner against Villarreal a month ago.
⚡ Hot stat: None of AZ’s four previous home clashes in this season’s UECL proper have seen them get a shutout.
Fiorentina vs Lech Poznan - Match Preview
⚽ 20 April 2023 - 16:45 GMT +0
Fiorentina has seemingly asserted themselves as the team to beat in this season’s UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL), returning to the Stadio Artemio Franchi for their quarter-final second-leg with a seemingly unassailable 4-1 lead over Lech Poznań. Fiorentina’s first-leg victory broke new ground in the competition’s short existence, with it not only being a record ninth UECL win in succession, but it also saw them hit the 30-goal mark this campaign, outdoing both of last season’s finalist's hauls of 28.
Currently in the midst of a 14-game unbeaten streak in all competitions (W11, D3), Viola’s accolade of never losing any of their five European knockout ties when securing a 3+ goal lead in the first-leg seems destined to continue. If that wasn’t enough, their record in UEFA quarter-finals is formidable too, progressing from seven of their last eight appearances at this stage of a European competition.
Lech flexed their muscles too until their poor first-leg showing, keeping a clean sheet in each of their four UECL knockout ties prior (W3, D1). Should the road end here for the Polish champions as it looks likely to, their achievements should still be highlighted, as they are the first Polish club to appear in a major European quarter-final in 27 years.
The reigning Ekstraklasa champions hit the road needing a miracle, but drawing 2-2 away to Legia Warsaw last time out doesn’t inspire much confidence. Encouragingly, John van den Brom’s troops did break what was an 11-game winless run on their continental travels (D5, L6), when they claimed a 3-0 win away to Swedish representatives Djurgården in the Round of 16, a result which would at least force extra time here.
📋 Players to watch: Fiorentina’s Arthur Cabral scored the match opener in the first-leg, his 11th goal in the UECL proper and his 20th if you include qualifiers, making him the competition's highest scorer across both formats. Meanwhile, Lech’s Mikael Ishak has nine goal contributions (G5, A4) in this season’s UECL, the most of any player.
⚡ Hot stat: The second half has been the highest-scoring half in only three of Fiorentina’s last 11 matches.
Nice vs Basel - Match Preview
⚽ 20 April 2023 - 19:00 GMT +0
Just when Nice thought that they would escape St. Jakob-Park with a comeback win via Terem Moffi's spectacular overhead kick last Thursday, their first European quarter-final match in 63 years saw a late leveller make it 2-2. That means this UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) tie rests on a knife-edge, but Nice sorely lack momentum after a limp 1-0 defeat to Ligue 1 strugglers Brest on Sunday became their fifth straight competitive game without a win (D3, L2).
Regardless, Nice will still start as clear favourites, but even the Allianz Riviera atmosphere seems ineffective, with none of the Eaglets’ prior home games in the UECL proper seeing a clean sheet (W2, D1, L1). Yet, they managed first-half shutouts in the last three of those continental clashes, hinting that keeping it tight in the latter minutes should be their focus.
To secure their first European semi-final since reaching the Europa League (UEL)’s penultimate hurdle back in 2013, Basel will be eager to avoid a fourth straight UECL game ending 2-2 and more penalty shootout tension. Remarkably, it was by that exact means they reached the UEL semis a decade ago, edging out a tough Tottenham side – albeit on home turf.
Despite being the underdogs, Basel won’t lack determination in trying to reach the UEL via this competition. After a 1-1 draw with BSC Young Boys at the weekend, they remain at risk of finishing outside the Swiss Super League’s top three for the first time since 2001. Fuelling their resolve upfront even further, potent duo Andi Zeqiri and Zeki Amdouni are additionally vying for the competition’s second-ever Golden Boot award with five UECL goals apiece
📋 Players to watch: Moffi and Amdouni each registered braces for their respective teams in the first leg. In turn, all but one of Moffi’s seven prior goals for Nice has come before half-time. Unlike him, Basel’s Amdouni was a scorer in domestic action on Sunday, and he could make an impact if this tie goes the distance, given his perfect career record from five spot kicks.
⚡ Hot stat: Nice’s three most recent UECL home games have seen them score first inside the opening half-hour.
West Ham vs Gent - Match Preview
⚽ 20 April 2023 - 19:00 GMT +0
Coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Premier League leaders Arsenal on Sunday should give West Ham United a huge confidence boost ahead of their UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) quarter-final second leg against Gent. The tie is delicately poised after a 1-1 draw in Belgium, part of West Ham’s current run of three matches unbeaten (W1, D2).
The London Stadium has been a European stronghold for the Hammers this term as they’ve won all five UECL matches here, keeping clean sheets in the most recent two. With relegation fears easing, the West Ham faithful will hope for another memorable European night some 59 years after their first-ever UEFA competition match in London, which was coincidentally against Gent, or St Gantoise as they were then known.
A 1-1 draw that night wasn’t enough for the Belgians, but their first-leg loss in that tie remains their only European defeat to an English club (W1, D3), so they’ll be hopeful of extending their current unbeaten competitive run which stretches back to late February (W5, D4). However, since the last three of those games were all 1-1 draws, a repeat of their penalty shootout win over Qarabağ in the knockout round play-off could be required.
The 5-2 aggregate success over Başakşehir in the Round of 16 that followed saw them progress after being held to a home draw, which is precisely what they’re trying to emulate here. That was their only UECL away win in seven attempts (D2, L4) so they may come to rue not taking more of the chances they spurned in the first leg.
📋 Players to watch: Look out for Jarrod Bowen after the break as his last three goals for West Ham arrived between half-time and the 55th minute. After needing just three minutes and 25 seconds to score the quickest recorded hat-trick in UEFA competition history in the last round, Gent’s Gift Orban could be a threat at any moment.
⚡ Hot streak: Gent haven’t scored goals in both halves of any of their last nine UECL games (W3, D3, L3).
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