West Ham v Frankfurt
Chelsea bagged a last-gasp winner over the Hammers this weekend to leave the latter in seventh place domestically. Although it was always going to be a tall order for David Moyes’ men to finish higher in the table, the Europa League still offers an excellent chance for a memorable campaign.
It would certainly appear that the former Everton and Man Utd manager is taking Europe’s second-tier competition seriously, given his team selection at the weekend, with the likes of Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio noticeable absentees from the starting line-up.
Moyes does however have a major headache to contend with in defence, with Craig Dawson his only fit centre-back after injuries to Issa Diop, Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna.
With that in mind, he may well stick with the back three he used at the weekend, with Dawson joined by Aaron Cresswell and Ben Johnson. Still, the trio did keep Chelsea’s attack at bay until the dying minutes, and with a highly solid midfield axis of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, the Hammers shouldn’t start leaking goals.
On the other hand, that concession does mean they’ve now mustered just two clean sheets in 12 games, and just the solitary shut out in seven.
Frankfurt produced the upset of the quarter-finals as they dumped out Xavi’s Barcelona with a 3-2 second-leg win at the Nou Camp, so shouldn’t be taken lightly at all. That may be their only victory from their last eight appearances, but by the same token, they haven’t been losing many either with as many as five stalemates across this period.
Despite the number of close encounters, the German outfit haven’t just been boring and defensive to watch.
Both teams have scored in eight of 11 matches since the start of March, while Frankfurt have managed just three clean sheets of their own in 25 appearances now dating back into November.
With that in mind, the loss to suspension of towering centre-back Evan Ndicka (who has chipped in with four goals and four assists this season) has to be a major blow.
West Ham will certainly take comfort from results on home turf, where they’ve won five of eight unbeaten matches since the start of February.
This spell included a triumph over Spanish outfit Sevilla and although they were held to a 1-1 draw hosting Lyon in the last round, it should be noted that they were hampered by a red card to Aaron Cresswell on the stroke of half time on that occasion.
Given their visitor’s inability to register clean sheets, the Hammers should make home advantage count here.
BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE
WEST HAM TO WIN
Leipzig v Rangers
Rangers overcame a red card to Leon Balogun inside half an hour to beat Motherwell 3-1 away from home on Saturday, though the result hasn’t taken them any closer to the title with Celtic also recording victory on Sunday.
A huge Old Firm derby looms this weekend, with that the Gers’ last chance to realistically put themselves back in contention, but with the Hoops unlikely to slip up again, the Europa League and Scottish Cup offer a greater chance of silverware this season.
Rangers have already overcome German opposition this term in scintillating fashion as they downed Dortmund 6-4 on aggregate, winning the first leg 4-2 away from home.
That will hand them great confidence ahead of this encounter, though Leipzig have been much more consistent in 2022 compared to Dortmund and aren’t so prone to a defensive collapse either.
Indeed, the hosts here have only conceded three more goals (33) than Bayern (30) in the Bundesliga this term, whereas Dortmund have shipped a further 13 over the course of the campaign (46).
Having said that, Leipzig were surprised by a pair of late goals from Union Berlin this weekend to turn the result on its head, suffering their first defeat in 16 appearances.
They’re still a highly impressive W15-D4-L2 in 2022 though, with the other defeat a narrow one on the road to Bayern, so the weekend setback shouldn’t cause the alarm bells to ring out loud.
Team news could play a big role in this one. For Rangers, the forward department is threadbare with both Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe unavailable, so Fashion Sakala will lead the line.
Ianis Hagi remains a long-term absentee, while Aaron Ramsey is also out, so the likes of Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo are going to have to carry the attacking threat. Elsewhere, Filip Helander is back on the treatment table, so Giovanni van Bronckhorst has a decision as to whether Calvin Bassey or Leon Balogun partners Connor Goldson at the back.
Leipzig’s problems are concentrated in centrally in midfield and defence. At the back, Willi Orban and Mohamed Simakan are suspended, while Lukas Klostermann is a doubt.
In midfield, Kevin Kampl is another missing out through suspension and Amadou Haidara looks set to miss out through injury. All five have seen regular game time when fit, so there’s no doubt that Domenico Tedesco’s side aren’t at full strength.
Given those problems in defensive midfield and at the back, following on from a weekend defeat, Leipzig may well be worth opposing here.
They’ve only won two of their past seven at home (W2-D4-L1), including stalemates in Europe when Real Sociedad and Atalanta came to town. Rangers don’t pick up too many victories away from home, with the win over Dortmund something of an exception, but they’re no stranger to a draw and will be more than happy to take the tie back to Ibrox with the scores level.
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