West Ham United will be aiming to keep their unbeaten run in the UEFA Europa League group stage intact when they host Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night.
The group stages of the 2021/22 UEFA Europa League come to a conclusion on Thursday night, with the final round of fixtures set to be played out. And West Ham United will be in action at the London Stadium as they take on Dinamo Zagreb, hoping to finish unbeaten in Group H.
West Ham have qualified to the knockout stages of the competitions as group winners, after having won four and drawn one of their previous five outings. Last time in Europe, David Moyes’ men beat Rapid Wien 2-0 away from home. Following that, they failed to win back-to-back games in the Premier League but turned things around to beat Chelsea this past weekend, post which the morale will be sky-high.
Dinamo Zagreb, meanwhile, are battling to hold on to second place in Group H. The Croatian giants are just two points ahead of Genk in third place and need a positive result in London to go through to the knockout stages without depending on the outcome of the other game. Zeljko Kopic’s men have won just one of their last six matches and head into Thursday’s game on the back of a 2-0 loss to Hajduk Split.
The reverse fixture, played on Matchday 1 in September, had ended 2-0 in favour of West Ham United, with Michail Antonio and Declan Rice scoring. Ahead of their latest meeting at the London Stadium, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
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"Any young players who I give debuts to deserve any opportunity they get, because they’ve been doing so well. Some of them will get a chance to step up and show what they can do and all I can ask is that they are well supported and are well backed."#WHUDZG | #UEL
— West Ham United (@WestHam) December 8, 2021
West Ham were dealt a double blow in the game against Chelsea as defenders Ben Johnson and Kurt Zouma had to be taken off with injuries. They join Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell out on the sidelines for the Hammers, leaving them light on options in the defensive department. With qualification and top spot in the bag, David Moyes is expected to make some heavy rotation to the squad on Thursday.
Alphonse Areola will come into the side, taking his customary position in goal for the Europa League clash, while youngster Harrison Ashby is set to replace Vladimir Coufal at right-back. Arthur Masuaku, who scored the winner against Chelsea, should feature on the left, with Issa Diop and 18-year-old Jamal Baptiste likely to pair up at the heart of the Hammers’ defence.
Moyes has confirmed that summer signing Alex Kral will be starting on Thursday night, with the Czech Republic star set to replace compatriot Tomas Soucek in midfield. West Ham captain Mark Noble will partner with him, with Declan Rice getting a well-deserved rest. Said Benrahma, who was a surprise omission in the weekend clash, could start here as the No. 10.
Nikola Vlasic is another player who is confirmed to be starting, with the Croatian likely to feature on the right flank while youngster Sonny Perkins is set to be handed an opportunity on the left wing. Andriy Yarmolenko should start as the No. 9, with Michail Antonio getting a breather.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Areola; Ashby, Diop, Baptiste, Masuaku; Noble, Kral; Vlasic, Benrahma, Perkins; Yarmolenko
Dinamo Zagreb have no fitness or suspension concerns ahead of their trip to London, with caretaker boss Zeljko Kopic having a full-strength squad at his disposal. Having lost their last two games, it will be imperative that the Croatian giants turn up on Thursday, as they need at least a draw to qualify for the knockouts.
The visitors are expected to line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation in front of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Rasmus Lauritsen and Kevin Theophile-Catherine ought to form the centre-back pairing that will guard the goalkeeper, with Sadegh Moharrami and Bartol Franjic flanking them on the right and left sides, respectively.
Amer Gojak and Josip Misic will line up in the centre of the park and look to provide additional security to the backline while the onus of delivering the attacking thrust will fall on the shoulders of the two wide men in the form of Luka Menalo and Mislav Orsic.
The two, along with Luka Ivanusec, who will operate in the hole behind the striker, will be crucial to creating chances for Dinamo Zagreb as they look to provide ample opportunities to star man Bruno Petkovic in the No. 9 role.
Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Livakovic; Moharrami, Lauritsen, Theophile-Catherine, Franjic; Menalo, Gojak, Misic, Orsic; Ivanusec; Petkovic
- Only Olympique Lyon (15) and Bayer Leverkusen (14) have scored more goals in their five Europa League group-stage games than West Ham (11) this season.
- West Ham United have scored at least two goals in each of their five UEFA Europa League matches this season.
- This will be Dinamo Zagreb’s tenth away game against an English opponent in European competitions. They have failed to pick up a single win in their nine such previous encounters (D2 L7).
- West Ham won 19 of their 27 home matches in European competitions (D3 L5).
- Dinamo Zagreb have lost three of their last four away games in the UEFA Europa League (W1).
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"It was nice to get my first assist against Rapid Vienna. I need stuff like that, to do something that shows the manager what I can do. There are many games now, so hopefully I can take my opportunities and set up and score more goals."
— West Ham United (@WestHam) December 8, 2021
Since joining West Ham United in the summer transfer window from CSKA Moscow, the 24-year-old has never really managed to make a huge impression. To date, Vlasic has managed just 11 appearances across all competitions for the east London outfit and is yet to open his goalscoring account, although he has registered a solitary assist.
While a lack of regular run of games has been a factor in him not hitting form, Vlasic needs to make the most of whatever opportunity comes his way to stake a claim for a berth in Moyes’ starting XI. With the Croatian set to be one of the senior players on the field against Dinamo Zagreb, he will need to step it up a notch and help West Ham bag another victory.
West Ham United 1-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Dinamo Zagreb have been out of form of late, failing to win five of their last six games in all competitions. However, all they need is a point from Thursday’s game to book a place in the knockout stages. With West Ham United likely to rest a host of their regular starters, the Croatian giants will definitely be in with a chance.
Even though they have already confirmed their status as group winners, West Ham will go for a win, although the number of changes made could lead to a disjointed display. As a result, The Hard Tackle is predicting this one to end in a 1-1 draw, an outcome that protects the Hammers’ unbeaten run in the competition and helps Dinamo Zagreb go through to the knockout phase.