UEFA Europa League

Bayer Leverkusen v West Ham: Hammers can frustrate German giants

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen are still unbeaten this season

Bayer Leverkusen are having a season for the ages, but Kevin Hatchard believes West Ham can push them hard in their Europa League quarter-final.

Bayer Leverkusen v West Ham
Thursday 11 April, 20:00
Live on TNT Sports

Leverkusen on track for greatness

With the once mighty Bayern Munich continuing to flounder, Bayer Leverkusen keep on taking advantage in a clinical and consistent way. At the weekend, the champions Bayern had a 2-0 lead at Heidenheim, and somehow conspired to lose 3-2. Bayer won 1-0 at Union Berlin, a team that have had one of the best home records in the league in recent months.

That means there is a now a 16-point gap between the sides, and if Leverkusen match Bayern's result this weekend, they will secure their first ever Bundesliga title. They are truly having a season for the ages - no team in German professional history has ever gone 41 games unbeaten in all competitions, not even the Bayern sides of Pep Guardiola, and they are six games away from becoming the first Bundesliga team to complete a season unbeaten.

The joy might not simply be confined to league success. Bayer could win their first DFB Pokal since the 1990s, as they will face second-tier Kaiserslautern in the final next month, and they pulled off a miracle to progress to this stage of the Europa League. In the last 16, Die Werkself were 2-0 down in the first leg against Qarabag in Baku, and yet found a way to draw level. The second leg in Germany was even more remarkable, as they were 2-1 down in stoppage-time, only to score twice to win the tie.

As amazing as Xabi Alonso's squad has become, it's asking a lot to keep performing across three competitions, and those Qarabag games were a sign of how close you can come to failure when you are chasing the perfect season. That said, Florian Wirtz is incredible form (he has seven goals in his last nine games for club and country), and after missing a chunk of the season with injury, Czech striker Patrik Schick has banged in 11 goals across 24 appearances.

Schick's fellow striker Victor Boniface returned after months on the sidelines in the win at Union, but Nathan Tella and Adam Hlozek both picked up injuries. Hlozek is definitely out of both legs of this tie, while the outstanding Jeremie Frimpong may have got the nod ahead of Tella anyway.

Hammers have European experience to fall back on

West Ham have recently broken the hearts of a Bundesliga team, as they thrashed Freiburg 5-0 at the London Stadium after a 1-0 defeat in Germany. Having reached the Europa League semi-finals two seasons ago and won the Europa Conference League last season, David Moyes' side have built up an impressive tradition in Europe of late. The Glaswegian coach uses that record, perhaps understandably, as a shield against criticism.

There is a lot for Hammers fans to be happy about in terms of results. The team is just a point off the top six in the Premier League, so qualifying for yet another European adventure is well within reach. However, Moyes' reactive style continues to be a bone of contention, as fans crave a more attacking style that doesn't involve just sitting back in a shape to frustrate the opposition.

The magic comes from players like Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus, who have quality that transcends Moyes' stodgy style. Paqueta has four goals and six assists in the Premier League, and another four goals in the UEL. Kudus has seven goals and four assists in the English top flight, and a further five goals in the Europa League. These are potential game-changers in such a daunting tie.

West Ham can keep it close

Although Bayer are obviously fair favourites here, having won 11 of their last 12 home games, I think West Ham can be competitive. If you look at all of their Europa League games under David Moyes, they haven't lost any of them by more than one goal, and Bayer showed jitters against Qarabag and in the recent 2-1 win over Hoffenheim (they came from behind late on to take the victory).

I'll use the Sportsbook's Bet Builder here to back West Ham +2 on the Handicap, the West Ham goalkeeper to make 3+ saves and Lucas Paqueta to commit a foul. That gives us a combined price of 2.226/5. Lukasz Fabianski has had to make three saves or more in his last ten West Ham starts, while Alphonse Areola has made at least three saves in 13 of his last 14 games. With West Ham probably sitting off and trying to counter, they'll come under siege at some stage.

As for Lucas Paqueta, he has committed 14 fouls in the UEL this season, and he is joint-ninth in the Premier League for fouls, with 40 racked up.

Back West Ham +2 on the Handicap, Paqueta to commit 1+ fouls and West Ham keeper to make 3+ saves at 2.226/5

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