UEFA Europa League

West Ham v Bayer Leverkusen: Hammers to crash out to German champions

West Ham manager David Moyes
Will this be David Moyes' final European game at West Ham?

Bayer Leverkusen have just been crowned as German champions, and Kevin Hatchard believes they'll progress in the Europa League against West Ham.

West Ham v Bayer Leverkusen
Thursday 18 April, 20:00
Live on TNT Sports

Hammers running out of steam at worst time

I felt West Ham could push Bayer Leverkusen hard last week, and they nearly kept it within a goal and landed our Bet Builder, but the key to their 2-0 defeat in western Germany was their total failure to offer an attacking threat. Divisive manager David Moyes reverted to type and kept the handbrake jammed on.

West Ham put up an Expected Goals figure of just 0.22, and had just one shot on target. This is the kind of tin-hat performance that divides the West Ham fanbase - some can understand the efficacy of an approach like that, a method that has delivered three deep runs in Europe in three seasons, and some are dismayed by the waste of a potentially attack-minded side.

What does a talented player like Mohammed Kudus make of spending most of his games on the defensive?

The Hammers have since lost 2-0 at home to Fulham, and they didn't create enough in that game either. It's now a run of five wins in 20 in all competitions, and although European qualification is certainly still possible, Moyes needs to find a way to arrest the slide.

The recent absence of England forward Jarrod Bowen through injury hasn't helped, and he is struggling with a back injury. Lucas Paqueta and Emerson are both suspended.

Bayer closing in on season to end all seasons

After 120 years of waiting, hoping and mourning near-misses, they are Neverkusen no longer. So often the butt of other fans' jokes, Bayer Leverkusen are the new champions of Germany, their first ever league title sealed by a stunning 5-0 win over Werder Bremen. 20-year-old Florian Wirtz, one of the best attacking players in Europe this season, came on at half-time and smashed in his first senior hat-trick.

Bayer celebrated heartily with their fans at the BayArena, but there is an acceptance that this season is far from over. Bayer are through to the final of the DFB Pokal (they will face second-tier Kaiserslautern), and they are in control of this tie after two late goals against the Hammers.

Jonas Hofmann thrashed in the opener, and Victor Boniface headed home a crucial second in stoppage time. Boniface was out with injury from December to April, but has come back looking sharp.

Bayer are unbeaten in 43 games in all competitions, drawing level with Juventus' record for a team in Europe's top five leagues. They are the first team to go unbeaten in the first 29 games of a Bundesliga campaign, and they have conceded a miserly 19 goals in the league.

They haven't given away a single penalty in the German top flight this term, they have leaked just two goals from corners and just one from outside the box.

It was fitting that Granit Xhaka scored a wonderful long-range goal on Sunday. The former Arsenal midfielder has arguably been the Bundesliga's player of the season (he'd certainly win an MVP award), and his arrival has provided the glue that holds Xabi Alonso's team together.

Jeremie Frimpong, Florian Wirtz and Alex Grimaldo are all expected to return to the starting XI here. Between the three of them, they have scored 28 goals and produced 29 assists in this season's Bundesliga.

Wirtz to lead the way

West Ham missed their chance last week, as they chose to try and dig in and defend instead of trying to disrupt Die Werkself. With Lucas Paqueta missing through suspension, West Ham are arguably without their best player, and Leverkusen clearly prioritised this game with their weekend team selection.

I'll back Bayer/Draw Double Chance, the West Ham keeper to make three saves or more (Lukasz Fabianski had to make nine saves in the first leg), and Florian Wirtz to either score or assist. That comes out at a combined price of 3.185/40 on the Bet Builder.

Back Bayer/Draw, Wirtz to score or assist and West Ham keeper to make 3+ saves at over 2/13.00

Bet here

Grimaldo might have to grimace

West Ham right-back Vladimir Coufal is fourth on the club's list of fouls this season in the Premier, with 29 racked up. I expect him to have his hands full trying to contain the rampaging Alex Grimaldo down the Leverkusen left, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see the Spaniard trading at evens just to be fouled once in the game. He often inverts and moves into midfield, where the foul-happy Tomas Soucek and Edson Alvarez will be waiting for him.

Back Alex Grimaldo to be fouled at 1/12.00

Bet here

Now read our other Europa League previews here!

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