UEFA Europa League: Barcelona hit form at the wrong time for West Ham

WEST HAM United’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla was an old fashioned European night, the kind the Boleyn Ground used to host so well on the rare occasions the Hammers qualified for the long departed Cup-Winners’ Cup. In 1975-76, clashes with the likes of Den Haag and Eintracht Frankfurt produced a marvellous, memorable atmosphere and the sound of “bubbles” rang out in the cold East London air. In some ways, the London Stadium, which has been criticised for having a somewhat empty feeling, announced its arrival against Sevilla.

West Ham have enjoyed their European run this season and they now figure among the favourites to lift the Europa League trophy. They have been drawn against Lyon, an underperforming side who have also saved some of their best moments for the competition. Their two-legged win against Porto was an achievement and they actually won five of their six group games. 

West Ham have, if anything, punched above their weight this season, but following on from 2020-21, when they finished in sixth position, their performance suggests they have moved up a step in the hierarchy. They should have enough to get past Lyon, but they could then come up against Barcelona, who were sent into Europa exile after failing in the Champions League. 

A few months ago, Barcelona would not have kept West Ham boss David Moyes awake at night, but in recent weeks, the club seems to have regained its confidence and found some form. Their 4-0 victory at Real Madrid was a stunning result and demonstrated they are on their way back after a miserable end to 2021. New signings Ferran Torres (Manchester City) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) have settled in well and have scored 15 goals between them.

Barcelona face Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals, no easy draw, but the Blaugrana have not been beaten in the league since early December. Frankfurt are in eighth place in the Bundesliga and have beaten Bayern in Munich, so they will be a tough opponent for Xavi’s team. Curiously, West Ham fans were set upon by their Frankfurt counterparts in Seville, when the Hammers were in town to face Sevilla and the German side playing at Real Betis. It’s not hard to imagine what could happen if West Ham have to travel to the Deutsche Bank Park stadium for a semi-final game.

Barcelona, however, will be determined to win the Europa League to ensure a path back to the Champions League. This is important not only for the financial benefits of being involved in the premier competition, but also to erase the humiliation of their early elimination from the Champions League. As for West Ham, they will be desperate to win something for the first time in 41 years and also rubber-stamp their elevation to European club status.

But there are other contenders and Lyon are also among the clubs that could win the competition this season. RB Leipzig, for all their spectacular progress, have never won a trophy, so you could argue they are due some material success. Similarly, Atalanta, who have joined the Serie A upper bracket in the past couple of years, could also do with some silverware to provide affirmation of their rise. Braga and Rangers are two of the more unfancied sides in the draw, but in this half of the quarter-final draw, any team could go all the way to the final. Rangers have had some good nights in the Europa this season, beating Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade in the knockout phase. Braga, who beat Monaco in the round of 16, finished second to Red Star in their group. They are currently fourth in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, while Rangers are in a battle to regain the Scottish Premiership title they won in 2021.

The field is wide open, but GOTP’s prediction is a last four of West Ham v Barcelona and Leipzig v Rangers, with the final on May 18 in Sevilla being contested by Barcelona and Leipzig. On the other hand… 

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