West Ham v Lyon
Thursday 07 April, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Hammers’ dream is still alive
If the London Stadium hadn’t really had a moment where it truly felt like home for West Ham fans, that was rectified on March 17. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie against Sevilla, the Hammers produced a gutsy display to first force extra time against the Andalusians, and then to win the tie. Just to add to the emotion, Ukrainian international Andriy Yarmolenko was the match-winning hero, a ray of light in a horribly gloomy time for the former Borussia Dortmund winger.
West Ham have been rewarded for taking this tournament seriously from the get-go. They won their group with room to spare, and avoided a potentially tricky play-off round as a result. If they are going to win the whole thing, they’ll have to do it the hard way, because either Eintracht Frankfurt or Barcelona await in the semi-finals. David Moyes’ side are currently fourth in the betting at 7.87/1 in the Winner market, behind Barcelona, RB Leipzig and Atalanta.
The Hammers are playing well at home, and have won their last four matches in Stratford. At the weekend they swept aside Everton 2-1, benefiting form some calamitous defending and a boneheaded lunge that saw centre-back Michael Keane get himself sent off. The Hammers haven’t lost a home game since mid-January, when they surprisingly went down 3-2 against Leeds United.
Right-back Ben Johnson is a doubt with a hamstring injury, while attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzini is suspended. However, key forwards Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio, who terrorised Everton at times, are both fit to start.
Lyon’s season hangs on UEL
With a top-three finish in Ligue 1 looking unlikely (Les Gones are eight points adrift with eight games left), Lyon’s only realistic avenue into next season’s Champions League is to win the Europa League. Of course, the most important thing about winning the UEL is lifting a major European trophy, but the financial rewards of a ticket to the Champions League VIP club do no harm. This is especially true of Lyon, who have been hit hard by the Mediapro TV rights debacle and a lack of recent UCL revenue.
Winning the Europa League would also give coach Peter Bosz a much-needed boost. The Dutchman had ultimately frustrating and unsuccessful spells at Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, and his side has lacked consistency in his first season at the Groupama Stadium. They have won just 12 of their 30 league matches, and they have only managed back-to-back league victories twice.
It is in the Europa League where OL have shone the brightest. They were impressive over two legs against Porto, and won their group, taking four points off a strong Rangers side. Karl Toko-Ekambi has been one of the tournament’s standout players, with six goals and two assists.
However, Toko-Ekambi is a doubt for this game after missing the 3-2 win over Angers with illness. Brazilian Tete scored the winner in that game after being allowed to leave Shakhtar Donetsk on an emergency deal, but he is ineligible for the Europa League. There could be some notable returnees to London, with Emerson (on loan from Chelsea) and Tanguy Ndombele (on loan from Spurs) in line to start.
Hosts a touch too short
I agree that West Ham are favourites, especially with the raucous backing they are set to receive, but I’m not sure I can get on board with backing them at 2.1211/10 to win the first leg. Lyon are unbeaten in the Europa League, and they found a way past a very competitive Porto side in the previous round.
That’s a bit too short, so instead I’ll go for Both Teams To Score at 1.824/5. Lyon have scored in all eight of their UEL games so far, and Bosz isn’t the kind of coach who will set his team up to defend. West Ham have scored in 20 of their 22 home games this term, and one of the two failures was in a dead rubber against Dinamo Zagreb, a game that saw Moyes field several youngsters.
Antonio will bear the burden
West Ham’s failure to strengthen their forward line in the winter transfer window means they are still heavily reliant on Michail Antonio to act as their focal point in attack. He had a fine game against Everton, and in the Premier League he has eight goals and seven assists.
Although Antonio isn’t exactly prolific at present, he superbly set up Tomas Soucek’s opener against Sevilla, and he tends to rise to the occasion. You can back the Jamaican international at 7/5 in the To Score market, or at 7/2 in the Anytime Assist market.
Toko-Ekambi is priced at 11/4 to score, while Moussa Dembele is 12/5. The former Celtic striker has netted in eight of his last 12 matches, he scored a crucial goal against Lyon, and he found the net twice in the weekend’s win at Angers.