Freiburg Hold Advantage Against Hammers

West Ham United fans may not be too worried about the situation they currently find themselves in against SC Freiburg after Thursday night’s match. After all, they did beat them twice earlier in the competition. Not only that but they have previous experience of turning a deficit around. Just two seasons ago when they were in the same position against La Liga outfit Sevilla and a wonderful night in Stratford helped them progress to the quarter-final stage on that occasion. They will need to replicate that feat next Thursday.

David Moyes only made one change to the team that came from behind to earn the 3-1 victory at Everton five days earlier, as Łukasz Fabiański replaced Alphonse Areola in goal. The Frenchman was dropped to the bench. A number of youngsters were also included in the matchday squad with Joseph Anang, Kaelan Casey, George Earthy and Lewis Orford amongst the substitutes.

It was a cagey first-half with both teams determined not to make it easy for the other to make a quick breakthrough. However, things may have been different, as the hosts had a chance to take the lead in the opening seconds when Roland Sallai was bearing down on goal, only for Vladimír Coufal to thwart him at the last moment.

Although the hosts were controlling the early possession, both Konstantinos Mavropanos and Kurt Zouma seemed content to deal with everything that they were throwing at them.

From that point on, the visitors found their rhythm and started to dominate proceedings through Tomáš Souček and Mohammed Kudus.

Whilst Fabiański had a quiet opening to the match, his opposite number, Noah Atubolu managed to prevent Jarrod Bowen from opening the scoring. To be fair though, Bowen’s shot was straight at the German youngster.

After Bowen had missed that chance, he was then involved in setting an opportunity up for Kudus. Unfortunately for West Ham’s travelling support, who were in attendance after missing the trip here back in October, the Ghanaian was off target with his attempt.

There were then chances at both ends. Fabiański’s first real action came with just over thirty minutes gone but thankfully, the Pole managed to keep Lucas Höler at bay. Moments later, Bowen was waiting at the back post but was unable to get a good enough connection onto a cross from Kudus.

West Ham were a goal up at this point back in October and they were hoping that it would be them going back to Stratford with a second-leg advantage if they could make their chances count after the break.

Moyes’ side thought they had the opener shortly after the restart when Kudus tried his luck with a powerful effort, the downside was that it was straight at Atubolu.

An Opportunity up the other end might have had West Ham regretting the fact that they weren’t able to edge ahead but fortunately, Sallai’s scissor-kick was easy for Fabiański to gather.

West Ham then missed several chances to break the deadlock. The home defence were resilient when blocking Lucas Paquetá’s effort. Then, an even better chance followed when Mavropanos hit the post with a header, before their latest spell of pressure ended when Coufal struck the ball with power but it went wide.

Paquetá then got stuck in and received a harsh booking for a challenge on Ritsu Doan before passing up a golden chance to give his side the advantage, as he headed wide.

Bowen and Kudus linked up to good effect but unfortunately for those who had made the trip from East London, Atubolu was able to keep his clean sheet intact.

An injury to Emerson Palmieri meant that Moyes was forced into his first change on sixty eight minutes as the former Chelsea defender made way for Aaron Cresswell. The hosts also made a change with Michael Gregoritsch replacing Höler.

The Austrian international changed the pattern of the game for the hosts, as he first tested Fabiański, but thankfully the former Arsenal and Swansea City stopper made an easy save.

His next contribution wasn’t one that the Irons appreciated, as he finally gave the Bundesliga side an edge in the tie. Edson Álvarez gave the ball away and the SC Freiburg player picked up the pieces and prodded the ball past Fabiański.

Immediately after that goal, Moyes again turned to his bench and introduced Kalvin Phillips in place of James Ward-Prowse.

The Manchester City loanee’s introduction brought drama as the game entered its closing stages. With West Ham desperate for an equaliser, a mad scramble ensued in the box and an SC Freiburg player appeared to have his hand in an unnatural position. Referee Alejandro Hernández initially gave nothing but was advised to take a second look on the pitchside monitor.

One minute into the four that were originally signalled at the end of the game, Michail Antonio came on for Paquetá.

The VAR check was the longest I’ve ever known and most fans including myself would have thought that the Spaniard would change the outcome but this wasn’t the case and its all eyes on Stratford next Thursday to see if the East Londoners can turn the tie around.

Before then though, Premier League action resumes with a visit from newly-promoted Burnley on Sunday afternoon.