After Thursday’s Europa Conference League quarter-final first legs, the only one of the eight clubs involved not to play yesterday was Fiorentina. This gives us a chance to take a look at how the others got on, as we wait to see who we will meet in the semi-final, and hopefully in the final.
Of course, Fiorentina still need to cement their own place in the next round, but the 4-1 win away to Lech Poznań leaves little doubt as to who will advance. The Polish club were back in action yesterday, away to one of their biggest rivals, Legia Warszawa.
Lech, league winners last season, are by now out of this season’s title race. Before kick-off they sat in third place, nine points behind Legia, and Pogoń Szczecin had pulled level with Lech on points the day before. Legia, meanwhile, had nine points to make up on league leaders Raków Częstochowa who had won their game earlier on Sunday.
Lech manager John van der Brom made three changes to the side which started against Fiorentina. Pedro Rebocho, Nika Kvekveskiri, and Filip Marchwiński all dropped to the bench with Barry Douglas, Radosław Murawski, and Afonso Sousa coming in.
It was a poor start for Lech, and really a poor first half. Legia took the lead in the 13th minute when a cross close to the goal line wasn’t dealt with by Lech.
It took almost half an hour before Lech had their first attempt on goal. Mikael Ishak beat the offside trap and was sent through on goal, but the captain took too long to get a shot away and when he did it was straight at the Legia keeper.
Things got worse for Lech before the break when they lost their Swedish midfielder Jesper Karlström to injury, replaced by Kvekveskiri. The last action of the first half brought a free kick to Lech in a dangerous area close to the box. Scottish defender Douglas went close, but his effort went over the top left corner of the goal.
We had seen a poor display by the Lech goalkeeper Filip Bednarek against Fiorentina, and again yesterday he did not look secure between the posts. During that first half a shot which should have been a routine save saw him drop the ball and let it slip between his legs, but luckily, he managed to recover and gather the ball before Legia took advantage.
Lech were quick out of the blocks after the break, with Sousa levelling the tie within two minutes. Murawski’s cross from the right into the box saw both Sousa and Ishak challenge in the air for the ball, and there probably would have been a penalty for handball had Sousa not scrambled the ball in from close range.
Just over twenty minutes later and Sousa struck again to give Lech the lead. This was a much cleaner shot from the young Portuguese midfielder, the ball arriving at his feet almost on the penalty spot where he needed to twist and turn to make room before firing a curling strike into the top corner.
Lech continued to look dangerous, especially when Adriel Ba Loua came on for Kristoffer Velde, the scorer against Fiorentina. They were unable to extend their lead, however, and it was Legia who found the net three minutes from time. That 2-2 draw keeps Lech in third place, still nine points adrift of Legia and one point clear of Pogoń.
It was a result which gives Raków Częstochowa an even better chance of winning their first ever Polish league title. Raków, who had reached the play-off round in this season’s Conference League where they were knocked out by Slavia Prague, have an eight point lead over Legia with just six games left to play.
If, as expected, Fiorentina make it to the semi-final stage, we already know that they will face the winners of the Basel v Nice tie. The first leg in Switzerland finished 2-2, so it’s all to play for when the sides meet again in France this Thursday night.
Nice, who finished in fifth place in last season’s Ligue 1, were in ninth spot going into their trip yesterday to Brest, who are battling against relegation. Nice manager Didier Digard made six changes from the side which drew on Thursday in Europe.
Aaron Ramsey and Youssouf Ndayishimiye were both left out of the squad as a precaution. Terem Moffi who scored both goals against Basel was on the bench, as was Jean Todibo, Gaetan Laborde, and Hicham Boudaoui.
Reda Belahyane, an 18-year-old midfielder, made his first start for Nice, while up front Billal Brahimi made a return to the team after a month-long absence. Ross Barkley, the former Chelsea player, was also in the starting eleven, but he wasn’t included by Digard in his squad for the Conference League knockout stage.
Nice conceded after 12 minutes, when a floating cross into the area saw Jérémy Le Douaron get the better of Antoine Mendy to send his header past Kasper Schmeichel. Just before the break the Brest keeper made two saves to deny both Barkley and Melvin Bard to preserve their lead at half time.
After the interval Nice sent on Moffi to replace Ayoub Amraoui but it was the home side which went close to doubling their lead. Romain Del Castillo’s curling shot from outside the area went just wide of the post.
On the hour mark Nice made three changes with Boudaoui, Laborde, and Todibo all coming in. Just two minutes later and it was Brest who again went close, some defensive errors allowed Steve Mounié get in a strike on goal which went just over the bar.
Nice were unable to find an equaliser, and this defeat leaves them 10 points adrift of European qualification. Digard’s side have now gone six games without a league win.
Basel were also in action yesterday, hosting Swiss Super League leaders Young Boys. The visitors had a massive 16 point lead over second place Servette coming into the game, while Basel sat in sixth place, two points outside the Conference League qualification places.
Heiko Vogel, with one eye on the Nice game, also made six changes to his side for this one. Goalkeeper Marwin Hitz was ruled out through illness with Mirko Salvi taking his place. Dropping to the bench were Michael Lang, Andy Diouf, Dan Ndoye, Wouter Burger, and Zeki Amdouni who had scored both goals in the draw with Nice.
Young Boys were quick out of the blocks creating chances in the opening minutes. The best of those fell to Christian Fassnacht after three minutes when a cross into the area found him all alone but from close range he should have done better with his first-time shot, but it was parried away by Salvi.
Five minutes later and the visitors’ pressure paid off. Another cross from the left by Ulisses Garcia was met by the head of Jean-Pierre Nsame who drove it low into the bottom corner of the net. Basel went in search of the equaliser and went close when a Liam Millar cross found the head of Andi Zeqiri but the keeper pushed it away for a corner.
Just before the break Basel had another chance with Taulant Xhaka taking the ball into the box but his shot took a deflection, and the keeper was able to gather the ball safely.
Vogel made three changes for the second half, with Diouf, Ndoye, and Amdouni coming in. Three minutes after the break and Fassnacht had the ball in the Basel net but it was correctly ruled out for offside. Amdouni then had a shot from distance saved by Anthony Racioppi but with 22 minutes left to play he would eventually find the goal to level the game.
Sergio López put in a cross from the right corner and Amdouni had space for a free header which he sent towards the bottom left corner and the bounce took it over the dive of Racioppi. Young Boys thought they had found a late winner in added time, but the goal from a corner was disallowed for a foul in the area.
Basel’s second consecutive draw in the league means they remain in sixth place but are just one point away from the Conference League qualification zone. Thursday night they travel to take on Nice, the winner earning their place in the semi-final, where they will more than likely face Fiorentina.
On the other side of the draw AZ Alkmaar lost the first leg 2-0 away to Anderlecht but got back to winning ways in the Eredivisie yesterday evening. The Dutch side which put out Lazio in the last round of the conference had gone three league games without a win since then, including a defeat at Twente.
They faced another away trip yesterday, at Fortuna Sittard and Pascal Jansen went with the same starting eleven which had lost in Belgium last Thursday. AZ set themselves up for the return with an easy 3-0 win, where they were 2-0 up at the break.
Jens Odgaard opened the scoring after 24 minutes getting on the end of a Tijjani Reijnders through ball. AZ doubled their lead three minutes before the interval when Milos Kerkez went on a solo run from his own half all the way into the Fortuna penalty area.
With four defenders in close attendance, he managed to get a shot away which found the bottom corner of the net. Kerkez had scored the winning goal in the first leg of their tie away to Lazio.
AZ wrapped up the win six minutes from time. Vangelis Pavlidis, who scored in both wins over Lazio, poked home a cross from Yukinari Sugawara. AZ remain in fourth place, five points behind PSV. They now face the task of overturning the 2-o defeat when they welcome Anderlecht on Thursday.
The Dutch side will have been given hope not only from their own performance but also by the fact that Anderlecht conceded five yesterday. They faced a tough away game against Belgian Pro League leaders Genk, and the only change manager Brian Riemer made from the win over AZ was Killian Sardella coming in for the injured Michael Amir Murillo who had scored their opening goal last Thursday in the Conference League.
Anderlecht went a goal down after 36 minutes but two minutes before the break they levelled the game. Islam Slimani, who’s goal had put them through against Villareal in the last round of the Conference League, found the top right corner of the net with his shot from a Sardella headed pass.
By half-time, however, Genk had restored their lead. Within eight minutes of the restart the home side had scored two more to stretch their lead to 4-1. Anders Dreyer did pull one back for Anderlecht but three minutes from the end Genk scored their fifth and final goal. The 5-2 win keeps Genk on top of the table but it sees Anderlecht slip to tenth place, and they’ll be nervous about their trip to AZ this Thursday despite holding a 2-0 lead.
Whoever does come through that tie will meet the winners of Gent and West Ham. The other Belgian club in the competition held Premier League side West Ham to a 1-1 draw last Thursday. Before their trip to London, Gent had an away game at Mechelen yesterday where manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck made four changes from the side which started against West Ham.
Goalkeeper Davy Roef made way for their first-choice keeper in the league Paul Nardi. Jordan Torunarigha, Malick Fofana, and Gift Orban were also on the bench. The sides went in level at the break with Matisse Samoise giving Gent the lead three minutes before the break, but Mechelen equalised on the stroke of half time.
Gent sent on Orban for the second half, who has scored five goals in the Conference League this season, but they were unable to find a winner. The 1-1 draw keeps them in fourth place, level on points with Club Brugge in fifth spot. They now face the tough task of an away trip to West Ham.
The Hammers, looking to avoid relegation while still involved in Europe, hosted league leaders Arsenal yesterday. Manager David Moyes made eight changes for the London Derby, with just Declan Rice, Vladimír Coufal, and Jarrod Bowen keeping their places from the side which drew in Belgium.
Within ten minutes West Ham were 2-0 down, and the home fans must have feared another heavy defeat. Their last game at the London Stadium had seen them suffer a 5-1 hammering at the hands of Newcastle United. They did, however, manage to pull a goal back when Saïd Benrahma converted a penalty after a foul on Lucas Paqueta.
Arsenal had the chance to restore their two-goal lead when they too were awarded a penalty. Six minutes after the break Michail Antonio was punished for a handball but Bukayo Saka sent his effort wide. Just two minutes later and West Ham made them pay for that miss. A long ball from Thilo Kehrer into the box was met first time by Bowen, the Arsenal keeper got a touch to it but couldn’t keep it out.
Bowen volleys in the equaliser pic.twitter.com/XrYMdMsoIE— West Ham United (@WestHam) April 16, 2023
A 2-2 draw which pulls West Ham another point clear of danger. They now have a four-point advantage over Nottingham Forest in 18th, with West Ham having played a game less. They also have Leeds United and Everton between themselves and the relegation zone. Now West Ham can face Gent on Thursday with a spring in their step after this performance.
Fiorentina were the only side from the last eight in the Europa Conference League not in action yesterday. An extra day’s rest before tonight’s home tie with Atalanta. We are also the only side who look safely through to the semi-finals after the first leg games. Anderlecht do have a 2-0 lead to take to AZ, but they will have their work cut out to hold on to that advantage. The other two ties are both level, so we will have to wait for Thursday night to see who we should face in the semi-final.
One thing is for sure, Fiorentina have nothing to fear from any of the sides left in the competition.