The second Europa Conference League season is coming to a close as Fiorentina and West Ham United go head-to-head for the title on Wednesday night. Fortuna Arena in the Czech Republic capital Prague has the privilege of hosting its second-ever European final.
Following Roma’s success last season, Fiorentina will be looking to keep the trophy in Italy after qualifying for their first major European final in the 21st century.
Like the Italians, West Ham’s maiden foray into a continental title decider in the new millennium marks a unique opportunity for the Premier League side to make a standout achievement on the international level.
While Fiorentina finished eighth in Serie A, West Ham had to settle for a sub-par 14th-place finish in the Premier League. Therefore, Wednesday’s showdown is the last chance for both sides to qualify for European competition next season.
What Do You Need to Know?
Since winning the 1960/61 European Cup Winners’ Cup, La Viola have been a marginal figure in continental football, last reaching a major European showpiece in even in 1990. Yet, they went down to fellow Serie A rivals Juventus in the UEFA Cup final that year, worsening their underwhelming record in title-deciding fixtures.
Indeed, four of their five previous appearances in European finals have yielded a defeat, highlighting the pressure on manager Vincenzo Italiano. But Fiorentina shouldn’t be unfazed by their frustrating displays in high-profile games after piecing together an impressive Europa Conference League campaign in 2022/23.
Except for a dismal 3-0 loss at Istanbul Basaksehir on matchday two, Fiorentina went unbeaten in their remaining five group-stage matches (W4, D1) to finish runners-up to the Turkish outfit. Italiano’s men have been impressive in springtime fixtures, ousting Sporting Braga, Sivasspor, Lech Poznan, and Basel en route to setting up this encounter.
Fiorentina’s prolificacy has been off the charts in this season’s Europa Conference League. They have netted a competition-high 36 goals in 14 outings, averaging 2.6 per game. What’s more impressive is that they’ve scored more goals than any other side in major European tournaments this term, even outscoring Champions League finalists Manchester City (31).
West Ham United
West Ham’s last European success dates back to 1964/65 when they wrapped up the European Cup Winners’ Cup title. But the Hammers also won the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1999. It was their last notable appearance in continental football, as they’ve been largely absent from European action this century.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for under-pressure manager David Moyes. After his side spent most of the 2022/23 Premier League season frantically looking over their shoulders in keenly-contested battles in the lower reaches, Moyes’ career in London has reached a crossroads. Indeed, this could be a ‘make or break’ contest for the ex-Manchester United boss.
However, he has every reason for optimism. After seizing a top spot in Europa Conference League Group B with a 100% record (W6), West Ham’s outstanding continental campaign has gone from strength to strength this spring. Barring a 1-1 draw at Gent in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, the Irons have won their remaining five knockout fixtures by an aggregate score of 13-2.
As the only side yet to lose a single Europa Conference League game this season, West Ham will undoubtedly take the field in high spirits. But there’s an unwanted piece of history as far as the English giants are concerned. The only previous European final at Fortuna Arena saw the Hammers’ fellow Premier League rivals Chelsea go down to Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League clash via penalties.
How Have the Teams Fared Recently?
Fiorentina thrashed Sassuolo 3-1 on the road on the final Serie A matchday to complete the league campaign on a high. But despite going unbeaten in their last four top-flight outings in 2022/23 (W3, D1), Italiano’s men slumped to a Coppa Italia heartache to Inter in late May. Despite picking up an early lead, they lost 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Form (all competitions, most recent first): WWLDWWLLDW
Where they stand: 8th in Italian Serie A.
West Ham United
In contrast to Fiorentina’s eye-catching season finale, West Ham suffered a 2-1 defeat to relegation boys Leicester City in the ultimate Premier League round. Interestingly, none of their last 11 matches in all competitions have ended as a draw (W6, L5). If it’s any consolation, four of their six victories in that sequence came via multi-goal margins.
Form (all competitions, most recent first): LWWLWWLLLWL
Where they stand: 14th in English Premier League.
Possible Starting Line-ups
Fiorentina (4-2-3-1): Pietro Terracciano; Dodo, Lucas Quarta, Nikola Milenkovic, Cristiano Biraghi; Rolando Mandragora, Sofyan Amrabat; Nicolas Gonzzlez, Giacomo Bonaventura, Jonathan Ikone; Arthur Cabral.
West Ham United (4-3-3): Alphonse Areola; Thilo Kehrer, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Aaron Cresswell; Tomas Soucek, Declan Rice, Lucas Paqueta; Jarrod Bowen, Michael Antonio, Said Benrahma.
Players to Watch
Fiorentina – Arthur Cabral
Cabral is dominating the scoring charts in the Europa Conference League, having netted seven goals. This remarkable achievement indicates that the Italians have ample grounds to foster ambitious dreams in Prague.
West Ham United – Michail Antonio
West Ham’s bid to return home with a smile on their faces will likely hinge on Antonio, who has racked up six Europa League goals this term. Considering all those six strikes came beyond the 35th minute, the Hammers fans may have to be patient.
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