The European opponents of Union, Anderlecht and Ghent examined: toughest assignment for Buffalo’s, but no one is without a chance

Bayer Leverkusen (Union Europa League quarter final opponent)

Is this a viable card?

Yes. Union avoids top clubs such as Manchester United, Juventus, Roma and Sevilla. Leverkusen is only ninth in the Bundesliga, while Union wiped the floor with Union Berlin, the number four in Germany, on Thursday evening. In the group stage of the Champions League before New Year, Leverkusen could not score once against Club Brugge (1-0 loss and 0-0). Then you know that the people of Brussels are far from without a chance. On the way to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, the Germans eliminated Monaco and Ferencváros.

Which players should we keep an eye on?

The absolute star player at Leverkusen is Florian Wirtz. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder tore his cruciate ligament in March last year and was in the rag basket until December, but is now gradually getting back on track. His market value is estimated at 70 million euros. The Czech striker Patrick Schick (27) – who you may remember from his great goals at the European Championship 2021 – is not in his best form. The defense is very strong. Odilon Kossounou (22, ex-Club Brugge) had to fight for his place for a long time after his transfer, but is now gradually becoming a permanent fixture.

Odilon Kossounou. — © AFP

Who is the coach?

Xabi Alonso (41). A very big name who was also mentioned last year at Club Brugge to succeed Alfred Schreuder. The former midfielder of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich took over from Gerardo Seoane at the beginning of October after the dramatic start to the competition (5 out of 21 in the Bundesliga, defeats against Club Brugge and Porto in the Champions League). Alonso improved: across all competitions twelve victories, seven defeats and four draws (40 out of 69) under his reign.

Xabi Alonso. — © REUTERS

AZ Alkmaar (opponent Anderlecht quarterfinal Conference League)

Is this a viable card?

Yes, provided that Anderlecht reach the level of the past ten days. AZ is a good team, not for nothing the number three in the Netherlands and in Europe for 24 home games unbeaten. The Dutch also won twice in the 1/8th finals against Lazio, the number three in Italy. But whoever can eliminate Villarreal – semi-finalist in the Champions League last year – can also eliminate AZ.

Which players should we keep an eye on?

Anderlecht mainly has to be a striker Vangelis Pavlidis (24) and left winger Jesper Karlsson (24) fear. The two of them counted out Lazio. The Greek Pavlidis already has 19 goals and 10 assists this season. Swedish international Karlsson already has 9 goals and 9 assists to his name. Furthermore, two well-known names among the Dutch: Mathew Ryan (30, ex-Club Brugge) is between the posts, Zinho Vanheusden (23) hasn’t played much this season due to injuries.

Vangelis Pavlidis. — © EPA-EFE

Who is the coach?

Pascal Jansen (50), the (to us) unknown Dutchman who grew from assistant to head coach in 2020. Has since played 120 games and averaged two points per game, more than decent for his debut at the highest level. Jansen himself never had a playing career. In his youth he played for Ajax, among others, but due to a serious injury he was soon allowed to make a cross about a career as a professional football player.

Pascal Jansen. — © ISOPIX

West Ham United (against Ghent quarter final Conference League)

Is this a viable card?

Not on paper. Of all possible opponents, West Ham was the most difficult customer. The Hammers are only seventeenth in the Premier League, but everything is there on a handkerchief. They won the Anderlecht group with the maximum points and eliminated AEK Larnaca in the 1/8th finals (0-2 and 4-0). Gent will need to be top, but may benefit from the fact that West Ham may prioritize retention in the Premier League.

Which players should we keep an eye on?

The danger comes from all sides. The West Ham selection is worth more than 450 million euros in total. For comparison: that of Ghent is estimated at about 67 million. The Algerian left winger Said Benrahma (27) is doing well and can make it difficult for the Ghent defense with his dribbles. Captain Declan Rice (24) is indispensable in midfield.

Declan Rice. — © Action Images via Reuters

Who is the coach?

David Moyes (59). The experienced Scot has been at the helm since 2019. In the past two seasons, he led the club to a good sixth and seventh place in the Premier League and last season even to the semi-finals of the Europa League. This season he was already under discussion because the competition is a lot less, but for now he retains confidence.

David Moyes. — © REUTERS

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