West Ham is prepared for their match against Backa Topola on Thursday night because they know that a win will ensure post-Christmas European League knockout football.
The Hammers will definitely make it into the Europa Conference League playoffs if they finish no worse than third in Group A.
Although they have advanced straight to the round of 16 the last two seasons, David Moyes and his squad have much higher objectives in mind. They want to win the group.
In order to win Group A, a victory would put West Ham in the lead. Therefore even if Freiburg manages to defeat Olympiacos, they still need to defeat the Hammers by two goals in the last group game at London Stadium in order to improve their head-to-head record.
Kylian Mbappe vs Vladimir Coufal?
But without a number of first team talents, such as Mohammed Kudus, Jarrod Bowen, Edson Alvarez, and Michail Antonio, if rumors are to be believed, the Irons will need to work hard to win in Serbia.
In case West Ham secures the second spot, they will face one of the eight teams eliminated from the Champions League in a two-leg play-off round. The dates of those matches are set on February 15 and February 22, 2024.
If West Ham fails to win their Europa League group, they may meet Kylian Mbappe or Vladimir Coufal in the play-offs for a spot in the final 16.
Indeed, one of them is PSG. Up until their contentious last-gasp comeback, the Paris giants actually appeared to be among the eight clubs falling short.
But even if the Red Devils fail, West Ham and Manchester United will remain apart.
The Group B Champions League exit is more clear-cut. Lens, who the Hammers played against in the preseason, is most likely the opponent, but if they defeat the Ligue 1 team in the last group stage match, it may also be Sevilla, an old rival, as they would have a stronger head-to-head record.
Braga of Portugal is expected to be the Group C losers unless they manage to defeat Napoli by a margin of two goals in the championship match, or Union Berlin should they surprise Real Madrid.
Hammers will be aiming to top group
Barring a three-goal defeat to Benfica, RB Salzburg will be eliminated from Group D.
The Dutch club Feyenoord is the team West Ham might play in Group E, and PSG, AC Milan, or Newcastle could place third in Group F. Premier League rivals West Ham and Newcastle would remain apart if it were Newcastle again.
If they don’t defeat Porto by a margin of three goals or more in their next game, Young Boys from Group G will fall down and Shakhtar Donetsk from Group H will go into the Europa League.
In order to win the group and go to the round of sixteen in March, West Ham will naturally want to avoid all of them.
The UEFA Europa League play-off draw for the 2023–24 knockout stage will take place