Hammers welcome Romanian giants in UECL opener


David Moyes’ West Ham United side have had a difficult start to their Premier League campaign, and whilst they have seen improvements, Thursday night football will test the squad’s depth, fitness and determination.

It may seem a long time ago since West Ham were battling relegation, but little over two years ago, the Irons were fighting for their Premier League lives. Now, the East London outfit enter their second consecutive season of European football coming off the back of an epic run to the Semi-Final of the UEFA Europa League.

However, after losing out on a return to Europe’s secondary competition on the final day to Manchester United, this will be the clubs first foray into the embryonic UEFA Europa Conference League.

West Ham suffered an early setback in their Premier League season after losing their opening three games to Manchester City, Nottingham Forest and Brighton & Hove Albion, all without scoring a goal.

However, improved performances earned the Hammers results against Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur before an unfortunate defeat to Chelsea in controversial fashion.

After a comfortable play-off round win in the Conference League over Danish minnows Viborg, the Irons have been  placed in Group B along with Anderlecht (Belgium), Silkeborg (Denmark) and their first opponents, FCSB of Romania.

Opposition History 

Few clubs have such a controversial history than FCSB, nicknamed ‘Roș-albaștrii’ (The Red and Blues). The club in its literal form derives from CSA Steaua Bucuresti, formed in 1947 as a Romanian armed forces team.

After some early success in the 1950’s, Steaua were outperformed by arch city rivals Dinamo Bucuresti.

However, the club were able to wrestle the grip of the Romanian domestic scene away from their rivals and even went on to famously win the European Cup by beating Barcelona with the legendary Gheorghe Hagi in their ranks.

After removing the CSA from their club name, Steaua were taken over by an extremely controversial Romanian businessman, George Becali.

Whilst the clubs success was sustained during Becali’s tenure, the ‘extra-curricular activities’ of their owner marred the name. Becali was involved in multiple instances of homophobia, as well as xenophobia and violence also appearing on a rather unwanted resume of malevolence.

Eventually, the ministry of National defence sued the club over the use of the Steaua brand, forcing the club to re-invent itself as FCSB.

Officially, FCSB have ownership over the accolades of past Steaua sides, but a Phoenix club in the rebirth of CSA Steaua Bucuresti is said to be the spiritual home of the real club.

Currently residing in Romania Liga 2, a large portion of the Steaua ‘ultras’ have emigrated to CSA Steaua, now playing at the new purpose built Steaua Stadium.

However, FCSB managed to push average crowds in the league back up to around the 10,000 mark, and attracted crowds of 20,000 the last time they reached the Europa League, and even a high of 33,000 at the Arena Nationala in the knockout stage.

Rocky start to the season 

FCSB started their domestic campaign with a 1-1 draw with Universitatea Cluj, before suffering a loss in Georgia in Europe succeeded by a damning 2-0 loss to city rivals Rapid Bucuresti.

This resulted in Anton Petrea resigning and being replaced by Nicolae Dica.

After an unbeaten first six games, one win in four games has remarkably put the 42-year-old’s job on a knife edge, with various reports indicating that he may be sacked should he fail to get a result against the Irons at the London Stadium.

Hammers overview

The key question surrounding West Ham’s first ever inclusion in the Europa Conference League is how seriously Moyes will take it and how that will be reflected by the starting lineups.

After a somewhat altered team against Viborg at the London Stadium, Moyes opted to go strong and secure qualification to the Group Stage. However, with six games to progress to the next round, one would suspect more changes will be made in the next six European outings.

Already, Moyes has hinted at a potential first start for summer signing Flynn Downes, who arrived from Swansea City for a fee in the region of £10m.

Nayef Aguerd and Ben Johnson are ruled out of featuring, whilst Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson and Gianluca Scamacca are all doubtful.

Hammers fans will be well aware of the threat these types of game pose, as the Irons had their European campaigns cut short in two consecutive season at the hands of Romanian side Astra Giurgiu.

Defeat would leave Moyes’ outfit with work to do headed into back to back away games in Europe against Silkeborg and Anderlecht. Victory would be their ninth win in their last 15 European outings.

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