Prague is the venue for the first of this week’s European finals with Fiorentina and West Ham both bidding to end long trophy droughts in Wednesday’s Europa Conference League final while Inter Milan will bid to complete a double and deny Man City a historic treble in Saturday’s Champions League decider.
Fiorentina have not won a major trophy since lifting the Coppa Italia in 2001 while West Ham’s last major cup success was their third FA Cup triumph achieved in 1980. You must go back even further for both clubs respective European trophy lifts with the Italian side defeating Rangers in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup final in 1961 while just a few years later West Ham defeated German opposition to secure the 1965 UEFA Cup title.
The incentive to end long barren spells won’t be the only motivator at play here as both clubs have failed to qualify for Europe next season meaning the Europa League group stages ticket that is on offer to the winner of this final is the only viable route back onto the continent for next term.
As for West Ham skipper Declan Rice, this very much looks to be his last outing in an Irons shirt so he will be desperate to go down in the history books as the man who lifted the Londoners first major trophy in over four decades.
Domestically, Fiorentina enjoyed a much better season than their English rivals with the Violets reaching the Coppa Italian final where they were beaten thanks to a pair of Lautaro Martinez goals for Inter while back-to-back wins in their final two league games saw Fiorentina finish 8th in the Serie A standings. In fact, that defeat to Inter is their only loss in the last six matches.
West Ham also arrive into this final in good recent form, despite a mediocre league season which saw David Moyes men finish in the bottom half. The Irons have won four of their last six matches in all comps with those two defeats against Brentford and Leicester coming at a time where all eyes were very much fixed on this competition.
Having started out in the play-off rounds of this competition, West Ham’s consistency throughout the tournament has been remarkable with the Englishman winning 13 of their 14 games (1 draw). Fiorentina had to show real character to turn around ties against Lech Poznan and Basel in which they lost the first leg at home on both occasions.
It takes a team with plenty of firepower to be able to do that and Fiorentina certainly posses that with the Italians averaging 2.57 goals per game in the Conference League this season. Fiorentina come into this final having scored at least once in their last seven consecutive fixtures. The front three of Arthur Cabral, Nicolas Gonzalez and Luke Jovic have scored over 40 goals between them while they’ve got some proper steel in the midfield thanks to Moroccan World Cup star Sofyan Amrabat. The battle of Amrabat and Declan Rice could go a long way towards deciding the outcome of this final.
West Ham’s Italian full-back Emerson has spoken of the game management of Italian sides in the lead up to this final with Roma’s antics in last week’s Europa League final a good advertisement for such dark arts of the game. As a result, Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande could be a busy man. Carlos del Cerro Grande averaged over four yellow cards per game in La Liga this season with over 4.5 cards in tomorrow’s game available at 1/2.
Given the likely ferocity of that midfield battle involving Amrabat and Rice, it should be noted the England midfielder is 3/1 to be booked with the Moroccan 2/1. Amrabat looks the best value of the two given he picked up 11 yellows in 29 Serie A appearances this season.
Given both teams have been in good scoring form of late you’d hope for an open game but last week’s final between Sevilla and Roma is a good example of just how cagey and tactical these affairs can become. With next to nothing separating these two sides in the 90 minute betting (both 17/10), we look set for a closely fought contest.
Looking back on both teams runs to this final, it’s probably fair to say Fiorentina have faced a better caliber of opposition by knocking out the likes of Braga and Basel while West Ham’s biggest test so far was the semi-final ties against a fairly average AZ side. As a result, I’m backing the Italian’s to bring the trophy home.
Prediction: Fiorentina to win the cup (10/11)