MX23RW : Tuesday, March 2 18:45:02| >> :120:20687:20687:

Preview: West Ham United vs. Birkirkara

Sports Mole looks ahead to the first leg of West Ham United's tie in the second round of Europa League qualifying against Maltese side Birkirkara.

West Ham United have already played two competitive games by mid-July and must now play two more Europa League qualifying games over the next week as they look to reach the group stages.

In the second round of qualifying they are up against Maltese side Birkirkara and start with a home leg at Upton Park on Thursday.


West Ham

Slaven Bilic, Manager of West Ham United, looks on during the Pre Season Friendly match between Peterborough United and West Ham United at London Road Stadium on July 11, 2015© Getty Images

The Hammers advanced to the second round of qualifying with a 4-0 aggregate win over Andorran outfit Lusitanos, following up a 3-0 win at home with a 1-0 triumph in the small principality between France and Spain.

Slaven Bilic opted against managing the team in the first leg against Lusitanos and drew criticism from opposite number Xavi Roura.

He did take to the touchline in the second leg and should again be in charge on Thursday for his first home game at Upton Park after watching his side draw 3-3 against Peterborough United in their first pre-season friendly on Saturday.

West Ham last appeared in a European competition when the Europa League was called the UEFA Cup in 2006-07, losing 4-0 on aggregate in the first round to Italian side Palermo.

They did win the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1965 following success in the FA Cup, while they also claimed the now-defunct Intertoto Cup in 1999.

Recent form: LLLWWD


Birkirkara

The Maltese outfit advanced past the first round of Europa League qualifying for the first time with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Armenian side Ulisses.

After a goalless draw in the first leg at home, Birkirkara's chances of progressing looked slim, but they impressively won 3-1 in Yerevan to set up a clash with the Hammers.

Birkirkara were guaranteed a top-three European finish before their final match of last season in the Maltese Premier League and a defeat to Balzan saw them finish just a point clear of the latter in the final table.

Once the domestic season finished, Giovanni Tedesco's side went on to win their fifth Maltese FA Trophy with a 2-0 victory in the final against league champions Hibernians.

Recent form: DLWWDW


Team News

Mark Noble of West Ham United celebrates scoring their first goal during the Pre Season Friendly match between Peterborough United and West Ham United at London Road Stadium on July 11, 2015© Getty Images

For the first round against Lusitanos, the West Ham squad was split into two, with one remaining in pre-season training in Ireland as the other took on the Andorran outfit.

The two sets of players have now reunited and Bilic has the pick of his squad to choose from.

The likes of Mark Noble, Winston Reid and Aaron Cresswell could be chosen, but Diafra Sakho is suspended after his red card in the second leg against Lusitanos.

Birkirkara's marquee player is 36-year-old former Italy international Fabrizio Miccoli, who signed for the Maltese side this summer and scored their opener in the second-leg victory over Ulisses.

West Ham possible starting lineup:
Randolph; O'Brien, Tomkins, Collins, Cresswell, Amalfitano, Noble, Poyet, Jarvis, Zarate, Lee

Birkirkara possible starting lineup:
Atkpan; Mazzetti, Vukanac, Fenech, Camenzuli, Zerafa, Z. Muscat, R. Muscat, Miccoli, Murga, Liliu


Head To Head

These two sides have never met before, with the second leg taking place next Thursday at the Ta'Qali National Stadium.

The draw for the third qualifying round, meanwhile, takes place on Friday, so the two teams will find out which second-round tie their next opponent will come from should they advance.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: West Ham 3-0 Birkirkara

With a full squad to choose from, Bilic can put out a strong XI for this first leg and he will want his side to open up a sizeable advantage. West Ham were supposed to beat Lusitanos more convincingly than they did and an improved first-leg performance is needed here.


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Who will win Thursday's first leg, West Ham or Birkirkara?

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West Ham United's English Manager Sam Allardyce waits for the start of the English Premier League football match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at Boleyn Ground in Upton Park, East London on February 28, 2015
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