How is it fair that we were drawn against Freiburg again in Europe?

West Ham and the German side aren’t the only teams facing off against teams they faced in the group stages

General view at the West Ham United v Manchester City EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th September, 2023.

The highlight of the Europa League draw for the Round of 16, for me, was seeing Mark Noble attending the ceremony wearing his trademark sporting director kit – a woolen, blue suit only lacking his normal claret tie. Noble seems to have taken his new role quite seriously at the club as he was accompanied by Andrew Pincher the club secretary; we no longer see the nostalgic appearances during matches with the occasional sentimental line from the sports commentators as if he were just a player on holiday or suspension ready to come down from the terraces to run onto the pitch to get the boys in formation.

He’s now most likely working behind the scenes, trying to tame the lions of a once and yet still would-be circus club. Gone are the days when I thought he might be a player manager ready to steady the line. But I’m sure, like many of us, he felt like he had a case of deja vu when we were drawn to play against Freiburg again in this competition.

There were plenty Hammers fans on social media asking how was it possible that we will thrice play the German side. They were ranked second in our group and were sent to an extra qualifying round to beat fallen Champions League French side Lens, and due to some new structural rules of the competition are allowed to face us again.

West Ham and Freiburg weren’t the only clubs to suffer the fate of playing each other for the third time during this Europa League campaign. Sporting Lisbon already faced Atalanta in Group D with a loss and a draw, and Bayer Leverkusen bested Qarabag in both matches in Group H but have to dominate them once again.

Some fans have claimed foul at the ‘random’ selection of these rematches, especially as Liverpool got an easier draw against Sparta Prague. They’re the favorites to win, and it’s extra painful when they’re helped by the ‘luck’ of the draw. I think it’s not so much rigged as poor planning on UEFA’s part.

West Ham fans will be divided on this match up, as some will see this as a clear and easy victory in a ‘we did it before, so we can do it again’ attitude, while others see this as bad luck having to play a team we should have already eliminated. If you recall we beat Freiburg 2-1, and 2-0 when we played them last, with goals coming from Pacqueta, Aguerd, Kudus, and Alvarez.

Others may just feel the thrill of our unique Europa League tours is made a bit more boring by facing a team we have already played in our short excursions in Europe. But as we were denied traveling for the last away match versus Freiburg, due to a suspension for bad behavior during the European Conference final, this time West Ham fans will be able to make their mark and travel to Freiburg’s Europa Park Stadion.

This time we should be able to reserve a space in the away stands to try to rise above the din of the German chants, to deliver a proud rendition of Forever Blowing Bubbles. Freiburg are known as the ‘Breisgau Brazilians’ after the area in the region of the Black Forest known as Breisgau, attached with a team loaded with Brazilian talent in the 90s went to give the club success.

With our own Brazilian in Lucas Paqueta, who pushed the lads forward for our rousing 4-2 victory versus Brentford in our solitary 2024 victory, we stand a chance. In addition to a once successful Brazilian-bound team, SC Freiburg is supposed to be known for a silky style of play.

But from our original encounters, we found no real threat in their attacking qualities with the exception of one goal. Freiburg, under the management of Streich, use a 3-4-3 formation with a midfield pivot; they have not resolved their defensive shakiness and are currently sitting 9th in the Bundesliga.

Originally we had cause for concern with their striker Maximilian Phillip, but with only two goals this season, we’ll have more to worry about in their veteran midfielder Vincenzo Griffo who has 11 goals and nine assists, and is known to be a free-kick specialist. He’s left the team once and returned again and is hailed as the hero – the aging warrior at 30. We should also watch out for winger Roland Sallai who scored the only goal against us in the previous matches, who is at seven goals this season.

With the German stadium a short ride from the airport and the capacity of 34,000, West Ham fans should find themselves a nice away day where the only real troubles they’ll have to contend with is the wall of sound that the German side’s 12th man will put forth. They were loud at the Olympic Stadium and will be strong again. Hammers fans are already up for a European tour and they will have the first leg of the rematch, giving us advantage at home for the second leg.

Let’s hope Moyes focuses on the Europa League and can pull something out of the bag now that Paqueta is pulling the strings in creativity again.

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