What a difference one year, a full pre-season, and some good signings make! This forthcoming game week in the Premier League will end with Liverpool hosting West Ham. Last season, at the end of 14 game weeks, these two sides were separated by a single point and two league positions. West Ham were having a wonderful season, raining on oppositions’ parades especially in big away games. At the same time, Liverpool were adjusting to life under a charismatic and more demanding Klopp after Rodgers’ poor start to the season.
Fast forward to the present and this Sunday, West Ham take on Liverpool at Anfield in the 15th game week. This season, Klopp’s swarming and pressing Liverpool are in the top four, while Bilic’s wonder has worn off for the Hammers and they are languishing one point above the relegation zone. While last season West Ham’s away form was wonderful, especially in the first half, this season they have taken just 4 points from 21 possible points. Liverpool meanwhile lost just the second match of the campaign last Sunday and are 7 points better off than last season. A total of 18 points separate the two sides in the table as of now.
For West Ham it seems that the move to the London Stadium and new training facilities have put off not only the fans but also the players. Many times during this season it has been very evident as heads have dropped easily at the slightest whiff of a difficult challenge during the season. After last week’s capitulation to Arsenal in the London Stadium, Bilic admitted that his team “don’t always train well”, indicating problems at the training ground as well. Whatever the malaise inflicting the Hammers, it seems that it is behavioral and not related to capability of the players really. While their transfers in the summer were conspicuously poor, they managed to keep hold of Dmitri Payet and also made Lanzini’s move permanent. This side, purely on ability, should be higher than 17th in the league after 14 matches. Bilic and the players of course know this and hence at least getting one point against a team they thoroughly dominated last season could blow some life into the team.
“It’s a wonderful story if you’re not part of it on the wrong side. Today we were. We have to learn from it, for sure.” Jurgen Klopp has his own style of admitting that his defense goofed up big time in the game against Bournemouth. To get on the right side of the wonderful story and to bounce back in to the title contention, Liverpool need to re-establish the dominance they have shown throughout this campaign. The Reds would be looking to score plenty of goals to ensure that the seemingly inevitable defending gaffes do not really lead to dropped points. Home form is in their favor, as Liverpool has dropped only two points at home this season. Despite Coutinho and Sturridge being ruled out due to injuries, the Reds will be confident of not allowing West Ham to repeat their Anfield heroics from last year, this time.
- Before last year, Liverpool had never lost to West Ham at home in the Premier League. They had won 14 and drawn three of their previous games.
- West Ham did the league double over the Reds last season. They have never won three consecutive league matches against Liverpool.
- Previous three Liverpool league games (Arsenal, Watford, and Bournemouth) to be played on a Sunday this season have each led to 7 goals. A high-scoring affair could be possible.
While Liverpool consist of several players who can snatch the initiative from West Ham by scoring, in the absence of Philippe Coutinho, Klopp seems to bank on his young Belgian striker to deliver goals. He has not disappointed yet with two goals in two appearances in the last two games. While his form is not yet comparable to Aguero or Costa or even to the more rampant scorers in his own team but he definitely represents a major goal threat and also enables others to shoot. Along with 2.1 attempted shots and 0.7 goals per 90 minutes, Origi also provides 1.8 key passes per 90 minutes. He also tracks back a bit and is an enthusiastic presser. All these qualities make him quite suitable to Klopp’s methods. On Sunday as well, we can expect that Origi will be a busy player and will likely be involved in a few goals.
If there is anything that the Hammers miss from last season, it is very much possible that the answer is goal scorers. In 14 games, the team has scored only 14 goals and only two players – Michail Antonio and Lanzini have scored more than one goal. Given this dearth of goal scorers, Andy Carroll’s return from injury is good news for West Ham. He made his presence felt immediately upon his return, scoring the consolation goal against Arsenal last week. Due to the extremely limited time that he has played this season, his current season stats are not easily interpretable. However, a returning player who is considered a flop by the Anfield faithful, one who has scored 50% of his Premier League goals through headers – is definitely going to play a major role on Sunday evening, especially given the state of Liverpool’s defense and the number of set piece errors they commit.
Liverpool received the positive news this week that Joel Matip is back to training and most likely will be available to start. He should be partnering Dejan Lovren, Clyne, and Milner in the defense. Despite Karius’ error for Bournemouth’s last goal, Klopp is likely to persist with the German in goal. In the midfield, Lallana could start along with Henderson and Can, while up front Origi will be flanked by Firmino and Mane.
For West Ham, long term absentees include Tore, Byram, Sakho, Oxford, and Collins, while Kouyate could also miss the game due to injury. The positive news is that Andy Carroll is available to start and can be fed by Payet, Lanzini and Antonio in the midfield. Another ex-Liverpool player Arbeloa could start at right back, while Bilic could bring back Cresswell on the left. Winston Reid and Ogbonna could be the central defense pairing, protecting Randolph in the goal.
This Sunday’s game is a match between two shaky defenses, who have been exceptionally leaky this season. However, Liverpool possess a very potent attack despite missing two world-class forwards in Coutinho and Sturridge. On Sunday, it is this potent attack, which is likely to make a difference as West Ham’s defenders will surely find Firmino, Origi and Mane a handful to deal with. On their defensive side, the Reds will have to be cautious of giving away too many set piece opportunities to Andy Carroll to capitalize on. If Liverpool can keep the set pieces at bay, they should emerge with three points on Sunday.
Liverpool 2 – 1 West Ham