Only a couple of game weeks of Premier League football are left this season and the air is thick with talks of x number of knock-out games. Most of the teams that are playing for something more than pride and points now – be it relegation or European qualification, have to treat their remaining league matches as “finals” to achieve their targets. Arsenal and Liverpool need to win their remaining games to ensure the other does get the fourth spot. This Sunday Liverpool play the penultimate match of their 2016-17 league campaign and take on West Ham United at the London Stadium knowing that anything other than a win will make their season look dismal and scupper a lot of transfer plans.
Earlier in the season, a trip to the London Stadium was not a daunting thought but of late the Hammers have converted their new stadium in to a fortress of sorts. They are unbeaten in the last three home games and have beaten Swansea and Tottenham. In fact they spoilt the title dream for Spurs last weekend, when they won 1-0 against Pochettino’s men. This weekend, they have the opportunity to increase their points tally and spoil Jürgen Klopp’s plans of Champions League football next season. Injuries to key personnel makes the task a bit more difficult but Slaven Bilic’s men will have the belief that they can beat Liverpool at home, especially after beating one of the best teams in the league last weekend. A win will take them to 45 points and possibly a couple of positions higher in the table.
In the meanwhile, their visitors cannot even consider losing this match, as it would put Arsenal in a sniffing distance of top four, especially if the Gunners win at Stoke on Saturday. Arsenal is 4 points behind Liverpool with one game in hand so if Liverpool do not get all six in these two last games, the Gunners have a chance to sneak into the fourth position. For a team currently in the third position in the league, worrying so much in the last lap of the campaign seems out of character. But with the kind of roller coaster of a season that Liverpool have endured, their fans’ nervousness is justified. Just one win and three points in last three matches have thrown a fairly large spanner into their works. That they are still hopeful of Champions League qualification this season speaks volumes about their dominant first half of the season. A win in London would take the Reds to 73 points and thus far, no team has missed out on Champions League qualification with that tally, though mathematically it would still be possible with a home game against relegated Boro looming on the final game week. Klopp must ensure that his players are focused on getting the win in these two matches but it would definitely be easier said than done.
Slaven Bilic is facing an injury crisis in his team as he prepares to welcome Liverpool without any of his regular midfielders fit. Cheikou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho have been ruled out for the remainder of the season, while Mark Noble has undergone a surgery on a long-standing abdominal injury. Pedro Obiang also remains sidelined, so Bilic could be forced to play Edimilson Fernandes and Håvard Nordtveit, who have 16 starts this season between them. Andy Carroll will also miss out on a reunion with his former club as he too is sidelined with a groin injury.
Although it is unlikely, but Jurgen Klopp insisted during the week that the Reds’ captain Jordan Henderson could return from his injury before the season is over. It seems unlikely that it would happen in this match though. Instead, Adam Lallana could make his return to the starting XI, as could Daniel Sturridge who can replace Roberto Firmino who has not trained this entire week.
- West Ham are unbeaten in five games against Liverpool in all competition, winning three of those matches. They have never gone six matches undefeated against the Reds. The Hammers have won the last three encounters.
- The Reds have kept one clean sheet in their last 10 Premier League visits to West Ham, in a 3-0 victory in May 2009.
- None of the last 11 Premier League meetings in east London have ended level, with West Ham winning four and Liverpool claiming seven victories since a 1-1 draw in December 2001.
- If the Hammers fail to score they will end the season with just 19 home league goals – their joint-lowest total in a top-flight season (also set in 1988-89).
- Liverpool have won three of their four Premier League games in London this season, drawing the other. The last time they remained unbeaten in the capital across an entire league season was in 1988-89. In fact, they have only lost one of their last 10 top flight matches in London – their 2-0 defeat at West Ham in January 2016
Lanzini has proven to be one of the better players that Slaven Bilic possesses. According to WhoScored ratings he is West Ham’s third best player having scored 8 goals and assisted two in 33 appearances. He also likes to score at the London Stadium, having scored in five of the last eight home games. He is yet to lose against Liverpool wearing a West Ham shirt and scored once in three matches against the Reds. In the absence of both Andy Carroll and Antonio, Bilic will certainly use Lanzini as the primary attacking threat against Liverpool.
Like he has done so many times in the past, Philippe Coutinho is having a season of two halves. In the first half he seemed virtually unstoppable but after his injury during the winter, he has not performed as well as he and Klopp would have liked. In the possible absence of Roberto Firmino due to injury and due to the continuing goal drought from Divock Origi, Klopp would have to turn to his talisman for a goal or two if Reds plan to win this match. Having scored 10 goals and assisted six in 29 appearances, Coutinho brings great attacking quality to the team but he will need to ensure that his quality shines through in East London on Sunday.
Liverpool have a shoddy record against the bottom ten this season. On Sunday, they will need to put that record behind them and perhaps treat West Ham as a top team to get the much needed victory. Indeed, their recent record against West Ham will not make it hard for them to think of the Hammers as a top side. West Ham might cause trouble by defending as well as they did against Spurs but the lack of their regular midfielders could hand the benefit slightly to Liverpool. The Reds definitely want the win more than the Hammers and in the end might have the quality to just scrape through.