Managers in the Premier League are treated differently by the fans of their clubs depending on their past achievements and pedigree. It took almost close to two full seasons for Liverpool fans to question Jurgen Klopp’s tactics, methods and selections. While for others such as Slaven Bilic, the sword of getting fired has been hanging over their heads ever since they took over their current jobs. Bilic currently is the second most favourite (odds of 3 to 1) to lose or change his job among all twenty Premier League managers. So, it must be with a bit of trepidation that the Croat will welcome Liverpool on Saturday evening for the 11th match day of the 2017-18 Premier League campaign.
To overcome the travails of last season, West Ham brought in many personnel with prior Premier League experience over the summer transfer window. But as one of the memes during the summer pointed out, Bilic was accumulating a dream team from 2011-12 in 2017-18. Several Premier League veterans – including Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta have underwhelmed for the Hammers, while one of those veteran signings – Chicharito – seems to have been a success. The net result has been that West Ham are currently 16th with just one point separating them from Everton in 18th position. In the first ten games, West Ham have won two, lost five and drawn three. West Ham dropped two points from a winning position last weekend when Antonio gifted the ball away to Crystal Palace. Slaven Bilic will be hoping that his side has better sense and luck on Saturday.
Like West Ham, Liverpool have been underwhelming too. Veterans like Roy Keane have had to pluck Bill Shankly’s quotes to slate his beloved team. But, objectively speaking, Liverpool have lost only two matches in the league so far – both to superior opponents. While four draws against lesser teams are not great but the situation is not as dire as some people believe it to be. Whenever they have underwhelmed, it has been due to individual mistakes and stubbornly defensive opponents, but it seems that Klopp has found a way to tackle both of those problems. Mistakes have been limited in the last two games, while the Reds have found holes in stubborn defences through patient probing. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that his side keeps the victorious run going before heading into the November international break.
- West Ham have played Liverpool 42 times in the Premier League, winning 9 times and losing 24 times. Eight of their nine victories have come at home but all of them were at Upton Park. At the Hammers’ new home – the London Stadium, they have played Liverpool once and lost.
- That 0-4 loss in May interrupted West Ham’s five-game unbeaten streak over Liverpool in all competitions. It also matched the record of the biggest away win for Liverpool over West Ham. The previous such victory came in January 1976.
- Liverpool have won 10 times away at West Ham during the Premier League era. In a run going back to December 2001, none of the last 12 matches that Liverpool have played at West Ham have ended in a draw.
- Jurgen Klopp’s record vs Slaven Bilic is not great as his team has only won once in five previous meetings between the managers. The other results have been two draws and two losses.
As the last several matches have shown, the easiest way to limit Liverpool is to score quick goals against them. If West Ham want to score quickly against the Reds, they will have to depend on Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). He has appeared in all 10 of West Ham’s games and played 840 minutes. He has scored four goals in the Premier League and has a 35% chance of scoring or creating a goal in 90 minutes of play. All of Chicharito’s 41 Premier League goals have arrived from within the penalty box, which is where Liverpool have offered shooting opportunities to opponents many times this season. Bilic will be hoping that the Mexican can wreak havoc among the Liverpool defence and distract the Reds from pushing up in the attack themselves.
Whether it is to break down opponents’ defences or whether it is to score a bunch of goals, Liverpool’s reliance on Mohamed Salah is increasing. The Egyptian has been the Reds’ player of the month for August and September and should also be a favorite for the October award. With 10 goals in all competitions, the same number that the entire West Ham team have managed so far, he is Liverpool’s top scorer. An xG per 90 minutes of 0.70 and a xA per 90 minutes of 0.16 means that he has 86% chance of scoring or creating a goal, if he plays full 90 minutes. If West Ham approach Saturday’s game with a negative mindset like Maribor did in the midweek, Liverpool will depend upon their newfound talisman to create an opening for them, just like he did against the Slovenian side.
It seemed as if Slaven Bilic was in trouble as his team prepared to meet the Premier League’s second most prolific (in shooting) side without any fit first choice defender. However, it is now believed that Winston Reid and Aaron Cresswell both might be available for Saturday evening’s clash. Pablo Zabaleta is not available due to suspension, while Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio are nursing foot and abdominal injuries. Given the Reds’ record at set pieces, Bilic might be tempted to field Andy Carroll against his formal club, while Andre Ayew could give way to Chicharito.
The midweek Champions League fixture against NK Maribor added one more player to Liverpool’s injury list – Georgino Wijnaldum is ruled out of Saturday’s game with an ankle injury. Dejan Lovren and Phil Coutinho are likely to miss out due to their respective injuries sustained last week as well. Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne are also out due to long term injuries. While Klopp gave a start to Oxlade Alex-Chamberlain on Wednesday, he might revert back to Daniel Sturridge as a starter at London Stadium. Similarly, Simon Mignolet will return between the sticks and Joe Gomez at the right back.
If anything, the last two matches for Liverpool have shown their ability to remain patient and break down stubborn defensive sides. The Reds have also started scoring at a rate approaching the levels of last season. This augurs well for Jurgen Klopp and his team but is ominous for Slaven Bilic and his team. Individual errors notwithstanding, Liverpool should have enough firepower to blow the erring Hammers away. It should be another win for Liverpool, which will again have to be earned by breaking down a defensive side
West Ham 1 – 3 Liverpool