After a brief break interspersed with European football and the FA Cup, Premier League is back this weekend with its 28th game week. While the marquee fixture of this game week is no doubt Manchester United hosting Chelsea on Sunday in an important game for both teams’ top-four ambitions, one of the other top-four contenders – Liverpool host West Ham on Saturday. Both the teams are well-rested, even though Liverpool have had a shorter rest period due to their Champions League game against Porto. West Ham, on the other hand, have had a two-week break.
A look at some of the most disappointing results for Liverpool this season tells us that they immediately followed after a game that left the Reds euphoric. After they comprehensively beat Arsenal at Anfield, Manchester City thrashed Liverpool at the Etihad. Similarly, after Liverpool registered a 0-7 away victory against Maribor in the Champions League, they promptly lost 4-1 to Tottenham at Wembley. And lastly, after beating Manchester City at Anfield, the Reds lost away to Swansea and dropped out of the FA Cup at the hands of West Brom. So, the Liverpool fans would be hoping that their side’s rampant victory against Porto does not portend a loss or draw at Anfield on Saturday. This is because the fight for top-four (rather 2,3, and 4) is going to be very tight this season and any loosely dropped points could hurt the Reds at the end of the season. Not that the form Liverpool have shown recently leaves any space for self-doubt or fear. In their last four games, the Reds have conceded two goals to Spurs but scored 12. The front three of Mane-Firmino-Salah seem unstoppable, while at the other end Virgil van Dijk is showing his value, inspiring confidence in the entire defense. In all probability, Liverpool’s quality across the pitch should be enough to overcome any negative trends, which is as well because a win on Saturday can take the Reds to the 2nd place in the table and even leave them there, depending on the result between Man United and Chelsea.
West Ham come into this game in a pretty good form themselves. David Moyes has turned Hammers’ fortunes around and ensured that for them, Saturday’s game is a free-hit of sorts. This is because West Ham are four points above the relegation zone, so a loss on Saturday will not make a huge impact for them. A draw or win, however, would strengthen the Hammers’ position out of the relegation zone. West Ham have lost only one Premier League game since Christmas (Brighton). Hammers’ recent form at Anfield is also good, as they have not lost in their last three visits. Moreover, unlike the first half of the season, West Ham are scoring goals and their attack is showing some sharpness. Moyes could look at these positives and aim for at least a draw on Saturday.
- Liverpool have played West Ham in 136 games and have won 72, lost 28, and drawn 36. In the Premier League, the two teams have met 43 times, with Liverpool winning 25 and drawing 9 times. In fact, only against Everton have West Ham lost more top-flight matches (61) than versus Liverpool (60).
- Liverpool have scored 4 goals against West Ham in their last two games and have conceded only one goal. But both those matches were at the London Stadium. At Anfield, West Ham are unbeaten on their last three visits (all competition, W1, D2). Prior to the win in August 2015, the Hammers had not won a game at Anfield in 45 visits (D12, L33).
- Jurgen Klopp failed to win any of his first four matches versus West Ham (D2, L2). But since then he has guided the Reds to emphatic victories in the last two games. On the other hand, David Moyes has never won against Liverpool at Anfield (D7, L7), failing to win with Everton, Manchester United, and Sunderland.
- West Ham have only lost two games of the last eleven in all competitions in a run that goes back to just before Christmas. They have won 4 and drawn 5 during this run of games. Liverpool have lost a total of five times this entire season and only once at Anfield (West Brom, FA Cup).
Two weeks back Sadio Mane was a troubled man. His game had not reached the seemingly lofty heights of last season. First, it was the incident with Ederson and then it was injury, which seemed to keep Mane away from the form he showed last year. But, even without touching last year’s levels and admitting himself that he is struggling, Sadio Mane has contributed 18 goals already this season in all competitions (scored 12, assisted 6) and February has not ended yet. Last year as well he had contributed 18 goals (13 scored). So, if he is out of form and yet is likely to outperform his last year’s output then what will happen when he gets back into form. We got to see a glimpse against Porto last week. He scored a hat-trick and by the time he scored his third, his movement was as fluid as last year. That is an ominous sign for any team, let alone the injury-ravaged Hammers, as they have to contend with one of the most prolific and in-form front three in Europe.
West Ham have scored 34 goals in the Premier League this season so far and 10 of them have been contributed by Marko Arnautovic. Moyes seems to have been the catalyst as all of Arnautovic’s 10 goal contributions have come after the Scot’s appointment. With an xG per 90 of 0.41 and xAssist per 90 of 0.19, the Pole has close to 60% chance of contributing a goal in a full game, which is also corroborated by his contribution rate of 69 minutes per goal contributed. Further, while Liverpool have improved in the air since van Dijk joined them, Arnautovic possesses the physicality to test Liverpool’s defenders in the air. If the Reds wish to win easily on Saturday, they will need to keep the Pole in check.
Nathaniel Clyne is the only injury concern for Liverpool. Rest of the squad is well-rested and well-trained under the Spanish sun at Marbella, Spain. Jurgen Klopp is likely to go with almost the same team that won at Porto. Emre Can could play instead of James Milner and Joel Matip could partner van Dijk in defense, instead of Dejan Lovren.
West Ham have a much longer list of absentees, due to injuries and suspensions. Pedro Obiang, Andy Carroll and Edimilson Fernandes are out with injuries, while Manuel Lanzini is also a doubt. Arthur Masuaku is suspended due to a red card. Winston Reid could start while Patrice Evra will likely find himself on the bench. Jose Fonte’s move to China seems imminent, which possibly rules him out of the starting lineup as well.
This season, Liverpool have made a habit of goofing up immediately after registering impressive victories. Their visitors are also in a pretty good form. However, Hammers’ form might not be enough to stop Liverpool’s front three from scoring a handful of goals. This, along with a much calmer and confident defense for the Reds means that David Moyes and West Ham are likely to return from Anfield with another loss on Saturday.