By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to London to face an out-of-form West Ham side as they look to maintain or even increase the advantage they hold over Manchester City.
Liverpool were held to a draw against Leicester at Anfield on Wednesday, missing an opportunity to increase the lead at the top to seven points after Rafa Benitez’s heroics as he got the better of Pep Guardiola. Liverpool’s record against all teams outside the top six was unsustainable and was always going to end eventually, luckily for us it was when Man City also dropped points.
West Ham, who sit 12th in the table were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Wolves as their poor form continues. This means the London club have now lost their last three games.
Form going into the game
Liverpool were very poor on Wednesday, everything looked like it was going according to plan when Sadio Mane found the back of the net in the second minute, but we never capitalised on this and it was Leicester who looked the better team as the game wore on. Based on the chances both teams had, it was the visitors who arguably should have been coming away with three points.
Our defence has been quite shaky during the month of January, only recording one clean sheet and conceding one less than they had done in the previous five months. Due to our defensive injury crisis and having played two games without of our first-choice defence it is expected to not be as defensively sound. That being said, the quicker Joe Gomez and Trent get back the better.
West Ham, as mentioned before have been in quite a poor streak of form. After beating Arsenal 1-0 at the London Stadium they have gone on to lose three consecutive games. A loss against League Two side AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup was sandwiched between losses to Bournemouth and Wolves in the league by a score lines of 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. Poor squad depth could be held accountable for these results with both centre backs having to play three games in a row.
Against the top six this season, West Ham have only recorded two victories, one of which was against a Jose Mourinho managed Manchester United side. Heavy defeats to Arsenal, Manchester City and the Reds’ by a combined score of 11-1 shows that they do give up once the game is out of reach meaning it’s the perfect opportunity to increase our goal difference and insert confidence into the squad ahead of what is a defining month for the season.
West Ham had two injury scares as they lost to Wolves, both Marko Arnautovic and Fabianski suffered slight injuries during the game.
Arnautovic looked the more serious with some even suggesting the Austrian broke his foot, this wasn’t the case however with the player only suffering bruising and swelling. He is expected to be fit for the game against Liverpool as is Lukasz Fabianski.
The only other injury concerns for West Ham are ones we already know about, with a host of players including Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Balbuena who are unavailable for selection.
With Fabianski shrugging off his injury he will start in goal, hoping to continue his good form which has seen him become one of the best outside the top six.
Due to the amount of injuries West Ham have, their defence has little to no cover, the back four should be the same as the one that conceded three last weekend. The quartet of Pablo Zabeleta, Angelo Ogbonna, Issa Diop and Arthur Masuaku should no be able to compete with Liverpool’s attack.
Manuel Pellegrini will likely change to a midfield five like so many managers before him, trying to flood the midfield as much as possible making it difficult for Liverpool to create chances, Declan Rice and Mark Noble will likely be joined by Pedro Obiang.
Felipe Anderson who has been in tremendous form for West Ham and is one of the signings of the season, having contributed ten goals from a wide position will be a nuisance to James Milner, who is expected to start at right back.
Up front will be Marko Arnautovic, the Austrian can be quite inconsistent for his team, only performing when he feels like it. In the opening minutes, if Virgil van Dijk were to overpower the striker, he may well take another day off.
Jurgen Klopp has an injury crisis in defence of his own – Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez and Alexander Arnold are all ruled out for Monday’s game. With only two fit first team centre backs at the club, the German may call up Ki Jana Hoever or Conor Masterson to the bench.
Naby Keita’s performance went under the radar against Leicester, I for one thought the Guinean was quite good, moving the ball quite well and taking up dangerous positions around the box.
In his first game of the season he was excellent against West Ham, but due to the Reds’ needing a win a midfield three of Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Henderson will probably be our starting trio.
As the midfield three are quite well rounded in all attributes of the game, it’s likely that the trio will take turns joining the attack and support Mane, Firmino and Salah.
Danger man: Felipe Anderson
When Felipe Anderson arrived from Lazio for a fee of around £42m, I was quite surprised at the large sum of the fee due to the fact that the Brazilian was quite inconsistent throughout his time in Serie A. Yes, he is a very good player and has excellent technical skills, but his end product always let him down.
His most productive season for Lazio was his first – finding the back of the net 10 times and laying on a further four in the league. His form then fell off a cliff, in his next three seasons for the club he failed to score more than seven goals in the league. Scoring a total of 15 goals in his next three seasons.
He has shown form similar to his first season in Lazio, it will be interesting if he can continue this form in seasons to come which could earn him a move to a top club in Europe.
Against the top four this season he has proved to be a problem but hasn’t contributed any goals. Mainly, because of the quality of the defenders boasted by the top clubs in England. He will however be coming up against an ageing James Milner who didn’t have the easiest time against Wilfried Zaha.
Anderson is a more accomplished player than Zaha and will be an even bigger threat to our make-shift right back. When the Brazilian does get the ball it is important one of our midfielders help Milner out and make a two-on-one situation to try and nullify the excellent Brazilian.
Last five results
Premier League: 11/12/2016 – Liverpool 2-2 West Ham
Premier League: 14/5/2017 – West Ham 0-4 Liverpool
Premier League: 04/11/2017 – West Ham 1-4 Liverpool
Premier League: 24/2/2018 – Liverpool 4-1 West Ham
Premier League: 12/8/2018 – Liverpool 4-0 West ham
Over the last two seasons when Liverpool faced West Ham, we have consistently won by large margins, our last four games have seen us score 16 goals – four on each occasion.
Those games however were against the West Ham of old, coached with poor tactics and poor players. This season Manuel Pellegrini has brought in quality players, is utilising players in their preferred position and is using tactics which can make them a threat to any team.
In past seasons, a point against West Ham away from home would have been deemed a good point in the title race, I even had us down to draw this game before our poor result against Leicester. After that result however, nothing less than a win should be required.
With Man City playing three times over the next seven days by the time we play again the difference could be down to just two points. Liverpool buckled under the pressure when the opportunity arose to put daylight between the two clubs so it will be interesting to see how they perform with City breathing down our necks, that’s if Pep Guardiola picks up maximum points.
Monday’s game will be a tough one and it will be important to gain the lead and score a second quickly after. With the game played away, nerves from the crowd won’t transfer onto the pitch. Jurgen Klopp often gets the best out of his players after a disappointing result which should translate to a Liverpool win.
West Ham wont make it easy for us due to their dangerous players and our injury problems. If Liverpool were to win it will be a massive hurdle jumped in the title race. I’m going for a 3-1 victory in favour of the Reds, our performances over the past month have been sub-par so it is even more important to try and recapture or performance levels pre-2019.
Final Score: West Ham 1 (Anderson) – 3 Liverpool (Mane, Salah, Fabinho)