06 April 2013

Liverpool v West Ham 04.07.13

8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 12.09.12
1-3 West Ham (a) 02.27.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.20.10
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.19.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Villa (a); 1-3 Southampton (a); 3-2 Tottenham (h)
West Ham: 3-1 West Brom (h); 0-2 Chelsea (a); 1-0 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 22; Gerrard 9; Sturridge 4; Downing, Henderson 3; Agger, Coutinho, Enrique, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Cole, Johnson, ┼×ahin 1
West Ham: Nolan 6; Carroll 5; Noble 4; C Cole, J Cole, Collison, Diame, Maiga, O'Brien 2; Jarvis, O'Neil, Reid, Taylor, Tomkins, Vaz Te 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Downing Henderson Coutinho
Suarez

It's the same old question, the only line-up question. Will Liverpool start four out-and-out attackers or three central midfielders?

Liverpool struggled at times at Aston Villa but, on the whole, were more balanced than the side which lost to Southampton. But Sunday's match is at home against a side who hesitates to involve its midfield in attacking buildup (to put it nicely). Could we see a return to the more 4-2-4 system that's led to both highs and lows this season?

Probably not. West Ham's pressing and the all-action Diame in midfield are both arguments against replacing Henderson with another attacker. There's a slight chance Sturridge could come in for Coutinho or Downing, shifting Suarez to the flank, but that also seems less than likely.

As Villa were last week, West Ham will be very direct. As I wrote a few days ago, only Stoke has contested more aerial duels this season; only Norwich, Reading, Stoke, Everton, and West Brom have a higher percentage of headed goals, and no side has conceded fewer headed goals. They attempt the most crosses per game and the sixth-most long balls per game in the league. If Skrtel's confidence isn't completely demolished – and it may well be – Rodgers might bring him back into the side instead of Carragher because of his aerial ability; despite Carlton Cole's burly threat, he matched the striker fairly well in the reverse fixture.

Thankfully, both of West Ham's former Liverpool players won't be on the pitch tomorrow. Carroll's ineligible due to the terms of his loan while Joe Cole's doubtful with a hamstring injury. We all know how I feel about ex-players facing former clubs. Both Mark Noble and Gary McCartney are also injured.

Carlton Cole isn't Andy Carroll, but he still caused Liverpool a few problems when these sides met in December. West Ham will look to get the ball from back to front quickly, spread play wide to Jarvis and Vaz Te or Taylor, and then whip in crosses towards Cole and Nolan. It's a tactic that has punished Liverpool this season.

Otherwise, West Ham's XI is also fairly consistent, and most likely Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O'Brien; O'Neil, Diame; Vaz Te, Nolan, Jarvis; C Cole.

Precedent isn't with West Ham tomorrow. Allardyce side is averaging 1.67 points per game at home but just 0.73 on the road, and the Hammers have won just one of their last 10 away games. The last time West Ham won at Anfield was in 1963, and Sam Allardyce – whether with Bolton, Newcastle, or Blackburn – hasn't won at Anfield since 2002.

But the last eight months – matches against West Brom, Stoke, Villa, etc. – have proven that precedent doesn't matter much this season. West Ham will pose a difficult test, and – among other things – Liverpool will have to demonstrate the mental consistency that's been lacking all too often. Because if Liverpool turn up thinking that they just had to turn up to take all three points, Liverpool almost certainly won't take all three points.

1 comment:

drew said...

The best thing about West Ham matches is the hope that @TheBig_Sam will tweet something about them. Or about anything at all.