29 January 2007

Liverpool at West Ham 01.30.07

2:45pm, live in the US on Setanta.

Liverpool: 3rd place; 46 points out of 24 games
West Ham: 18th place; 20 points out of 24 games

Last 4 meetings:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.26.06
3-3 (3-1 pen) Liverpool (FA Cup) 05.13.06
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.26.06
2-0 Liverpool (h) 10.29.05

Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 2-0 Chelsea (h); 3-0 Watford (a); 3-6 Arsenal (h)
West Ham: 0-1 Watford (h); 2-2 Newcastle (a); 3-3 Fulham (h)

Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 8; Bellamy 6; Crouch 5; Gerrard 4; Alonso, Garcia 3; Gonzalez 2
West Ham: Zamora 6; Benayoun, Cole, Harewood, Mullins, Sheringham 2

Referee: Martin Atkinson (you may remember him from a postponement earlier this season)

Guess at a squad:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio
Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Riise
Kuyt, Bellamy

I’m conflicted.

On one hand, I’d like to see the same lineup that went out at Watford, using all three strikers to take the game to the opposition relentlessly. West Ham’s not been the best defensively, and the 3-4-3 (well, that’s the formation it most resembled) would put pressure on them from the start.

However, with Pennant’s recent form, especially given the Chelsea match, I can’t see him being left out. Yes, it wouldn’t do wonders for his confidence to leave him on the bench, but that’s not the primary concern, as the team’s always going to come first. Pennant truly has made Liverpool a better side in the past few games he’s started with his crossing, pace, and most impressively, his vision in picking out the right pass.

Therefore, I’m going with the same lineup that went out against Chelsea, expect for Bellamy in for Crouch, although none of the options would surprise me. I think that Belllamy’s pace will have the best chance of unhinging West Ham’s defense. Ferdinand, Gabbidon and Collins are all out with injuries, leaving new-boy Calum Davenport to be paired with Jonathan Spector or Christian Dailly. In addition, leg-breaker and all-around jerk Lucas Neill is out with an ankle sprain or something (karma). On paper, it looks like the backline is there for the taking, although it merits a mention that Curbishley’s teams have always been solid at the back. And once again, it’s Crouchy who appears to be odd man out.

Most of the others write themselves. Sissoko and Zenden may return by the derby, but the central midfield looks to be Gerrard and Alonso for the foreseeable future. Aurelio and Riise combined quite well against Chelsea and I expect, as in that game, Riise will play ahead of Fabio for the majority of the match. Meanwhile, the backline looks to have returned to the form displayed last season, as the goal given up to Blackburn is the lone league goal scored by opposition since November.

As many, including Benitez, have said over the past week, beating Chelsea will have meant little if a win isn’t picked up tomorrow. Liverpool must continue the form they’ve shown if there’s any hope of narrowing the gap with Chelsea and United. Not to mention that Arsenal’s right on their heels. A win tomorrow will keep up the pace needed to compete for second, in addition to providing morale and momentum going into this weekend’s derby, where revenge will be on the minds.

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