12:30pm, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 12.01.08
4-0 Liverpool (h) 03.05.08
0-1 West Ham (a) 01.30.08
2-1 Liverpool (a) 01.30.07
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Newcastle (h); 3-1 Hull (a); 4-4 Arsenal (h)
West Ham: 1-0 Stoke (a); 0-1 Chelsea (h); 1-1 Villa (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Torres 13; Kuyt 11; Benayoun 7; Alonso 4; Riera 3; Aurelio, Babel, Ngog 2; Agger, Arbeloa, Carragher, Dossena, Hyypia, Lucas 1
West Ham: Cole 9; Di Michele 4; Collison, Noble, Tristan 3; Ashton 2; Behrami, Davenport, Mullins, Neill, Parker, Stanislas, Tomkins 1
Referee: Alan Wiley
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Tomorrow comes too soon for Alonso. As crucial as he is to Liverpool’s play, especially in games where the team looks to have a substantial edge in possession, it’s not worth risking him if there are questions over his ankle, and it's right to leave him on Merseyside. Which should mean a start for Lucas. Maybe Gerrard would play deeper with Yossi in the hole, but I doubt it. Besides, the Lucas/Mascherano pairing started the 4-1 win over United and 5-1 win over Newcastle, among others. Pity the “others” also includes 0-0 against both Stoke and Fulham.
In my opinion, more important is the predicted return of Fernando Torres. The Spanish striker is ever so needed in games like this, where he can come up with a goal from absolutely nothing. He scored a hat-trick the last time he faced West Ham, and missed the 0-0 draw in December.
Another key question is Benayoun v Riera. With Gerrard and Torres in the side, it’s pretty much one or the other, as Kuyt’s seemingly nailed-on to start on the right. And although Benayoun hasn’t always been the best option on the left, he’s in a rich vein of form, far better than Riera, who’s been hit and miss of late. I honestly don’t know who Rafa will choose, but Benayoun has to have the edge.
Finally, the other questions are in defense, specifically Agger and Aurelio. The Dane has started more games recently, aided by fitness and a new contract, and should continue to on Saturday. He’s scored against West Ham in the past, and his ability to bring the ball out of defense should be huge. One of these days, we’re going to see Carra left out for a Skrtel and Agger pairing, but I doubt that day’s tomorrow.
Of course, maybe we’ll see Hyypia instead. West Ham will probably play Di Michele and/or Tristan up front in Cole’s absence, and neither veteran relies on quickness to score goals. Both use their brains and positioning, which Hyypia is the best at countering.
On the left, it’s Aurelio or Insua. My heart says Insua – I love the little Argie, and think he’s a hell of a player. But Aurelio did well last time out, is far more experienced, and is a better crosser, which Liverpool will need against a packed defense.
West Ham will be no pushovers, and it’s almost all down to the management of Gianfranco Zola. The Hammers lost seven of Zola’s first ten games. They’re now in 7th place, in pole position for a Europa League (UEFA Cup) place. Most impressive is how Zola’s bedded in young players like Collison, Stanislas, and Tomkins – but they still have reliable old heads like Di Michele and Tristan.
I said it for the Arsenal game, and now that’s past, it’s the case here. This is the hardest game left in the run-in. West Ham has been a bogey side of late – Liverpool's 4-0 win in 2008 is bracketed by a 0-0 draw and 0-1 loss – and it’s away from Anfield as well. But maybe being away from home will be beneficial. West Ham will have to come out, although Zola’s not known for playing defensively regardless, and Liverpool won’t have the pressure of a wanting crowd if the goals aren't flying in.
The team knows what it needs to do: win every game until the end of May. That’s all that’s needed to be said.