12:30pm, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 05.09.09
0-0 (h) 12.01.08
4-0 Liverpool (h) 03.05.08
0-1 West Ham (a) 01.30.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Debrecen (h); 4-0 Burnley (h); 3-2 Bolton (a)
West Ham: 0-1 Wigan (a); 0-0 Blackburn (a); 3-1 Millwall (h)
Liverpool: Benayoun, Torres 3; Gerrard, Johnson, Kuyt 2; Ngog 1
West Ham: Cole, Noble, Upson 1
Referee: Andre Marriner
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Three games in one week usually leads to rotation in a Benitez side, but we saw the same XI against both Burnley and Debrecen. On paper, this is the most difficult of the three, on the road against mid-table opposition. But if there weren’t changes for Debrecen, I don’t know how many there’ll be here.
Debrecen and Burnley demonstrated the two sides to Gerrard in central midfield. Against Burnley, Gerrard became increasingly instrumental as space opened up once Liverpool got in front, and he bossed the game in the second half. Against Debrecen, he was far less effective, with less touches and errant shooting. Lucas/Gerrard can work against the smaller sides and might work against the stronger. But I think Liverpool will get the best of Gerrard – and probably Torres – if the captain is playing further up the field.
Which means one of Benayoun, Kuyt, and Riera misses out. No slight to Riera, but that’s not a difficult decision. Kuyt’s been one of the first names on the team sheet for the last two seasons (and rightfully so), while Benayoun’s in terrific form. As West Ham’s at home and managed by Zola, they’ll come out of their shell a bit. Hopefully, this means there’s less chance of getting bogged down in the final third and Riera’s width wouldn’t be too missed.
Mascherano should return to the side tomorrow, and hopefully he’ll have a point to prove. With Lucas playing well in his absence, Masch will have to up his game. He hasn’t started the season anywhere near his best. Whether that’s due to having his head turned by Barca or because of Argentina’s struggles is for us to guess at, but either way, Liverpool doesn’t have the time, patience, or squad strength for passengers. If Masch can’t find his form, he’ll get fewer opportunities, especially once Aquilani features.
Now that we’ve seen evidence Aurelio’s still alive, Insua’s place could be in doubt. Again, I’ve few complaints with the little Argentinean, who played well in the last two games, but Aurelio is more experienced and more well-rounded, and will be back in the side when match-fit. As he saw just a minute or two against Debrecen, it’s probably too soon for him to start, but we’re close.
West Ham have tentatively opened the campaign, with four points from four games, the lone win coming in the first game of the season away at Wolves. Ilunga, Boa Morte, and Ashton are out, while Collison and Dyer are questionable. But Zola’s a wily manager, Carlton Cole’s shown glimpses of potential, and Liverpool will have to be on their guard. Cole is the type of striker that can punish Liverpool, especially if he’s winning aerial battles, and he’s going to be West Ham’s main outlet.
Liverpool’s now won three on the spin since the loss to Villa. The team’s picking up pace and picking up points. That has to continue, and Wednesday’s performance will have to be bettered.