3pm ET, live in the US on espn2
Last 4 head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 09.19.09
3-0 Liverpool (a) 05.09.09
0-0 (h) 12.01.08
4-0 Liverpool (h) 03.05.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Fulham (h); 4-1 Benfica (h); 1-1 Brum (a)
West Ham: 1-0 Sunderland (h); 2-2 Everton (a); 0-1 Stoke (h)
Liverpool: Torres 18; Kuyt 9; Gerrard 7; Benayoun 5; Ngog 4; Babel, Johnson 3; Aquilani, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
West Ham: Cole 9; Diamanti 7; Franco 4; Ilan, Stanislaus, Upson 3; Collison, da Costa, Noble 2; Behrami, Faubert, Hines, Jimenez, Kovac, Parker 1
Referee: Peter Walton
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Maxi Gerrard Babel
It’s another game against a side Liverpool drew 0-0 at home last season. And it’s Liverpool’s first match in eight days, with two more to follow over the subsequent six. Which means changes are bound to happen, especially since Torres and Insua have been added to the casualty list that Aurelio, Skrtel, and Kelly are already on.
With Torres out, Liverpool’s limited to either Kuyt or Ngog up top. Maybe Benitez will pair the strikers with Masch/Gerrard in midfield, or Babel could play as a second striker if that’s the preferred formation, but Liverpool will probably stick with 4-2-3-1, even at home. And if that’s the case, I think Kuyt’s the better option.
Even including last year’s 0-0, Liverpool’s scored 10 goals in the last four matches against West Ham. Unfortunately, Torres has half of them. Liverpool will assuredly miss his presence tomorrow, but having Kuyt, Maxi, Babel, and Aquilani all on the pitch would hopefully allow the team to throw bodies forward and get men in the box to compensate for the missing #9.
And yes, I do suspect Aquilani will start. One, as said above, Liverpool needs the dynamism from midfield. Two, Lucas will almost certainly start on Thursday in an away European match (if flights ever leave the UK again). And with three matches in six days, Aquilani will have to start at least once.
At the same time, Maxi’s European ineligibility means he’s almost certain for Monday as well. With Kuyt up top and Maxi on the right, I’m convinced Babel would be the best option for the left. Neither Kuyt nor Maxi is the quickest, with Kuyt liable to drop deep and Maxi to cut inside. Having Benayoun on the left could lead Liverpool to be far too narrow, as has happened too often this season. But yes, other than having Kuyt for Ngog, I’m aware I’m suggesting the same front six that couldn’t score last week.
Agger will remain at left back with Aurelio still injured and news that Insua tore his quad. Injuries to Aurelio, Skrtel, and Insua mean no changes seem possible in defense. Ayala won’t be back in the first team unless further casualties require it, while I hope to never see Degen start for Liverpool again.
If it’s been a disappointing season for Liverpool’s, it’s been doubly so for West Ham. On the edge of the relegation zone for nearly the entire campaign, Zola’s team is ahead of Burnley and Hull by four points. With backs against the wall, they’ve gotten results in their last two matches: a late draw earned at Everton and a narrow 1-0 win against Sunderland. And with the form of the two teams below them, West Ham might only need one win for safety.
Captain Scott Parker is suspended, while Boa Morte, Hines, Dyer, and Tomkins will miss out through injury. The Hammers have gone 4-4-2 recently, with Carlton Cole pairing either Mido or Ilan and Noble/Kovac manning the midfield.
Liverpool have four games left in the futile fight for fourth. But heads cannot drop; all four are winnable – even hosting Chelsea in two weeks. Finish the right way, just like last season, and hope that it carries over to the next campaign this time.