12:30pm ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.19.10
3-2 Liverpool (a) 09.19.09
3-0 Liverpool (a) 05.09.09
0-0 (h) 12.01.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Stoke (a); 1-1 Wigan (a); 2-0 Chelsea (h)
West Ham: 0-0 Blackpool (h); 2-2 West Brom (h); 2-2 Brum (a)
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard 3; Kyrgiakos 2; Kuyt, Maxi, Ngog 1
West Ham: Piquionne 4; Parker 3; Noble 2; Behrami, Cole 1
Referee: Lee Probert
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Konchesky
Maxi Meireles Poulsen Jovanovic
Gerrard's injured, Lucas is suspended, and Spearing turned his ankle in training today. At least Hodgson won't be able to name six central midfielders in the squad for once. Step forward, Christian Poulsen! Oh, and we should finally get to see Meireles play in his preferred position. Small favors...
On the plus side, Torres, Kuyt, Skrtel, and Johnson have been declared fit. Kuyt and Skrtel withdrew from this week's international duty, Torres made it through 45 minutes against Portugal unscathed, and Johnson trained all week at Melwood. We know how much Hodgson prefers to stick with his favored XI, so both Torres and Kuyt should start if at all possible. But whether the same goes for Johnson and Skrtel is up for debate.
The winter of Johnson's discontent has been played out in the press recently. Hodgson's disappointed with Glen's form, Glen's disappointed with Hodgson's "tactics." A deep backline does not suit an attacking right-back, as Noel wonderfully explained at Liverpool Offside this week, and Johnson's struggled with defensive duties before his most recent injury. Carragher's been preferred at fullback, as has the talented Martin Kelly, because both have been better fits for the manager's "strategy." But Carragher would always rather play in the center, and I believe Hodgson will give Johnson one more chance after their public spat, which today's press conference suggests.
Yes, Johnson could play further forward – his potential to replicate Bale's success as a winger is oft-discussed and Liverpool are struggling for bodies on the flanks – but I'm still skeptical of his potential in midfield. If Johnson does start at right back, one of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel will partner Carragher. Kyrgiakos' aerial ability and threat of set plays offers the team more than Skrtel, even if such a static defense could be undone by the quick Piquionne and Obinna.
Since Meireles seemingly has to start in the middle – the only other option appears to be Shelvey, and like Raul, it seems Hodgson would rather play him on the right – changes will come on the flanks. Cole is still recovering from a hamstring injury. Maxi will man one of the two spots, while Jovanovic or Babel seem likely to take the other. As said above, Shelvey's a possibility on the right, or if Hodgson really wants to rock the boat, he could deploy Kuyt on the right and partner Torres with Ngog. But Liverpool's tigerish manager hasn't often changed his stripes this season.
West Ham deserve to be bottom of the table, if only on goal difference, after a third of the campaign. One of two sides which have scored fewer goals than Liverpool – the other being Wigan – only Piquionne and Parker have consistently performed for the Hammers. They've been specialists in finishing level throughout the season, with a record of six draws, six losses, and one win – which came at home against Tottenham at the end of September. They've barely been mediocre in both attack and defense this season, but have still found ways to take a point – including in their last three matches – and a Parker/Noble midfield could control the pace if Liverpool casually concede possession as in the last two matches.
This is one of the games Liverpool expects to win, even under the current manager – a lifeline during a tough time, yet another false dawn to save Hodgson's job. At Anfield, against a underperforming relegation candidate. But we said similar about last month's meeting with Blackpool. Piquionne's punished Liverpool before, in last season's loss against Pompey, while it'd be true to form if the fumbling Carlton Cole actually played to his potential against a team rumored to be interested in signing him.
As always, Liverpool cannot simply expect to win; they must actually dictate proceedings. They need to pull the strings instead of being the puppet; sitting deep and reacting to opposition tactics is a recipe for disaster no matter who you're facing. And even though Liverpool desperately need points, more important is the style of play and ambition. This is the 14th game of the league season. We need to start seeing progress.