26 February 2011

Liverpool at West Ham 02.27.11

8:30am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.20.10
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.19.10
3-2 Liverpool (a) 09.19.09
3-0 Liverpool (a) 05.09.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Sparta (h); 0-0 Sparta (a); 1-1 Wigan (h)
West Ham: 5-1 Burnley (h); 3-3 West Brom (a); 0-1 Brum (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Meireles 5; Gerrard, Kuyt 4; Maxi 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Cole, Johnson, Skrtel, Suarez 1
West Ham: Piquionne 6; Cole, Parker 4; Obinna 3; Ba, Behrami, Noble 2; Keane, Sears, Spector, Stanislas, Tomkins 1

Referee: Mark Halsey

Guesses at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Lucas Gerrard
Maxi Meireles Suarez

Well, after routinely guessing three at the back for the last few previews, I should probably stop. Which means that you should probably expect it to happen. Such is life.

Liverpool have been coy about injury problems, and I've been negligent in finding concrete info. We can add new concerns about Agger and Kelly to the ongoing Gerrard and Johnson worries. My hunch – and that's all it is; I still haven't bought an e-Season ticket since canceling because of the previous owners so I can't watch Dalglish's press conference, and nothing's been published on the official site – is that Gerrard and Johnson are likely, a decision will be made on Kelly tomorrow, and the oft-injured Agger will be protected.

Obviously, Gerrard's return would be the biggest boon, but both Kelly and Johnson are also crucial because of the squad's lack of depth. Aurelio's definitely injured; if both Kelly and Johnson aren't fit, we could see Carragher and Wilson as the fullbacks, with Kyrgiakos partnership Skrtel at center-back. Both Carragher and Wilson would struggle to contribute to the attack, paling in comparison to the current starters. At home, West Ham are less likely to sit back, but the fullbacks will still be crucial in adding width, especially considering Liverpool's "wingers." Having Suarez back in the fold for his third league appearance will clearly aid the attack, having scored on his debut and arguably man of the match (and deserving of a goal) against Wigan.

West Ham, currently 19th (although Wolves are beating Blackpool, which would drop the Hammers to 20th), have varied between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 under Avram Grant. Most, such as this Guardian preview (ignore their guessed Liverpool formation), are predicting a safety-first 4-4-2, but Obinna is primarily a striker. A front line of Cole, Obinna, and the newly-acquired Demba Ba have goals in them. I also find it hard to believe Thomas Hitzlsperger – finally fit, and a frequent goal threat from distance – would be left out. Their major injury concerns are limited to Upson and Keane, with the latter unlikely to start anyway.

Liverpool have a illustrious streak to defend, scoring three goals in each of the last four matches against West Ham. Liverpool unsurprisingly won all four, with three ending 3-0, including November's meeting.

If Liverpool manage to win – and that's still a big if, no matter the recent rise in fortunes and morale – it'll mark the first time the club have won three consecutive away games since the end of 2008-09, that magical season where Liverpool actually challenged for the title until the very end. Unbeaten in the last eight matches, Liverpool have suddenly become stingy in defense, only conceding once (which was offside) in the last seven matches. It's given the team a platform to build from, and is the biggest on-field accomplishment for Dalglish and Clarke so far. Couple that with returning attackers and we could finally see a Liverpool performing to full potential.

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