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Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 04.07.13
3-2 Liverpool (a) 12.09.12
1-3 West Ham (a) 02.27.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.20.10
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-1 Norwich (h); 1-3 Hull (a); 3-3 Everton (a)
West Ham: 0-1 Palace (a); 3-0 Fulham (h); 0-3 Chelsea (h)
Liverpool: Suarez 13; Sturridge 9; Gerrard 3; Coutinho, Moses, Skrtel, Sterlin 1
West Ham: Morrison 3; J Cole, Vaz Te 2; C Cole, Diame, Noble, Nolan, Reid 1
Referee: Michael Oliver
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Henderson Gerrard Lucas Coutinho
As usual when games come in quick succession, I assume there will be some rotation, but I've no idea how much rotation.
It's probably safe to pencil in Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Gerrard, Coutinho, and Suarez. Johnson's usually excellent against his former club; Cissokho didn't even make the bench against Norwich and Hull; Gerrard, Suarez, and Coutinho always start if available.
That leaves five places. Center-backs have become surprisingly hard to predict. Skrtel's started more than any other, and odds are that continues. I'd still love to see a Sakho/Agger pairing given a chance, but Rodgers have given us absolutely no hint that he's willing to try it. And I suspect Agger might be dropped tomorrow because of West Ham's physicality and the way that Bradley Johnson beat him to the header for Norwich's consolation. Combine that with the fact that I really, really hope Toure and Skrtel aren't paired again – thanks, Hull – and a Skrtel-Sakho duo seems the most likely.
I find it hard to believe that Lucas will miss consecutive matches when fit, although Gerrard and Allen did do reasonably well on Wednesday and Liverpool are at home.
And, as I wrote in the Norwich preview, I'd like to see Suarez and Aspas paired up front, playing Aspas in a similar manner as Sturridge when combined with Suarez, which informs the guessed front four. Henderson on the right, Coutinho ostensibly on the left, and two strikers up front: a fluid system to try and pull a resilient, deep defense out of position.
Because I expect Allardyce will be Allardyce, setting West Ham up to be tight, hoping for a draw at worst and nicking something against the run of play at best. Whether that means we'll see the 4-6-0 formation he's deployed at times, or Carlton Cole as the burly lump up front to unsettle Liverpool's defense with physicality is the main, really the only, question.
Jaaskelainen, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Rat, Noble, Nolan, Downing, Morrison, and Diame seem certain starters. Either Carlton Cole or Maiga play as a lone striker, or Morrison and Diame are the furthest forward attackers with Downing and either Joe Cole or Jarvis on the flanks. West Ham are missing three strikers through injury – Petric, Vaz Te, and someone named Andy Carroll (*shrugs*) – as well as center-back Reid. And I always, always worry about players facing their former club, even if those players are Downing and Joe "Lil Wheezy" Cole.
The fear is that this could be a lot like last weekend. Multiple men, the team bus, and Allardyce himself camped in West Ham's penalty box – tackles and blocks, tackles and blocks – then dangerous on the break and set plays, ready to capitalize on the seemingly inevitable Liverpool mistake(s).
This fixture ended 0-0 last season. West Ham had one shot on target, 35% possession, and barely completed 200 passes. Liverpool took 20 shots, but Jaaskelainen made seven saves, Tomkins had a crucial goal-line clearance, and Suarez hit the woodwork. Two penalty shouts ignored, a goal dubiously ruled out for offsides. Allardyce would be more than happy with that result tomorrow.
It's fairly simple. Knowing Liverpool's aims for the season, these are matches that Liverpool should be winning. Achieving that result will be slightly more complex, though.