11am ET, live in the US on CNBC
Last four head-to-head:
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.07.13
0-0 (h) 04.07.13
3-2 Liverpool (a) 12.09.12
1-3 West Ham (a) 02.27.11
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Tottenham (h); 2-1 Sunderland (h); 6-3 Cardiff (a)
West Ham: 2-1 Sunderland (a); 2-1 Hull (h); 0-2 United (h)
Liverpool: Suarez 29; Sturridge 20; Gerrard 11; Sterling 7; Skrtel 6; Coutinho, Henderson 4; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
West Ham: Nolan 7; C Cole 6; Diame 4; J Cole, Morrison, Noble 3, Carroll, Vaz Te 2; Collins, Jarvis, Maïga, Reid 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Flanagan
Sterling Sturridge Suarez
You don't want to concede the flanks to West Ham. When using the diamond, Liverpool has defended in wide positions well at times (at United), and less well at others (periods of the matches against Southampton, Sunderland, and Cardiff).
Only Moyes' Manchester United average more crosses per match than West Ham this season, while Stewart Downing (remember him?) has played more crosses than any other player in the league. Only Crystal Palace averages less possession per match, only Crystal Palace has a lower average pass accuracy (*waves to Tony Pulis*). Like Pulis, Fat Sam thrives on maximizing his slim odds, and he's decided the best way to do that is to concede possession, pack the defense, transition quickly through long balls to the striker, win the knockdown, and then push the ball to the flanks in order to pump crosses into the box. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Which is why I suspect Liverpool will persist with the same formation, and most likely the same XI, that we saw last weekend. There's a chance that Sakho replaces Agger, as the Frenchman's slightly stronger in the air, or that Lucas replaces Gerrard, in order to protect that captain from a yellow card that'd see him suspended for the City match, but I doubt that Rodgers will make either change. If Liverpool do revert to the diamond, it seems likely that Sterling replaces Coutinho at the apex of it, another speedy player to try to pull West Ham's defenders out of position, rather than the Brazilian attempting to pass through them.
Tomorrow will also be a massive challenge for Martin Skrtel, who's somehow turned into Liverpool's most consistent defender this season.
West Ham often either keep a clean sheet or concede in bunches. They've held the opposition scoreless in 13 matches, which is three more than Liverpool; Chelsea are the only side that's kept more clean sheets (14 to West Ham's 13). But they've also let in three or more goals in ten matches, including in the reverse fixture: six times at home and four times on their travels. They drawn just one match since the New Year, winning six and losing three in the last nine games.
They're also the oldest side in the league, with three or four probable starters over 30. With James Collins most likely out through injury (Boriello, O'Brien, and McCartney are also doubtful), that probable XI is Adrian; Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Armero; Noble, Taylor; Downing, Nolan, Diame; Carroll.
Downing and Diame can line up on either flank, splitting time almost equally this season. The ex-Liverpool player started on the left against United, but on the right against Hull and Sunderland. According to WhoScored, Downing has started on the left in 11 matches this season, on the right in 10. Whether Liverpool play 4-3-3 or the 4-4-2 diamond, it'll be imperative that Flanagan plays well, most likely one-on-one against Downing for long stretches. He'll be more likely to cross, given West Ham's style of play, but remains capable of cutting inside on his stronger foot when starting on the right. Of course, I'll always focus on ex-Liverpool players' capacity to punish their former club. Because I can't help focusing on the worst possible outcome, even if this season's tried to disabuse me of that notion.
Liverpool cannot look ahead to Manchester City; this match will present its own difficulties. But, thankfully, Liverpool's focus hasn't been a problem for quite some time now. They may have started slowly in some matches (at Cardiff), they may not have hit full stride in some matches (against Sunderland), but they haven't taken any opponents for granted.
With just six games to play, and every point crucial, it'd be a bad habit to pick up tomorrow.