28 August 2015

Liverpool v West Ham 08.29.15

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.31.15
1-3 West Ham (a) 09.20.14
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.06.14
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.07.13

Last matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Bournemouth; 1-0 Stoke (a)
West Ham: 3-4 Bournemouth (h); 1-2 Leicester (h); 2-0 Arsenal (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Coutinho 1
West Ham: Kouyate 2; Maiga, Noble, Payet, Zarate 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Gomez
Milner Can
Firmino Benteke Coutinho

The only question, at least in regards to the Liverpool XI, seems whether Henderson's available.

If not, same as against Arsenal. If he is, does he replace Lucas or Can? The answer's probably "Lucas" but Can is a more like-for-like swap, the Henderson-Milner-Can midfield not showing the same balance, the same division of responsibilities we saw to better effect against Arsenal.

But chances are that Henderson's protected, on the bench at best because Liverpool do not need to him to further aggravate that foot injury and because Liverpool were fairly decent on Monday, at least in midfield and defense. And otherwise, keep on keeping on: a continued resilience in defense. Increased coordination in both midfield and attack, especially the already promising link between Benteke and Coutinho. Liverpool, at home against a West Ham side coming off of losses to Leicester and Bournemouth, should see a lot more of the ball, and have more chances to get its still-stumbling attack started.

And they'll be against a West Ham side in a bit of disarray. Both Adrian and Carl Jenkinson are suspended for red cards incurred in the last two matches. Three strikers – Zarate, Valencia, and Carroll – are out injured, while Sakho's questionable but likely to play if at all possible. Kevin Nolan, who started last Saturday, was released yesterday. There has been a lot of turnover under new manager Slaven Bilic, a sea change from the often-annoying Allardyce Era.

Which means the XI will look something like Randolph; Reid, Tomkins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Kouyate, Obiang, Noble; Payet, Sakho, Jarvis. There are questions at right-back – Tomkins and Reid, or whoever else they deploy there, are not right-backs; questions at striker; and questions on the left – Jarvis was out of favor both last season and the start of this, although new signing Lanzani could also make his first league start.

West Ham are seriously lacking in options up front. They're trying to sign either Matri – made available on loan because of Balotelli's arrival at AC Milan – and/or Adebayor, but neither will be done in time for Saturday's match. If Sakho's absent, West Ham will have to start Maïga – who's been rumored to be sold all summer – up front, the only available first-team striker.

Nonetheless, Liverpool – despite the strong defensive start – can still find ways to concede against the most impotent of attacks, and fail to score against the most makeshift of defenses. Because Liverpool. I'm sure you remember a "confident" Liverpool conceding from both a set play and a counter-attack within the first ten minutes when these sides met a year ago. Payet has had an impressive start to the season, and that's a surprisingly strong and physical West Ham midfield that will challenge whomever Liverpool put out.

Liverpool have taken 10 points from its first four games just five times in the Premier League era: 2013-14, 2008-09, 2007-08, 1998-99, and 1994-95. I suspect you remember the last two times that happened, with Liverpool finishing second and challenging for the league to the bitter end. They haven't kept four consecutive league clean sheets since January-February 2011, when Dalglish took over as caretaker manager after Hodgson finally was fired.

At the same time, Liverpool haven't lost to West Ham at Anfield since 1963. West Ham are struggling to come to terms with a new manager, new signings, and new style, impressive against Arsenal on opening day, but fairly terrible in the two matches since, having also been knocked out of the Europa League by last season's fourth-best Romanian side.

With an international break imminent and Manchester United away to come after it, at home, against a side that's lost two consecutive matches while conceding six goals in the process, this is the match where Liverpool need to start to put things together. The first three matches have been acceptable, especially given what occurred last season, but now Liverpool needs to take the next step.

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