12:30pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2
Last four head-to-head:
0-2 West Ham (a) 01.02.16
0-3 West Ham (h) 08.29.15
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.31.15
1-3 West Ham (a) 09.20.14
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Stoke aet (h); 5-4 Norwich (a); 3-0 Exeter (h)
West Ham: 2-2 City (h); 1-2 Newcastle (a); 3-1 Bournemouth (a)
Liverpool: 3-0 Exeter (h), 2-2 Exeter (a)
West Ham: 1-0 Wolves (h)
Liverpool: Allen, Ojo, Sinclair, Smith, Teixeira 1
West Ham: Jelavic 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Martin had a… let’s say “busy” match mid-week, in the semi-final between City and Everton. He’ll probably prefer to play less of a role in tomorrow’s contest.
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Caulker Lovren Smith
Ibe Teixeira Ojo
West Ham is not Exeter. Not even close. West Ham currently sits two points ahead of Liverpool in the league, West Ham is a side that has beaten Liverpool – fairly handily – in three of the last four meetings.
I’d still play a team that looks a lot more like the XIs against Exeter than the XIs in the league or league cup.
I’d be hesitant to start any of the XI, except maybe Mignolet, tomorrow. Henderson, his foot problem still a problem, certainly won’t start, but none of the other nine outfield starters (all of whom played at least 85 minutes) will physically be 100%. In total, it was 120 draining, cup semi-final minutes – unsurprisingly, the most that Liverpool have run in a match this season. And Liverpool have an away match against the league leaders three days after this one.
The injury situation still isn’t great, but it’s eased a bit; at least Clyne and Lovren should return. Caulker and Ward are available to make their debuts. Brad Smith’s played well when called upon, Brannigan was one of Liverpool’s best players in the last round, and Allen’s in surprisingly good form. I’d also use both Ibe and Ojo for counter-attacking pace down both flanks, with Teixeira as the central playmaker, and – as against Exeter – Benteke up front, in the hopes that'll he turn into the player that Liverpool assumed they were buying.
It’s an understrength side, but it’s not a bad side. And given how Liverpool’s “full-strength” sides played in the last two matches against West Ham, I’m also not opposed to changes just for the sake of changing.
Unlike Liverpool, West Ham aren’t still in four competitions. West Ham didn’t play 120 minutes midweek. West Ham will make changes, but probably not many, and definitely not as many as Liverpool.
In the last round, a 1-0 win over Wolves, West Ham’s XI was Randolph; Jenkinson, Collins, Reid, Cresswell; Obiang, Song, Noble; Antonio, Jelavic, Zarate. That’s a decent starting point for guessing tomorrow’s XI. Jenkinson has returned to Arsenal after a serious knee injury last week. Zarate has been sold to Fiorentina. Noble’s doubtful through illness. Carroll, Lanzini, O’Brien, and Sakho are also injured.
With that in mind, and considering West Ham also have an important – if less difficult – league match on Tuesday, let’s guess Randolph; Byram, Collins, Reid, Cresswell; Kouyate, Song, Obiang; Antonio, Valencia, Moses. Starting both Valencia and Jelavic up front is a possibility (with Valencia ostensibly on the left), as are youngsters Cullen and Oxford (whose loan move to Charlton fell through) in midfield. Knowing how much he loves punishing Liverpool – a vital player in West Ham’s last three wins over Liverpool – Noble will probably make a miraculous recovery.
No matter who starts, Liverpool need to not do what they’ve done in three of the last four matches against West Ham. Actually play defense. Don’t concede stupid set plays, because you’ll probably concede a stupid goal from said set play. And don’t concede early; in the last three West Ham wins over Liverpool, West Ham scored in the 2nd, 7th, 3rd, and 10th minutes. From there, Liverpool have been unable to make amends, unable to break through an unsurprisingly deep defense after handing the opposition an early lead, a lead that opposition eventually extends on one or more counter-attacks.
The league is the league; Liverpool have disappointed, Liverpool are seventh, but Liverpool are only (“only”) eight points off fourth with 15 games to play. Fifth place is just three points ahead. Liverpool are in the League Cup final. Liverpool are still in Europe. Right or wrong (hint: right), this competition is Liverpool’s lowest priority.
Of course you want to win. Of course you want another cup run, remembering how trips to Wembley in both the League Cup and FA Cup in 2011-12 nearly saved Dalglish’s job. But it can’t, and it won’t, come at a cost to the squad, or at a cost to Liverpool’s other campaigns.
Again, West Ham is not Exeter, but the two legs against Exeter were fun (mostly…) because the kids were fun. Let’s have another opportunity to see if the kids are alright. They can’t do any worse than the senior players have against West Ham recently.