2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1
Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h; FA Cup) 01.30.16
0-2 West Ham (a) 01.02.16
0-3 West Ham (h) 08.29.15
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.31.15
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sunderland (h); 0-2 Leicester (a); 0-0 West Ham (h)
West Ham: 0-1 Southampton (a); 2-0 Villa (h); 0-0 Liverpool (a)
Liverpool: 0-0 West Ham (h); 3-0 Exeter (h), 2-2 Exeter (a)
West Ham: 0-0 Liverpool (a); 1-0 Wolves (h)
Liverpool: Allen, Ojo, Sinclair, Smith, Teixeira 1
West Ham: Jelavic 1
Referee: Roger East
Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Caulker Sakho Smith
Ibe Lucas Can Teixeira
*Looks at league table*
Yep, cups are all that really matter now. But this cup still matters slightly less than the other two cups, and Liverpool are still going to make a handful of changes. The side's still going to look more like the last meeting than the usual league XI.
At least three of the players who started ten days ago won't be available: Lovren and Allen after minor injuries incurred against Sunderland, and Cameron Brannagan, who's ill.
Meanwhile, Sturridge, Coutinho, and Origi are finally available, but all three won't start. Not after all three have been out for weeks, not with the possibility of extra time. I'm assuming Sturridge is the closest, solely because Sturridge was the only one included on the bench on Saturday.
Maybe none start, with one or two used off the bench if needed. Maybe I just want to see Sturridge back, and if he can play with Benteke. Liverpool don't play 4-4-2 often, but with Allen and Brannagan out, and Henderson in need of game management, Liverpool have few options in midfield: Lucas, Can, Milner, and Kevin Stewart. I doubt Lucas and Stewart – both very much defensively inclined and limited going forward – can play together. Milner's spent more time in attack lately, albeit out of necessity rather than performing better in that position. Neither Can nor Milner have even been included in the squad for a FA Cup match this season.
But, sure, 4-1-2-3 with Lucas or Stewart as the holder; two from Lucas, Can, Milner, Teixeira, and Coutinho ahead of him; two from Ibe, Teixeira, Ojo, Lallana, and Coutinho on the flanks; and Benteke up front is definitely a possibility. Or, in what I guess is the weakest possibility, 4-2-3-1 with, say, Lucas and Stewart behind Ibe, Teixeira, and Ojo, and Benteke up front. Fine. I just really want to see Sturridge back. 4-4-2 seems the best way to achieve that, even if it means conceding ground and possession against what'll likely be a three-man West Ham midfield.
Defense is a bit more straight-forward: Flanagan and Smith at full-back, Caulker at center-back, with either Toure or Sakho partnering him – whoever looks more capable of playing twice in four days. Also, play Danny Ward. Please play Danny Ward.
Meanwhile, West Ham are pretty much in the same position they were in 10 days ago. Four points and three places ahead of Liverpool in the table, and reasonably competent in the two matches in between: a routine 2-0 win over 10-man Villa and a battling, narrow 0-1 loss when unable to break through 10 men at Southampton. They're still missing a few key players – Tomkins, Kouyate, Lanzini, and Sakho are injured; Sam Byram's cup-tied – but nowhere near as many as Liverpool.
And they'll probably make a couple of changes as well, but it'll be still be a reasonably strong side. Let's guess Randolph for Adrian in goal; Ogbonna for either Collins or Reid; Obiang in midfield; and Carroll for Valencia. Something like Randolph; O'Brien, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Obiang, Song, Noble; Moses, Carroll, Payet. Which is very similar to both the side that stifled Liverpool at Anfield in the previous meeting, and that whomped Liverpool 0-2 the last time Liverpool traveled to Upton Park. West Ham's ability to sit deep and smother and counter, Payet's ability to create, Carroll's ability on crosses. It's been a recipe for disaster far too often in recent meetings.
We've reached the point where these matches stop being more trouble than they're worth, partly because of the stage of the competition and partly because of Liverpool's woeful league form. They're opportunities rather than hindrances. An opportunity to continue Liverpool's decent record in cup competition. An opportunity for a few players who otherwise wouldn't start. An opportunity to finally get one over on a West Ham side that's had Liverpool's number far too often of late. An opportunity to put the last ten minutes against Sunderland firmly in the past.
Take advantage of the opportunity.