10 December 2016

Liverpool v West Ham 12.11.16

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 West Ham aet (a; FA Cup) 02.09.16
0-0 (h; FA Cup) 01.30.16
0-2 West Ham (a) 01.02.16
0-3 West Ham (h) 08.29.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-4 Bournemouth (a); 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-0 Sunderland (h)
West Ham: 1-5 Arsenal (h); 1-4 United (a); 1-1 United (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 7; Coutinho, Firmino, Milner 5; Can, Lallana 3; Lovren, Origi 2; Henderson, Matip, WIjnaldum 1
West Ham: Antonio 6; Lanzini 3; Carroll, Collins, Payet, Reid, D Sakho 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Can
Mané Firmino Wijnaldum

Time for a response.

Lallana's coming back into the side. Who makes way? Wijnaldum or Can, a like-for-like change? Emre Can has been more impressive than Wijnaldum lately, adding some much-needed goals to his all-around hustle, but Wijnaldum's frequently an important link player, and one who's noticeably better at Anfield.

I think I'd rather that it's Origi left out. Bear with me. Yes, I know he's scored in each of the last three games. He's gotten his chance due to injuries and he's taken it. But Liverpool have still looked better with Firmino up front, although I'm not entirely sure how much that has also been down to Coutinho. And Firmino, often one of Liverpool's best players so far this season, was irrelevant at Bournemouth when deployed on the left. Wijnaldum seems capable of playing in Coutinho's role, coming inside to create but also a goal threat. He wasn't especially impressive in that role against Leeds, but that was his first time doing so, and it was with a changed attack.

I also suspect Origi could be even more important as an option off the bench. You remember what Liverpool's options were against Bournemouth, yes? They weren't entirely helpful when Liverpool needed to change the game.

Otherwise, same as. Except, thankfully, Joël Matip's back. Our savior.

As much as Liverpool need to respond to last week's set back, West Ham need even more of a response, to more than just last week.

It has been a baffling season to forget so far. West Ham are winless in their last six matches, their last five in the league, and sit just one point outside the relegation zone. They could be in the relegation zone by kickoff if Hull win or Sunderland draw in today's matches. They lost their last two matches, albeit one in the League Cup, by a 9-2 margin. They haven't kept a clean sheet since the middle of October.

How the hell did this happen? West Ham were one of last season's surprises, taking points off of every side that finished ahead of them, beating most of those, and were especially potent away from home.

There's the second season syndrome cliché. Injuries are also a good place to start, with West Ham missing multiple strikers and center-backs throughout the season. It's gotten slightly better recently, but Collins, Byram, Diafra Sakho, and Töre will be absent, while Kouyate's doubtful. Dimitri Payet's diminishing form upon his return from an impressive Euros is another factor. And a switch to the Olympic Stadium certainly hasn't helped.

It's been an almost perfect storm of bad. Which, for some reason, often bodes as poorly for Liverpool as it does for their opponents.

West Ham remain a side more than capable of hurting Liverpool. Counter-attacks, set plays, and crosses – all potential recipes for disaster. Their top scorer, Michail Antonio, has scored all six of his goals from headers. Andy Carroll's healthy again.

And regardless of form, West Ham have been more than capable of hurting Liverpool in the past. They've been a bête noire recently, with Liverpool winless in the last four meetings. Even Klopp couldn't stop the bum rush; last season's 0-2 loss at West Ham was arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season after Klopp took over. Last season's 0-3 loss at Anfield was arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season period.

Both league losses came in the same manner. West Ham tore at Liverpool from the opening whistle, West Ham scored within ten minutes, West Ham scored from crosses, and Liverpool were never able to get back into the game.

The likely XI is Randolph; Arbeloa, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Obiang, Noble; Antonio, Lanzini, Payet; Carroll. Eight of those players started in the 0-3 loss at Anfield last August. Six started in the 0-2 loss at the Boleyn Ground in January, with Payet and Obiang also coming on as substitutes.

Antonio could also play at right-back, with Ayew, Fletcher, or Feghouli in attack, or at wing-back. West Ham had been playing three at the back for the last few weeks, but it's not really possible if both Kouyate and Collins remain absent. Arbeloa was absolutely the weak link against Arsenal, but in his defense – and I'm still prone to defend him – he did unexpectedly come off the bench, hadn't played in two months, and his entrance forced a change in systems. Still, he'll be targeted, and his inclusion could be an argument for Firmino on the left.

So, considering form and venue and Liverpool's righteous and rightful fury with last weekend's result, you'd expect a smashing. Don't expect anything. We know what Liverpool are capable of, but Liverpool will still need to prove it, and West Ham are still capable of denying it.

Once again, we're counting on Liverpool to respond to setbacks and react accordingly, to do what they failed to do in previous seasons, to demonstrate they're both better and more consistent that what we've seen in the past, and to prove they're deserving of being in the top four and title races.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Clicked three wrong buttons before I could make a comment. It's a bit like a minefield, mate. Nearly gave up.

Anyway... love your write up each week. So conclusive that I never have to comment :)

This week I did find it odd that you mentioned Gini in Phil's place because he only had one chance to impress in the game vs. Leeds and, while not looking the part, could be given another chance. Surely the same must be applied to Firminho last week. Kloppo just has to start Origi - never drop a goalscorer in red hot form, my old manager used to say. Even if Klopp shifts him left, he must start. That said, I'd still give Bobbie one more game to see how he does left.