23 February 2018

Liverpool v West Ham 02.24.18

10am ET, live in the US on CNBC

Last four head-to-head:
4-1 Liverpool (a) 11.04.17
4-0 Liverpool (a) 05.14.17
2-2 (h) 12.11.16
1-2 West Ham (a; FA Cup) 02.09.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-0 Porto (a); 2-0 Southampton (a); 2-2 Tottenham (h)
West Ham: 2-0 Watford (h); 1-3 Brighton (a); 1-1 Palace (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 22; Firmino 12; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Can, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
West Ham: Arnautovic, Chicharito 7; Ayew, Lanzini, Noble 3; Carroll, Kouyate, Obiang, Sakho 2; Antonio, Collins, Ogbonna 1

Referee: Stuart Attwell (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Can Henderson Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

I don't know why, but I always worry about the response after a long layoff. Especially when the match before said layoff was so emphatic.

I probably shouldn't! By all accounts, the camp at Marbella was a rousing success, both in training and team-building. Players have had time to recover from fixture overload and injury – even Nat Clyne's back in training! – and Liverpool have almost a full squad to pick from. It's not like the layoff for international breaks, with the majority of the first team away with their countries.

But I can't help myself. When things are going well, I still expect the other shoe to drop. And it'd be a very bad time for it to do so. The end-of-the-season run starts now. There are 11 league games to play, plus whatever's left in Europe. And there are four points separating second place from fifth.

It starts with West Ham, a team that'd given Liverpool problems until last April, with Liverpool winless in five attempts before victories in their last two meetings while scoring four in each. It starts against David Moyes, who has never managed a side to victory at Anfield in 14 previous attempts.

And if Liverpool win tomorrow, Liverpool will go second, at least until Sunday – when currently second place United host currently fourth place Chelsea.

I doubt we'll see the 4-4-2 used away at West Ham last November, so the lineup questions are the same as always. Gomez or Alexander-Arnold at full-back, Lovren or Matip partnering van Dijk, which of the three start in midfield. I suspect it'll be almost exactly what we'd consider "full strength" tomorrow, whatever that means. There's another week between matches after this – another at Anfield – before the second leg at Porto and what appear to be more difficult league fixtures.

"More difficult" is always a relative term, though.

West Ham are seventh in the form table, with just one loss in their last eight league matches, a 1-3 defeat at Brighton at the beginning of the month.

More meaningfully, since Moyes took over – directly after Liverpool whomped West Ham at London Stadium – West Ham have been actually good against top opposition: one-goal losses at City and Arsenal (in the League Cup), draws against Arsenal and at Tottenham, and a win against Chelsea. Only City's scored twice in those matches.

If nothing else, David Moyes knows how to kill a football game, even if his previous sides have struggled to do so at Anfield. And the opposition attempting to kill football games has gone both well and badly for teams at Anfield. We've seen more than a few healthy 3-0 and 5-0 victories, but we've also seen 1-1 Everton and 0-0 West Brom.

Like Liverpool, West Ham have had time to recover since their last match – nearly two weeks since a 2-0 home win over Watford. Absentees remain an issue, but it's starting to alleviate. Lanzini and Reid should be back, but Carroll, Obiang, and Edimilson are out, Masuaku's suspended, and Jose Fonte's about to move to China.

They'll almost certainly play 3-4-3/3-4-2-1. I'll guess Adrian; Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Zabaleta, Kouyate, Noble, Antonio; Lanzini, Chicharito, Arnautovic – almost exactly the XI which beat Watford but with Lanzini back in the side. But Joao Mario could start, in midfield or the front three. Reid could come into defense, in place of Collins or with Cresswell moving to wing-back. Patrice Evra could somehow be involved, having signed as a free agent last month.

So, yeah, this feels like an ambush, a potential let-down. It has been in previous seasons. It has been earlier this season – "hey, we just beat City, what's Swansea gonna do?"

A side coming off a record European win. A side still coming together both up front and at the back, even considering the heights already hit this season. No injury concerns. 11 games to play in the league, plus whatever's left in Europe.

Time to go, Liverpool.

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