Upton Park, London
December 09, 2012; 16:00 BST
Liverpool travel to Upton Park this weekend to face West Ham. The London based club have been one of the surprise packages in the Premier League so far and Sam Allardyce’s so called ‘Route one’ football has given The Hammers plenty of points over the course of the season. Football purists at Upton Park have bemoaned this approach from a side which has traditionally played ‘pass and move’ football but West Ham have managed to get 22 points from 15 games played so far and currently sit in 8th place in the table.
Three of those points came against reigning Champions League winners last weekend when a sterling performance from Diame in the second half tore Chelsea to shreds. West Ham won the game 3-1 and the likes of Cole, Diame and Nolan could very well do the same to Liverpool. West Ham will also be boosted by the prospect of not having to play Suarez who misses out due to suspension. With West Ham in such good form, Sam Allardyce would be confident of adding another scalp to his tally.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side has been steadily improving through the course of the season. Results have not quite gone The Reds’ way and the team still lies in the bottom half of the Premier League table but the team is now playing in a style which is close to what Rodgers would have envisioned when he took over the reins at Anfield in the summer. The match against Southampton saw Liverpool dominate possession and have several chances on goal. The scoreline of 1-0 would be flattering to the away side to say the least. Liverpool have had a good record over West Ham in recent years and with key midfielder Lucas now back fit, Liverpool will head into this match with a lot of optimism.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sam Allardyce’s West Ham side has had a few injury problems this season. Striker Ricardo Vaz Te is out with a dislocated shoulder and McCartney is not likely to be fit for this game. Collison and Diarra are also unavailable with injuries to the knee and thigh respectively. West Ham will also be missing Andy Carroll through injury although the loanee from Liverpool would not have been eligible to play against his club in any case. Yossi Benayoun is back fit and available to face his former club Liverpool.
West Ham is expected to line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation as it did against Chelsea. Juusi Jaaskelainen has been in inspirational form for The Hammers this season and he will be looking forward to a clean sheet against Liverpool.
Collins and Reid have established themselves as the first choice centre-back pairing for West Ham. Demel is expected to continue at right back while O’Brien will take up his position as left back. Mark Noble and Diame are expected to provide steel to the midfield and protect the centre backs against the fluid movement of the Liverpool side.
West Ham’s main strength is down the wings and Matt Jarvis and Matthew Taylor will be expected to start for West Ham. Both players will look to interchange positions and provide crosses in the box. Both wingers will also look to cut in and shoot at every opportunity.
Carlton Cole will continue at centre-forward for West Ham in Andy Carroll’s absence and he will be supported by Kevin Nolan. Cole is a threat in the air and will be looking to get on the end of Jarvis and Taylor’s crosses to score a goal or knock down balls in the opposition penalty area. Kevin Nolan will be on the prowl to attack any knock-downs from the tall centre forward and carve out a goal scoring opportunity for West Ham.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O’Brien; Noble, Diame; Taylor, Nolan, Jarivs; Cole.
Luis Suarez will miss a game in the Premier League for the first time this season. The Uruguayan faces a one-match ban for picking up 5 yellow cards. Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly remain injury absentees and Gerrard will face a fitness test before this game after suffering from illness in midweek.
Brendan Rodgers will opt for his preferred 4-3-3 formation against West Ham. Pepe Reina looks to be close to his best form and is expected to continue in goal. Daniel Agger will return to partner Martin Skrtel at centre back after being rested during midweek against Udinese. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique who have both been excellent this season are going to start in the full-back positions.
Lucas Leiva earned a rest after playing almost the full 90 minutes in his first game back from injury. He will slot into the crucial defensive midfield position. Lucas will be crucial in nullifying the threat of Kevin Nolan and will also be responsible for starting the attacking moves for Liverpool. Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard are expected to start with Gerrard furthest forward amongst the three midfielders.
With Suarez missing, Gerrard will be key to the attack for Liverpool. The talismanic midfielder will be expected to provide the incisive passes to the front three and also make late runs into the box to provide an additional goal-scoring threat.
Brendan Rodgers has experimented with playing Jonjo Shelvey as a ‘false 9’ in the Europa League and the young midfielder didn’t disappoint. He is expected to start in Suarez’s absence. Academy starlets Raheem Sterling and Suso will be providing support to the attack. Both players will be looking to make diagonal runs into the box and get on the end of any goal scoring opportunities created.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Allen, Gerrard; Suso, Shelvey, Sterling.
Players To Watch Out For
Kevin Nolan (West Ham)
West Ham’s top scorer this season has been pivotal to his sides’ chances for success. Kevin Nolan has a knack for scoring goals and his attacking contribution will be a key factor if West Ham are to beat Liverpool. Nolan is a fan of Liverpool and will be relishing the prospect of scoring against his favourite club.
Nolan looks to run beyond the centre forward on occasions and plays as a auxillary forward. Nolan will be looking to pounce on any second balls which might come his way and will also look to play through balls to Carlton Cole whenever possible. Liverpool’s centre halves have to be alert to win as many headers in the penalty area as possible and Lucas will be entrusted not to leave him any space. Easier said than done though.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s captain has been restricted to a deep lying playmaker’s role in the absence of Lucas. But with the Brazilian now fully fit, the shackles will be off Gerrard. Gerrard has started to show some good form in recent weeks and Liverpool’s captain will be looking to provide the attacking impetus to his side.
At 32, Gerrard may have lost some pace and his terrific shooting ability, but he still has the intelligence to carve out chances for his team-mates or get on the end of a goalscoring opportunity. Liverpool’s No. 8 has always stepped up to the plate when his team needed it and with Suarez missing through injury it is likely that Gerrard would come through for his team yet again.
West Ham 1 – 1 Liverpool
Both West Ham and Liverpool have had a decent run of form going into this game and the two teams look evenly matched in spite of their contrasting styles of play. Liverpool are likely to dominate possession once again but without Luis Suarez they are lacking a goal threat. West Ham will try to play to their strengths and outmuscle Liverpool. We expect a tightly contested battle ending in a scoring draw.