West Ham United
7th April, 2013; 13:30 GMT
Hidden beneath the one-minute silence dedicated to the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough, is a subdued wave of optimism and excitement. Liverpool FC take on West Ham United at Anfield in a bid to boost their chances of competing in the Europa League, considering the hope for Champions League is now beyond the horizon. Liverpool have won four of their last five games and hence come into this fixture on the back of some sort of consistency – something which has been lacking this season.
While there is no room for anything less than three points, Brendan Rodgers’ side will need to pray for their neighbours, Everton, to drop points against Spurs in order for the red half of Merseyside to climb up to 6th spot. The stakes are high, no doubt, but before Liverpool face the likes of Chelsea and Everton themselves, they need to bag maximum points against the relatively lower placed teams to give themselves any chance of displacing the Toffees and perhaps even climb higher than 6th.
Sam Allardyce will certainly be hoping that Anfield is the place where he earns the remaining two points that will take the Hammers tally to 38 and reward the manager with a new contract. But it isn’t going to be as easy as it looks.
West Ham will be missing Andy Carroll as the Liverpool loanee’s contract prevents him from playing for his parent club. Barring the injury, Carroll has been impressive in the Hammers shirt this season but with crucial games against Manchester United and Manchester City coming up this month, West Ham will have to work hard at Anfield to distance themselves from the relegation zone and finish in the top half of the table.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Joe Allen, Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini continue to remain long-term absentees but Rodgers otherwise has no grave injury concerns ahead of this fixture.
Liverpool will look to approach no different from their last fixture against Aston Villa. But this time, the key person in midfield will be Lucas and not so much the others. West Ham has a strong midfield setup with the likes of Diame, Nolan and O’Neill commandeering the central zone. It is vital that Lucas is ever present to cut off any supply channels to the front line.
While Johnson and Enrique are guaranteed to start at right and left back respectively, it remains to be seen if Rodgers will opt in for Skrtel to start ahead of Carragher for the central pairing with Daniel Agger. Having been on bench for most part of the season, Carragher has answered the call of duty with no questions asked and has done well while Skrtel has seen a dip in form as well as injuries keep him out of the starting line-up. Rodgers has found consistency in bits and pieces this season and would not to change the current setup too much given that Liverpool have been on a decent run off late.
Up front, the only focus by the looks of it will be whether to start with Henderson or Sturridge. The winter signing has started off on a good note and was an unused substitute in last week’s game against Aston Villa while Henderson started and brought Liverpool level in the game. If the Reds are looking for a solid start in their home games, then it is likely that Sturridge will be given the nod ahead of Henderson this Sunday.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Downing; Suarez, Coutinho, Sturridge
West Ham United
As bad as Allardyce would want Carroll to start against Liverpool, he will have to do without the services of the Geordie this weekend. On the injury front, George McCartney’s injury sidelines him for this game. Rumour is that Mark Noble could be back in contention at Anfield albeit he will most likely start from the bench, even if he passes the fitness test. Joe Cole is also set to return from a hamstring injury against his former club but Sam will be wary of giving him a spot on the starting XI.
West Ham produced a fine performance last week to run out 3-1 winners against West Bromwich Albion but we will see one visible change in the team that starts against Liverpool – the likelihood of Carlton Cole starting instead of Andy Carroll.
While the Hammers will be relying on the pace of Matthew Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te to break on the counter, it will be up to the likes of O’Neill and Diame to dominate the midfield and ensure that the ball is fed into the right channels.
Alternatively, Carlton Cole’s boisterous presence will give time for Vaz Te, Jarvis and even Kevin Nolan to move up the pitch as the England international will hold up the ball. By gathering their players in the attacking third and drawing the Liverpool personnel into dangerous zones, the Hammers would be looking to win set pieces in vulnerable areas.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Reid, Collins, O’Brien; Diame, O’Neill, Nolan; Jarvis, Cole, Vaz Te
- Liverpool have won six of their last eight clashes with West Ham United in the Barclays Premier League (L1 D1).
- After masterminding a draw on his first Premier League trip to Anfield (Jan 2002), Sam Allardyce has seen his teams lose on each of his last eight trips there.
- Liverpool have fired 242 shots off target in the league this season; 35 more than any other side (Man City).
- Philippe Coutinho has three times as many Premier League assists for Liverpool in six apps (3) as Joe Cole managed in 26 for the club (1).
- Luis Suarez has created 77 chances from open play this season; more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Stats Courtesy Yahoo! Eurosport
Player to Watch Out For
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s second winter signing has proved to be an instant hit at Anfield. His presence on the pitch is slowly proving to be a menace to deal with. With the Brazilian playmaker involved in a Premier League goal every 74 minutes on an average since arriving at the club, Coutinho has surely cemented his place as one of the key contributors to Liverpool’s progress in the coming months. There is very little doubt, therefore, he is the player the pressers will be looking to shoot photographs of.
Liverpool 2 – 0 West Ham United
Liverpool have the knack of throwing in surprises in games where they are the favourites. But with seven games left to go, Brendan Rodgers’s squad cannot afford to err. The question of consistency remains till all 38 matches are over; and considering that European football is within touching distance, the Merseyside outfit will give it their all to earn the three points against the London club.
Expect another high tempo game with plenty of creativity, attack and slick movement across the pitch.