Upton Park, London
September 20th, 2014; 17:30 BST
It’s a tale of two ‘brothers’. Alex Song and Mario Balotelli, back in the Premier League, looking to show everyone what the hype was all about. Between 2010 and 2012, both made a name for themselves as they sparkled for Arsenal and Manchester City. Song created 11 goals in the 2011-12 Premier League season, most of them being balls passed into the path of Robin van Persie, who finished the season as top scorer with 30 goals. That same season, Balotelli scored 13 goals in the League to help Manchester City lift the title. While they find themselves playing for opposing teams this weekend, it seems Song has only good things to say about his ‘brother’. Nonetheless, both will turn up looking to lead their teams to a win, and also set the Premier League alight with their talent again.
West Ham – Team News and Tactics
West Ham will be without Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey O’Brien due to injuries. But manager Sam Allardyce has done a good job of reinforcing his squad in this transfer window, and has new shiny replacements for all three. Signings Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia can both feature either alone or as a pairing up front, while loanees Alex Song (from Barcelona) and Carl Jenkinson (from Arsenal) are direct replacements for Nolan and O’Brien. Matt Jarvis is yet to be declared fit as a thigh injury has kept him out of the running so far. In his absence, Allardyce only has Downing as an option for a wide attacking role, though another signing Mauro Zarate may just be versatile enough to play in a off-center attacking midfielder role.
Against Hull City, a match that ended 2-2, West Ham played a 4-3-1-2 formation with Sakho and Valencia up front, and Zarate in the number 10 position behind them. Big Sam gave Stewart Downing the Di Maria treatment, and used the winger in a central midfield role in the game. Against Liverpool, it is unlikely that Allardyce would play a formation with 2 strikers. A 4-2-3-1 is a more likely option, with the 3 attacking midfielders expected to contribute defensively as well.
Enner Valencia lead Ecuador’s line very well in the World Cup this year, and could do so for West Ham. He is strong in the air, and has a rocket of a shot; something Hull City learnt the hard way last weekend. If Alex Song and he can strike up a good partnership, they would be their most likely source of goals. Big Sam will also be looking to exploit the weak defending from set-pieces that Liverpool have shown recently. If West Ham score a goal first, Liverpool will discover just how hard it can be to break down a Sam Allardyce side.
Expected started line-up (4-2-3-1): Adrian (GK); Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell; Noble, Kouyate; Downing, Song, Zarate; Valencia.
Liverpool FC – Team News and Tactics
Other than the 3-0 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool FC haven’t anything like their best this season. Brendan Rodgers continues to tinker with his side, as he looks to cope with the loss of Luis Suarez and a number of injuries that have hit the team. Brendan Rodgers has massively reinforced the squad this season, but the new signings will take time to assimilate into the team.
With Daniel Sturridge out of the team due to injury, Mario Balotelli will most definitely play either as a lone striker or a striker pairing in the starting 11. While Fabio Borini linked well with his fellow Italian when he came on as a 67th minute substitute against Ludogorets Razgrad in mid-week, Rodgers is likely to stick to a single striker formation at the start. A similar substitution could be made against West Ham in case things aren’t working out past the 60th minute mark.
The limp performance against Aston Villa last week underscored Raheem Sterling’s importance in this team, and Rodgers should hand him a starting spot as well. A 4-3-3 with Balotelli and Sterling in the front three, and Steven Gerrard and newly appointed Vice-captain Jordan Henderson all assured of being in the starting 11. This leaves two positions open, one in midfield and one in attack. Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Lazar Markovic will all be looking to nab one of these spots for themselves. None of the three has really impressed so far this season, so it will be a tough call for Rodgers. Lallana’s work rate and goal scoring record (9 League goals in 2013-14) should mean he will just sneak into the first team. Philippe Coutinho has looked wayward so far, and needs to gain top form again quickly unless he wants to be reduced in a role on the bench in upcoming games. Markovic also has to utilize any opportunities that come his way to impress the boss quickly.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana; Balotelli
Player to watch out for
Stewart Downing (West Ham)
Ex-players always have that additional bit of motivation when they face their former employers. They walk in picturing just how positively delicious it will feel if they can just score that one winning goal against the team that deemed them surplus, just to show them what they’re missing. Well that Stewart Downing will surely have all that on his mind, as the midfielder will look to punish Liverpool every chance he gets. He has been probably their best player so far this season, and his crossing and set-piece delivery will be pivotal to West Ham’s success.
- Stewart Downing has one goal and two assists to his name from the first 4 games of the Premier League season.
- Downing has averaged 2.8 shots per goal in these 4 games, more than any other West Ham player. The only Liverpool layers with a higher count are Daniel Sturridge (4.3) and Mario Balotelli (3.5).
- Stewart Downing also has an average of 3.3 Key Passes per game, by far the highest for any player in either team. The runner up is Steven Gerrard, with 2.5 key passes per game.
West Ham 1 -3 Liverpool FC
West Ham are very likely to exploit Liverpool’s weak defending, most likely from a set-piece situation. But Rodgers would have learnt his lessons from the Aston Villa game, and won’t allow his attack to be stifled the way it was last week. He’s likely to send his boys out all guns blazing, looking for an early goal to settle any nerves. Expect left-back Alberto Moreno to spend a lot of time in the West Ham half, as he will be regularly look to cross the ball to Balotelli in the West Ham box. If the mid-week performance is anything to go by, Super Mario has what it takes to slot a few of those balls into goal.