WITH West Ham travelling to Anfield for an FA Cup fourth-round clash this weekend buoyed by two comfortable wins over the Reds already this season, The Anfield Wrap’s JACK WHITEHEAD spoke to Hammers fan Michael Oliver, editor of Read West Ham.
The Anfield Wrap: West Ham are currently two points above the Reds in the Premier League table and after the couple of games this season, with the Hammers yet to concede a goal to Liverpool and having netted five, the betting man would have to fancy West Ham wouldn’t he?
Has your perception about facing Liverpool changed after watching West Ham win at Anfield for the first time since 1963 in August?
Michael Oliver: There was always that stigma attached to playing Liverpool — a team we have struggled mightily against over the years.
However, the demise of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure at the club going back to last season restored my faith in us being able to take on the Reds, home or away.
I felt we easily beat you at Upton Park last season (3-1 in September 2014) when we went on a similar run as to this season, but that was more down to your failings than our strengths.
This season however, being in a period of transition, Liverpool have been susceptible to some high-pressure football from oppositions – a fundamental component of Slaven Bilic’s teams.
I no longer fear Liverpool as a team, but that goes for all teams now. We’ve proven we can beat anybody and I go into games thinking we can win every single one (even though we won’t, we ain’t that good).
TAW: Given how things have gone so far under Bilic, the fans must be happy with his recruitment? Do you think there are any similarities with Klopp and the style of football he wants Liverpool to play?
MO: Bilic has been a revelation. Sam Allardyce did wonders for the club in terms of stability and getting us to where we are today, but the club was stagnating under him in the end. We have the Olympic Stadium on the horizon, and we needed a man with a vision and a man who could take us forward. Allardyce wasn’t that man unfortunately, but Bilic is.
I firmly believe Bilic and Klopp are the league’s two most charismatic managers. They have the most energy on the sidelines, they have a strong relationship with their players on a personal level, and they share a connection with the fans.
TAW: Away from the manager, Dimitri Payet has been pivotal to your success. He’s already bagged six goals and four assists in 15 starts, which is pretty impressive. Here, we’re hoping Roberto Firmino, who now has five goals and five assists for the Reds this season, can become just important as important. What do you make of the two players?
MO: Dimitri Payet has been the signing of the season, if not the player of the season in the Premier League. He’s different level. He does things that only truly great players do and that’s raising his team-mates’ game.
I like Bobby Firmino, I think he’s come on leaps and bounds under Klopp, but I’m not convinced he’s got the technical ability of someone like Payet to strike fear into opponents on a regular basis. He’s a bit up and down at this stage.
I don’t see Firmino as the type of player who can carry a team single-handedly, put them on his back and win a game. Payet can and has been doing that this season. Maybe we will see Firmino do that, but as of yet I see him more as a complement player than a focal point.
TAW: Barring a replay in this game, Liverpool fans have made their last trip to Upton Park, which seems a bit of a shame as it was a proper old traditional ground. What’s the feeling among West Ham supporters regarding the move to the Olympic stadium?
MO: There’s a great deal of optimism around the place now. We feel like we have ambition, we have a direction and we have a plan in place to take the club forward.
It’ll be sad to leave the Boleyn, but it’s time to make some history at a new ground. It’ll enable us to attract better players, it’s a greater stage to perform on, and the increased capacity is only a positive. The owners will know how to market it, and will do so tremendously well.
TAW: Andy Carroll is on the treatment table again, and you’re another attacker down with Mauro Zarate leaving for Fiorentina earlier this week. We’ve seen links this week suggesting Mario Balotelli could be West Ham-bound for £10m. Carroll has already come back to haunt us in West Ham colours could mad Mario do the same?
MO: That goal meant a lot to Andy, you could tell. It’s upsetting that he suffered a little bit of an injury set-back after that because it looked like he was finally hitting his stride again. Happens all too often unfortunately.
As for Balotelli, it doesn’t look like he’ll be coming to West Ham, which I’m happy about. He’s a nutcase, we don’t need that sort of personality disrupting the dressing room. We’ve got something pretty good going on right now so let’s keep it that way!