AUGUST 29, 2015. West Ham turn up to Anfield with a renewed sense of optimism. Big Sam has gone — with the Three Lions and pints of wine firmly within his future aspirations. The hipster’s choice Slaven Bilic is in, along with a couple of new faces.
That was the first of four meetings with the Reds over the course of the 2015/16 season. They won that and two more of those meetings. The fourth was a draw which led to an FA Cup replay. Bilic had his side working for him. They also had Dimitri Payet — as you may well have heard once or twice.
They started to aim high. The Olympic Stadium was secured along with Europa League football and they had started to look like they could upset the balance at the league’s top table.
Fast-forward a few months and West Ham’s realities have not matched those lofty ambitions. Their new stadium seems more of a burden than a blessing. Europa League football is but a distant memory.
Last season’s triumphal season long march around the old Boleyn ground now seems an hubristic anomaly. It’s early days at the new ground, but all the vibes are just wrong. The natives are beyond restless.
So to Anfield, on the back of a string of heavy defeats. Away games promise even less solace than home games for the current incarnation of the hapless Hammers. Bill Shankly legendarily scoffed at what easy points West Ham usually represented, and this current mob feel very much like a throwback.
Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool had a wake up call last weekend. At least they better had be seeing it as such, or stormier weather lies ahead. The Reds, bedecked in their quasi-Borussia Dortmund away green had decorated Bournemouth’s Dean Court with football of such texture and beauty that the 3-1 lead, established within an hour, looked like a finished masterpiece. Typecast as plucky and resilient, Bournemouth sensed there was still something in the game for them and delivered. They mounted a comeback of the like they’ll be talking about in those parts for a few years to come.
A shit day in football, or even a shit half-hour, can become a defining period if you don’t move to sort yourselves out quickly. Liverpool simply have to react. On paper, West Ham represent the most obliging of opposition. They have looked so relentlessly appalling this campaign that a more perfect tie, when rehabilitation is the main order of the day, couldn’t be imagined. Me and you can see it like this, but of course Klopp and the Reds can’t. They’ll need game faces on and concentration levels ramped up to 11.
West Ham will undoubtedly have injury concerns – it’s been that kind of a season for them – but they will surely want to start Andy ‘Big Cazz’ Carroll against his former employers. They don’t come more talismanic than the gigantic inconsistent one, but West Ham need a spark right now, and Cazzer majors in providing those.
Given Carroll’s aerial prowess, Liverpool will welcome back Joel Matip with overly eager and open arms. If West Ham can rustle themselves up a series of set-pieces, Liverpool could be in for an ‘interesting’ afternoon.
For new Liverpool ‘keeper Loris Karius, and the rest of the Reds defence, it will be an opportunity at redemption for their South Coast sins. Karius, in particular, could use a performance. He’s only been in his new job a few weeks but already confidence is being lost.
Liverpool, of course, will need to make this all about Liverpool. They have been largely very good at doing that this season. The recent loss of Philippe Coutinho does not appear to have broken the attacking stride. It’s tough to talk positively about the goals-for column when they’re flying in at the other end, but Liverpool did score three more goals at Bournemouth, to add to an already impressive collection. In attack, it was business as usual.
Sadio Mane is producing less fluid displays of late, but his potency and ability to keep involved seem undiminished. If ever there’s a perennial criticism of fancy-Dan wide players, it is that they have a propensity to ‘go missing’. Mane doesn’t appear to be one of those.
Divock Origi has stepped into Coutinho’s front three berth, and is rattling them in like he’s on a mission. That’s three goals in three games, and seven in five starts all season. Watch out Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, the Div is coming for you.
The only selection poser of the weekend for the manager will be whether or not to drop Adam Lallana back in. He resisted the temptation last week, and he can view the wisdom of that decision in two ways – first way: that Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Liverpool did just fine without Adam in establishing a commanding 3-1 lead, and that Lallana’s introduction later in the game coincided with the team’s collapse. Second way: Liverpool have simply looked better whenever Lallana has started.
Whatever direction that particular cookie crumbles in this game, Liverpool should be looking to take full advantage of the plight of the Hammers.
The red 11 to nail the Hammers:
Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Can, Lallana; Firmino, Mane, Origi.
Last match v West Ham: FA Cup fourth round replay — February 9, 2016: West Ham 2 (Antonio, Ogbonna) Liverpool 1 (Coutinho)
Odds: Liverpool 3/10 | Draw 67/13 | West Ham 11/1
Injured: Daniel Sturridge (calf), Philippe Coutinho (ankle), Danny Ings (knee)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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