Jason Harris discusses this afternoon’s game between West Ham and Liverpool at the London Stadium.
To quote an old adversary of Liverpool’s, we have reached the stage of “squeaky bum time.” It is the point of the season where you take points over performance every day of the week.
Today we take on West Ham at London Stadium. A team who was on a crest of a wave last season, but like Leicester have crashed down to earth with a big thud.
When Liverpool played the Hammers in December, they had to come from behind with Divock Origi scoring early in the second half after Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio had put West Ham up at half time. Adam Lallana had opened the scoring for the Reds in the fifth minute. The game was also noteworthy as it was the last league game goalkeeper Loris Karius played for the season.
In something of an omen, Liverpool came into that game on a low ebb after conceding three late goals in a shocking collapse in the previous fixture against Bournemouth. While we claimed a point in the last fixture against Southampton, it was the sort of toothless display that sends a shiver down the spine with so much on the line.
After a stellar first half of the season where the Reds scored goals for fun and had the fans buzzing and dreaming of title glory, 2017 has been a real grind where the inconsistencies and overall fragility of the squad has been clear for all to see.
Regardless of all that has gone before, truth be told if the players can’t get up for this clash which is akin to a cup final, then big questions have to be asked of their mentality when the pressure is on.
Lucas Leiva and Roberto Firmino are the biggest doubts for Jürgen Klopp with muscle injuries. If those two pass their fitness tests, Klopp should still look to make a few changes and start with Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge.
A personal view is that Gini Wijnaldum and Origi should make way for the duo, but the Dutchman is a firm favourite of the manager so we shall see what team he picks.
West Ham produced their most organised performance of the season against Tottenham but have suffered a couple of injury setbacks with Senegalese central midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and captain Mark Noble ruled out for the season with wrist and abdominal injuries respectively.
Their loss leaves a big hole in midfield but it has opened the door for the likes of Edmilson Fernandez and Havard Nordtveit to come into the starting lineup. Ex-Red Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio continue to be on the sidelines for the Hammers.
Form guide: Premier League (Most recent first)
West Ham -WDDDWL
After their mauling at the hands of Arsenal in early April, West Ham have conceded just two goals in their last five fixtures. There was certainly a chance that the Hammers could have been dragged into a relegation scrap as they had gone seven games without a win.
Nine points from their last five games have seen them safe from any danger and their last two games at the London Stadium against Everton and Tottenham have been encouraging as they look to regroup ahead of the 2017/8 season.
Liverpool – DWLWWD
The last six games have been a microcosm of the Reds’ second half of the season. Good in parts, below average in others but nothing consistently outstanding. It looked like Liverpool had cleared a massive mental hurdle by defeating Stoke and West Brom at two grounds which have been far from friendly to us in the past, and it seemed that fourth place was on its way to being locked away.
However, they wasted their hard work with a very poor home performance against Crystal Palace. The team then rolled up their sleeves again to dig deep and claim the three points against Watford.
It’s now back in the Reds hands again, but as they do so often Liverpool huffed and puffed but ended up frustrated against a well-organised unit.
We now face a very edgy end to the season and hoping that some other teams can assist in taking points off some of our rivals. A bright spot to take note of is that we have looked much more comfortable on the road and away from the pressures of Anfield in recent times.
Jürgen Klopp is yet to claim a victory against Slaven Bilic in English Football. The pair has met four times with West Ham winners on two occasions (once in the league and once in the FA Cup and there has been two draws).
Extending the recent head to head record to the latter part of Brendan Rodgers’ reign and the East London club has won four of the last seven clashes. The Reds’ last victory came more than two years ago with Sturridge and Raheem Sterling (remember him?) the goal scorers.
This has clearly been West Ham’s best run of form against Liverpool since the turn of the Millennium. In that time they have met 30 times with Liverpool winning 18 times, West Ham six wins and there have been six draws.
The overall record stands with Liverpool winning 70, West Ham winning 28 and there being 36 draws.
You don’t have to be a football manager to know the tactics which West Ham will employ. They will be sure to pack the midfield, keep it tight and play on the break. It might seem odd to see a home team play like that especially one like West Ham whose history is based on “beautiful free flowing football,” but that is definitely the blueprint to frustrate the Reds.
For Liverpool’s side of things, they just have to stay patient. Undoubtedly we will have the lion’s share of possession and need to make the opportunities count just like we did against Stoke, West Brom and Watford.
The three points are a must. While it would be nice for other teams to play a role in our rivals’ demise, we need to step up to the mark and show that we can produce on the big occasion.
Let’s face it who really cares if we get the win courtesy of a James Collins own goal in the 93rd minute. At this stage of the season, it would be celebrated even more than a Philippe Coutinho screamer from 30 yards.
It is going to be the most nerve racking 90 minutes of the season by some distance. It will be a rocky ride but the need to win element will see the Reds edge it 2-1.