As the festive fixtures slog on, Liverpool make the trip to Upton Park on Sunday hot off the heels of their commanding, but narrow, win over relegation threatened Sunderland on Wednesday at the Stadium of Light.
Ending the year level on points with bitter rivals Manchester United and sitting just out of reach of the top four, the Reds will look to halt an increasingly terrible record against West Ham United. The Hammers have won two of their last three meetings with the Anfield outfit and will be looking to do the double over their prestigious visitors for the first time since the early sixties — a feat that Irons boss Slaven Bilic, who has an excellent record against Liverpool, could very well accomplish.
Masterminding a 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture, the Croatian manager has looked the man for the job in East London, though consistency remains a problem for his side. Beating Southampton earlier in the week after a run of five successive draws, it looks like West Ham will be handed a big boost on the attacking front with playmaker Dimitri Payet — who ran rampant on Merseyside — ready to return to action after two months out with an ankle problem.
“He has been training with us for a couple of days. It is a great boost for us and he will be involved in the game,” said Bilic in his pre-match press call before shifting gears to a few other notable absentees in winger Victor Moses and and defender Winston Reid. “There is a small chance that Moses and Reid will be in the squad but more likely for the FA Cup game against Wolves.”
Although it remains to be seen just what kind of part he’ll play, the Reds have also been given a boost in the attacking stakes heading into the trip to the Capital with manager Jurgen Klopp confirming that star man Daniel Sturridge could feature against the Hammers. While the 26-year old is likely to only make a cameo appearance if he’s even named in the squad, the likes of Jordan Henderson, who looks to have suffered a recurrence of his ongoing heel problem in the win over Sunderland, as well as James Milner, Divock Origi and Joe Allen, who has been struck down with a virus, will not be visiting East London this weekend.
A return to the starting eleven for Lucas is likely with the skipper set to miss out and he’ll almost certainly partner Emre Can in the middle of the park. The rest of the squad is pretty easy to flesh out with Christian Benteke almost certain to retain his place up top after providing the winning goal in Liverpool’s last two matches, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho sitting in front of Simon Mignolet and flanked by Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno with the trio of Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho causing mayhem behind the big Belgian. Despite the glut of matches, considering our rash of injuries, the squad isn’t deep enough to make too many changes from that formula.
“Until now, it’s good. I have spoke too often about this with the number of games and things like this,” said Klopp when asked about the busy holiday period. “The main information is that I knew about this before [I came to England] but it obviously feels different when you are in the middle of the fixtures. So for all teams it’s a real challenge to be always prepared, to solve your problems, and be ready for the next game,” he continued. “That’s the situation but the good thing is it’s the same for all of the teams so we have to find solutions and that’s what we try.”
Keeping the likes of Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio contained will be a good start, but as always, the real challenge for the Liverpool will be finding the back of the net. You don’t need me to tell you that the Reds have struggled to do just that all season, but we’ve seen them put in two very good defensive performances on the hop and that could be key to stopping a West Ham side that haven’t exactly been lighting it up either. Sometimes you have to win ugly; we did it against Sunderland midweek and you won’t hear me complain if we do the same on Saturday…