Premier League | Upton Park | Sat 20 Sep | 5:30pm
The first test of Liverpool’s ability to hack a two game weekly schedule (West Ham are also playing).
WEST HAM FORM
- Hull 2-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 So’ton (Prem)
- West Ham 1-1p Sheff Utd (LC)
- Palace 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 0-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets (CL)
- Liverpool 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- Spurs 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man City 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 So’ton (Prem)
Saturday, Sunday. Sunday, Saturday. That’s roughly what Liverpool’s fixture spread looked like last season. While Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea (we’ll ignore Manchester United for obvious reasons) spent midweek contending with European opposition and travel, Brendan Rodgers’ side were at Melwood, preparing for domestic matters. For six or seven days. And as everyone knows, this played a big part in their unexpected title charge.
The Reds don’t have the same luxury this time round. The three- and four-day turnaround between games will ask questions of everyone: is the squad big enough to cope with the extra games? How will Steven Gerrard’s ageing legs deal with the reduced recovery time? Can Rodgers rotate his first XI and tactical setup and still keep winning?
Over £100 million worth of summer signings will certainly ease the workload. Yet Rodgers only made one change between the defeat to Aston Villa and the victory over Ludogorets, with Raheem Sterling coming in for Lazar Markovic. This reticence to chop and change is understandable considering the importance of winning your first Champions League game for five years. But what now, especially after last week’s blowout against Villa?
Does Rodgers drop Gerrard and Sterling, two players he resolved to rest for very different reasons at the start of the season?
And if Gerrard does sit it out, how does the team adapt without their deep-lying playmaker and tempo-setter? It’s a very precise juggling act Liverpool will have to contend with ahead of this weekend’s game.
Sam Allardyce has no such problems. He’s had since Monday’s 2-2 draw with Hull to continue refining his new-look attacking system, which on the face of it, shows signs of promise.
Against the Tigers, West Ham had 17 shots, scored two goals and in general looked fairly threatening. This is tempered by the fact that of those 17 shots, only five were on target. Of the two goals, one was an absolute rip-snorter (you’re not going to see one of those every week) and the other a calamitous own goal.
Meanwhile attacking fulcrum Mauro Zarate impressed in the first half, faded in the second. Still, it’s a start. As West Ham fans are probably painfully aware, it’s going to take time to evolve an intricate attacking style after so long dedicated to punt and run.
Joey O’Brien (knee), Matt Jarvis (hip/thigh) and Carl Jenkinson (hamstring) could return for this one. Kevin Nolan’s dodgy shoulder will keep him out until October, while Andy Carroll is, well, you know...
Liverpool will be without Daniel Sturridge (thigh), Joe Allen (knee) and Emre Can (ankle/foot) although Jon Flanagan (knee) could be back.
Player to watch: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
The new Liverpool vice-captain may have to fill Gerrard’s boots in more ways than one this year. During the weekly televised argument between Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football, both former defenders were in agreement over Liverpool’s main problem against Villa: Gabby Agbonlahor. The speedy striker had, they said, pretty much crippled Liverpool’s system by marking Gerrard. As a result Liverpool were unable to bring the ball out of the back, having to knock it long instead. That didn’t work.
The solution they offered was for Henderson to swap positions with Gerrard, freeing him up to hit those racking passes and occasional aimless hoiks (we may have added that second bit). This of course would put pressure on Henderson to try and bring the ball out from defence. Not his forte. It would also mean he wouldn’t be able to bomb from box-to-box (very much his forte).
In the victory over Spurs, both Henderson and Gerrard demonstrated exactly what they bring to the side. The former Sunderland midfielder was all action, getting, giving, intercepting and assisting. Gerrard, tasked with setting the tempo and initiating counter-attacks, played it longer. The result was a 3-0 away win.
As teams look to mark Gerrard high up the pitch, Henderson’s ability to switch positions with his captain and mimic his passing range could prove crucial for the rest of the season. According to Neville and Carragher.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 1-2 L'pool (PL, Apr 14)
- L'pool 4-1 W Ham (PL, Dec 13)
- L'pool 0-0 W Ham (PL, Apr 13)
- W Ham 2-3 L'pool (PL, Dec 12)
- W Ham 3-1 L'pool (PL, Feb 11)
All of this will test Rodgers and his tactical acumen, an area he’s proved admirably flexible in since joining from Swansea. The question for Allardyce is whether he watched Monday Night Football (after getting in following the game, obviously). Will he, as pointed out by Neville and Carragher, stifle Liverpool by asking one of his forwards to mark the Liverpool captain? It’s the sort of challenge he’ll relish; a chance to ‘out tactic’ (Big Sam©) another manager. You can almost hear him licking his lips at the thought of it.
Facts and figures
- There have been 4 own goals scored in the last 7 league meetings between Liverpool and West Ham.
- Since the start of last season, the only English player to create more goalscoring chances in the Premier League than Stewart Downing (75) is Steven Gerrard (78).
- If Liverpool score they will set a new club top-flight record of scoring in 17 consecutive away games.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
After that admittedly one-sided analysis, West Ham to get a point. 1-1. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)