The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Liverpool
Meeting of the Premier League’s tactical masterminds. What? Are you saying Brendan Rodgers isn’t a great tactician? Pfft.
Criticise him, boo him, laugh at him, Big Sam doesn’t care. He’s Sam Allardici (Allardyce for English readers), he’s outwitted Jose Mourinho and looks set to keep West Ham in the Premier League.
WEST HAM FORM
- S'land 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- West Ham 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-0 Spurs (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 S'land (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
After two wins on the bounce, the Hammers are 11 points clear of the drop zone with six games to play. They’re going to need those points in the bank, because their run-in isn’t easy. The EastEnders still have Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City left to play.
Sunday’s visit of the league leaders, full of confidence and gusto, will see Allardyce pit his tactical acumen against Rodgers – a manager who has been heralded as one of the league's finest tacticians. His ability to make minor tweaks that unravel the opposition’s game plan and play to his side’s strengths has been a major factor in Liverpool’s rise from seventh-place finishers to genuine title contenders in a season.
The Reds have won eight Premier League games on the bounce, with their attacking force blasting through all that has stood before them. The, ‘We’ll score more than you’, ethos seems to be working. Liverpool have rattled in 88 goals this season, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge responsible for 49 of those strikes. They have become the league’s irresistible force with Steven Gerrard driving forward full of energy, creativity, speed and ruthless guile.
For all their sharpness in attack, they’re fragile at the back. The Reds have conceded 39 goals – just three fewer than West Ham in 11th. After scoring one and making one during the Hammers’ 2-1 win at Sunderland on Monday, former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll might just be in the mood to make a point at Upton Park.
After missing West Ham’s trip to the Stadium of Light, defender James Collins looks set to sit out again as he struggles with a calf injury. Jose Enrique is the only player missing from Rodgers’ squad.
Key battle: Andy Carroll vs Martin Skrtel
This tussle won’t just define what happens in attack for West Ham, but also in defence. Skrtel certainly poses a threat in the opposition penalty box – the Slovakian defender has scored six goals this season.
Against Arsenal, Skrtel bagged a brace, turning in a Gerrard free-kick after 53 seconds. Eight minutes later the same pair combined from a corner. He made 10 clearances – the second-best total on the day – and won 3 of his 4 aerial duels, bettered only by Bacary Sagna. Arsenal’s lone striker Olivier Giroud only won 2 of his 5 aerial contests, managing just 2 efforts on goal. With this in mind, Carroll’s defensive responsibilities are just as important as his attacking ones. The England international made his presence felt at both ends of the pitch against Sunderland. He packed a goal, an assist and plenty of defensive work into 90 minutes.
Unsurprisingly the 6ft 4in Geordie was peerless in the air, winning 7 aerial battles. He also won 3 tackles and made as many clearances in his own box. Sunday is going to see two big nuts banging together in the East End (you should be ashamed of yourself for turning that innocent description into something dirty).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L'pool 4-1 W Ham (Prem, Dec 13)
- L'pool 0-0 W Ham (Prem, Apr 13)
- W Ham 2-3 L'pool (Prem, Dec 12)
- W Ham 3-1 L'pool (Prem, Feb 11)
- L'pool 3-0 W Ham (Prem, Nov 10)
Basking in the glory of a second successive victory, Allardyce couldn’t help but patronise the disgruntled Hammers’ fans.
“The West Ham fans will have forgotten about the Hull game last week and will go back down the motorway happy tonight (after beating Sunderland 2-1),” he said.
“This sets us up perfectly for Sunday, and what I hope will be a cracker at Upton Park where we face the in-form team in the league.”
At the other end of the scale, Rodgers, who is creeping towards Messiah status at Anfield, is trying to stick to the old ‘We’re taking each game as it comes’ adage, as title fever grips Merseyside. “The dream is for our supporters, they want to win the title," he said. “It has been a long time but it's not in my thinking. We just need to prepare and do well, and if we do that, we will win games.”
Facts and figures
7 of the last 8 meetings between these teams have produced at least 3 goals
West Ham’s last 7 home games against top-six teams have all seen at least 3 goals, with 5 having 4 or more. They’ve failed to score just once
24 of Liverpool’s last 27 matches have produced at least 3 goals, with 19 having 4 or more
Liverpool’s momentum isn’t about to be halted by an Allardyce spoiler. The Reds to march on. 3-1.