Once again a West Ham game is over-shadowed by the ongoing speculation over the future of manager Slaven Bilic. Having survived the supposed two-games-to-save-his-job ultimatum he now faces a lose-this-one-badly-and-you’re-history challenge with the visit of Liverpool to the London Stadium for the Saturday late kick-off. The situation really has become quite ludicrous and I doubt there can many left who don’t believe it is only a matter of time before the axe finally falls. The only uncertainty is how far through the season Bilic will cling on for and how deep West Ham are in the brown stuff when that time eventually comes.
A string of names have been put forward as potential managerial replacements although the majority of these are currently in gainful employment and may not regard now as the appropriate time to accept the poison chalice form Messrs.’ Gold and Sullivan; or perhaps they believe a better is in the offing from Everton. There are, of course, a number of managerial merry-go-round managers who are currently kicking their heels in pundit-land including former bosses Pardew and Allardyce; a return for either of those would madness in my eyes – and there is also the discarded Ronald Koeman. It is unfortunate that our predicament will almost force the hand into the realms of another ‘survival’ manager when what is really needed at the club is one capable of building a team for the future. I wonder what Terry Venables and George Graham are doing at the moment?
The manager of today’s visitors, Liverpool, seems to divide opinion. Personally, I like him as he brings some much needed colour into the game. If he were not managing the pantomime villains from Merseyside, I think he would be getting more credit for what he has tried to do at a club that lives as much in the past as our own. Given time (and a realisation that you have to defend as well as attack) and I am certain he will be able to guide his side to regular third and fourth place finishes; only a huge injection of cash will now be able to split the Manchester domination.
Head to Head
I doubt that there is a team in the league that we have a worse record against than Liverpool. In 135 previous meetings we have won only twenty-eight (20%) and lost a whopping seventy (52%). In recent history the Hammers have fared relatively better having won four and lost five of the last twelve encounters between the two clubs.
A victory today would give the Hammers equilibrium on home turf by making it twenty-five wins apiece from sixty-seven matches. The last twelve home games have seen five West Ham wins and seven defeats and you would need to go further back to December 2001 for the most recent home stalemate. Liverpool have a 100% record at the London Stadium.
Pablo Zabaleta misses the game due to a one match ban while the Hammers are also said to be also without defenders Sam Byram, James Collins (and potentially) Winston Reid, Jose Fonte and Aaron Cresswell. Michail Antonio is also missing with a bout of acute embarrassment. Unless some particularly efficacious white horse oil can be found to treat the walking wounded prior to the match the defence will have an even more makeshift look about it than usual.
The silver lining in the cloud of defensive woes is a probable further outing for the impressive Declan Rice; but with the majority of attacking players reporting for duty the calls for the inclusion of academy stars Toni Martinez and Nathan Holland will likely go unheeded. A flurry of goals from Andre Ayew seem to have elevated his status to automatic starter for most supporters but he still needs to deliver more and on a consistent basis to justify his price tag in my view. It is ironic that his best position seems to be exactly the same as the one Little Pea wants to play.
Today’s visitors also have a string of injuries to contend with as Mane, Lallana and Clyne are reported as definitely out while Coutinho, Wijnaldum and Lovren are major doubts. Given the importance of Mane and Coutinho to the way that Liverpool play this news must be music to Slaven’s part-time rock star ears.
The Man in The Middle
Today’s referee is Preston supporter Neil Swarbrick from close to Merseyside. As well as being in charge of West Ham’s defeat at Newcastle earlier this season he was also the ref of this corresponding fixture last year. He also took charge of home games against Middlesbrough and Palace last term. In eight games this season he has yet to issue a red card and has twenty-two yellows to his name. In case you are interested his performance can be seem live on Refcam.
No surprise that Lawro is true to form and predicting a Liverpool win (0-2). Merson also agrees but is forecasting a 3-1 score-line in the visitor’s favour. If Liverpool had Coutinho and Mane available my fear would have been something even worse than last season’s 0-4 capitulation, they are just the type of team who would have a filed day running at the West Ham defence and causing all sorts of problems. As it is there is only Salah to worry about and he looks to be rather inconsistent. Thus, there is just a glimmer of hope and I am going to buck the historic trend by predicting a repeat of last week’s 2-2 score. In truth, I would take a heavy defeat if it guaranteed a conclusion to the Bilic debacle.