This weekend we resume our battle for top flight survival with a difficult away game at Liverpool, who remain unbeaten at Anfield this season, although six of their thirteen visitors have come away with a point. Five of them are not particularly surprising as they are all top half teams, namely Burnley, Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham. But in December the team now rooted to the foot of the table, West Brom, managed a goalless draw there.
Although our form over the last dozen games is impressive we are still only four points above the relegation zone. 20 points in those 12 games is a magnificent haul with 5 wins, 5 draws and just 2 defeats, and is bettered only by the very top teams. The disappointing feature though is that it could, and perhaps should, have been so much better. The two losses in that run were at home to Newcastle and away at Brighton, whereas two of the draws were disappointing home games against Bournemouth and Palace. We could be well away from the drop zone by now, but instead we are still in the mix, and failure to pick up something in the next two away games starting today against in-form teams Liverpool, looking to score four goals for the third game in a row, and next week the resurgent Swansea, would keep us well in trouble.
Liverpool themselves have no real injury concerns and can field almost their strongest line-up. They have won six of their last eight games and their only defeat in the last four months came at the hands of Swansea just a month ago. I noticed a statistic on the BBC website that said that Jurgen Klopp has suffered 17 league defeats as a manager of Liverpool in the whole of his time there, and if you averaged out the position in the table of those teams who beat them – then it is 12th. We are currently 12th in the table, but that is really clutching at straws!
For some time now I have had Mo Salah in my fantasy team, and he is continuing to impress with his goalscoring and assists. We will do well to keep him quiet. And apparently David Moyes has managed 14 visiting sides at Anfield and never managed to win there. Well there’s always a first time!
The bookmakers don’t really give us a prayer in this game quoting odds of 12/1 on a Hammers win and 6/1 on the draw, with Liverpool 1/5 to collect the three points. If you believe that we can sneak a win then you can get 35/1 on a score of 2-1, 45/1 on 1-0, and 80/1 on 2-0, with some very big odds if you think we can do better than that.
One thing in our favour is that our lengthy injury list of a few weeks ago seems to be largely diminishing, but this game will be a real test of how far we have come since the arrival of the new manager, and conversely will show how much further we still have to go. I noticed that after the Watford game David Moyes was targeting a top ten finish. On paper might not seem too much of a target as we are only one point off tenth position. In fact we are only six points behind Burnley who are lying seventh, but that would almost certainly be too much to hope for, even for the most optimistic of us, given the difficulty of many of our fixtures in the last eleven games. In eight of them we play teams currently filling the top nine places in the table.
Apart from Carroll, all of our attacking players seem to be fit, and it will be interesting to see how many of Chicharito, Arnie, Lanzini, Mario and Antonio will be accommodated into the team, especially for a tricky away fixture. My prediction for the team he will pick, and I very rarely get this right, is:
Adrian, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Mario, Antonio, Arnautavic, Chicharito. Lanzini may be left on the bench after a lengthy lay-off together with Hugill, Rice, Byram, Reid, Hart and Cullen.
It is hard to see us winning the game, and probably the best we can hope for is a draw. But what I’ll be looking for is a competitive performance that will stand us in good stead for the run-in, irrespective of the result. 0-0 would be a very unlikely score against our free-scoring opponents and is priced at 25-1! I wonder if we can keep the score to that after 90 minutes?