Apparently a grand total of 29 players have played for both West Ham and Liverpool over the years but there is one other thing that connects these two clubs – that their best days were back in the distant past. While most West Ham fans have their tongues firmly planted in the their cheek when claiming that the Hammers won the World Cup it is still many years since the scent of glory was detected anywhere near the east-end of London; in fact, the closest in living memory for the majority of supporters would be the infamous ‘drawn’ 2006 cup final against today’s opponents.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were the undoubted superstars of the English First Division for a good part of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Yet they now only sit above West Ham in the list of Premier League titles won by virtue of alphabetical order – much to the frustration of their entitled supporters. Perhaps a more fitting anthem for the Merseysiders than the maudlin ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is the refrain from the song Sit Down which desribes their predicament most succinctly: “Now I’ve swung back down again, and it’s worse than it was before. If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!”
In truth, Liverpool under Klopp are one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League; alongside Tottenham (whose own delusional sense of glory is based solely on winning the double almost sixty years ago). It would be no surprise if it were one of those two teams who ended up in second place to runaway leaders Manchester City, even if they will both have effectively been lapped, come the end of the season. The big challenge for will then be to hold on to their top performers (and managers) when the truly big clubs come-a-knocking.
Head to Head
If the north-west in general is not a happy hunting ground for the Hammers then visits to Anfield are a desolate wasteland with a return of just four wins (forty four defeats) from sixty six attempts. West Ham are, however, unbeaten in their last three visits including the memorable 3-0 victory for Slaven Bilic’s side in August 2015. It was, however, defeat by Liverpool at the London Stadium in November that hammered the final nail into Bilic’s managerial career at West Ham.
There are some bad memories associated with Liverpool and relegation as it was the Reds who had beaten the Hammers in the final matches of both the 1977/78 (crushing my belief that West Ham were a perennial top tier club) and 1988/89 seasons to confirm the worst. At least there will still be ten games to play after today.
West Ham resisted the urge to jet off somewhere exotic for a spot of warm weather training during their week off; a tactic that in previous years has precipitated a run of poor form. It is reported that both Manuel Lanzini and Winston Reid are available for selection while Jose Fonte has popped out for a Chinese. My sense is that while Reid may play, Lanzini will be start on the bench. Whether we will see much of Lanzini and Joao Mario on the pitch at the same time will be interesting but I can’t see it happening at Anfield.
There are no prizes for guessing what the West Ham tactics will be for the game and a repeat of the backs to the wall and hope for a smash and grab approach that almost upset Manchester City and earned a point at Tottenham is to be expected. The problem with parking the bus at Anfield is that there is a high probability that some scally will sooner or later turn up to nick a goal (as well as the hubcaps.) While I would have confidence in our central defenders deftly heading away crosses until the cows come home, they typically struggle against the trickery and rapid interplay that is a feature of Klopp’s team. If and when the first Liverpool goal goes in it is difficult to see where a West Ham response could come from; and there is goal difference to play for as well as points.
Liverpool, who took a break to Marbella as reward for their FA Cup exit, have no injury worries unless a late outbreak of Spanish tummy runs through the squad.
Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who should be fresh in the memories of supporters as the man who overruled his assistant to allow the offside/ handball Bournemouth equaliser having previously shown undue leniency to a Cherries defender for a reckless red card challenge. He owes us one for that. He also, with some justification, sent off Andy Carroll at Turf Moor earlier in the season. In twenty games this season, Carroll is his only red card to go along with seventy yellow ones.
In a rare alignment of the planets, both Lawro and Merson are going for a 3-0 home win. I admit to having drawn a huge sigh of relief at reaching thirty points after the win against Watford but subsequent results served to trim the breathing space back down to a measly four points. This game might be seen as a free spin for West Ham but it is vital that it is not a crushing defeat. Perhaps the away win unicorn could put in an unexpected appearance or inspired defending could secure a precious point but, in reality, confidence is not high of getting anything from the game other than a respectable scoreline and no further injuries.