Tonight’s game at the London Stadium brings together two teams with arguably the most iconic anthems in English football – Blowing Bubbles meets You’ll Never Walk Alone. Compared to own theme, YNWA is the Johnny-come-lately of anthems dating back to the mid-1960’s when the song was a Merseyside hit for Gerry and The Pacemakers. As with YNWA, Bubbles also has its origins in a Broadway musical but has been associated with the Hammers since the 1920’s. There is a common reference to dreams in both songs and depending on perspective tossed and blown might be preferable to fade and die.
Aside from iconic theme songs, there is little to compare in the history of the two clubs. The once mighty Liverpool have a list of honours as long as a man with very long arms; while the Hammer’s trophy cabinet could easily fit in the average sized bathroom. However, despite a cup win here and there, The Reds have endured a long barren spell in league football, stretching back almost thirty years to the black and white days of League Division One. Many Liverpool fans will be regarding this season as their best chance of success since that famous Gerrard slip in 2014 – this is my preferred memory of Stevie G rather than his heroics in a certain cup final several years earlier.
The most favourable outcome of a Premier League season for many West Ham fans would be one where no team wins the title – there are very good cases to be made against each of the top six claiming the honour. Personally, I have no particular axe to grind about Liverpool and have a lot of admiration for the job that Jurgen Klopp has done in his time at the club. In reality, the title race is a two horse one – no matter what the squatters at Wembley might believe – and both Liverpool and Manchester City play open, attractive and exciting football. From a purely footballing viewpoint I have no strong preference for one over the other but that takes nothing away from the delight I would have should West Ham manage to trip them up tonight. The most irritating thing about Liverpool is the number of professional Scousers in the media; which means that if they do go all the way then it would be advisable to steer well clear of TV, radio and social media for most of May.
Having wobbled in their recent home game against Leicester, and with Manchester City breezing past Arsenal yesterday evening, the scene should theoretically be set for West Ham to test a nervous opposition. Whether the Hammers have the appetite for such an occasion is less than certain from the evidence of recent performances. Having previously beaten Manchester United and Arsenal at home perhaps West Ham can raise their game but that looks to be a long shot.
As usual injuries continue to play an unrepresentative part in preparations for the game with up to eleven players either doubtful or definitely out. There isn’t a Peter in the West Ham squad (unless you include Pedro) but there would be few surprises should the season peter out – given that there is little to play for in the remaining four months. A storming performance against would-be champions could perhaps be the trigger for renewed impetus.
The two main injury concerns for tonight are the fitness of Marko Arnautovic and Aaron Creswell – both of whom will reportedly undergo late fitness tests. If Cresswell is out then Arthur Masuaku will keep his place in the much maligned left back slot. Should Arnautovic be unavailable then it is pick one from a very poor bunch to deputise – perhaps that guy that Harry Redknapp brought on for Lee Chapman at Oxford will be in the crowd with his boots! With Samir Nasri also almost certainly missing, the midfield will rely yet again on Declan Rice to man the barricades and Felipe Anderson to produce the guile. An assortment of others will make up the numbers but can it be enough to worry a Liverpool defence who themselves are light on numbers? At the other end, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where our defenders are able to shackle the visitor’s fearsome front three. You might have guessed, I am not confident!
Kevin Fried from Leicestershire is the referee today with responsibility to keep an eye on Salah tumbling in the box – (when I said it would be great if West Ham could trip up Liverpool, I didn’t mean in the area!) Friend was previously in charge of the Hammer’s away defeat at Brighton.
Not surprisingly the pundits are banking on an away win. Lawro (who has tipped Liverpool to win every single match for several years) opts for 2-0 while at Sky, where Charlie Nicholas is sitting in for Paul Merson, they go for 2-1. As much as I would love to be positive, this game has all the hallmarks of the many thumpings the Hammers have received over the years from the likes of Man City, Arsenal and, of course, Liverpool. A fully fit Arnautovic could alter the equation a little but I sense that he will be kept back in reserve until next weekend. Best case a 1-1 draw; worst case a four or five goal defeat.