You start to see the pressure on football managers when things start to go wrong. After an uninspiring draw against Leicester, most people fully expected Liverpool to bounce back and see off an out of form West Ham on Monday evening. But the Hammers being the Hammers lived up to their reputation of consistent inconsistency. How could a team who performed so miserably as to be dumped out of the FA Cup by lowly AFC Wimbledon, and then play even more abjectly (some would argue) against Wolves, possibly be a match for top of the table Liverpool? It is an easy one to answer. As I have written so many times before, with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. It is the West Ham way!
Considering how out of touch we had been in the matches leading up to this we performed admirably. It is hard enough to take on the top of the table team anyway without being subjected to one of the most appalling offside decisions (or rather lack of decision) that you will ever see. We were easily holding our own, and probably had the upper hand in the game when Milner, clearly in an offside position, received the ball from Lallana. He crossed to Mane who turned and scored. I’ve been writing about the need for VAR for years, and in this case, the “goal” would have comfortably been chalked off. But worse than that is the failure of the linesman to be able to see it with his eyes. Sometimes offside decisions can be difficult to call, and you cannot blame the linesman when the human eye only has fractions of inches to differentiate between offside and not offside. But this was not one of those occasions. The linesman seemed more interested in watching Lallana’s skill on the ball and found himself in the wrong position. Shocking.
What I found just as bad was the decision (or lack of it again) in the third minute of time added on, when the other linesman did not raise his flag when Origi was also clearly offside and should have put the ball in the net to win the match. That would have really compounded the injustice, but fortunately the Liverpool substitute demonstrated why he isn’t in the starting eleven.
But perhaps the most appalling aspect of the poor decisions made by the officials was listening to Klopp afterwards complaining about the referee favouring West Ham! In my opinion he had a nerve. I guess he was just trying to deflect the attention away from his players who had been outplayed by West Ham. We had the most shots on goal and deserved our point at the very least, but could easily have had all three points. Noble should definitely have scored in the second half after fine work by Anderson, and Rice once again missed a header on the stroke of half time that you would have expected him to score.
But all in all it was an excellent performance against the team on top of the league. Klopp made further excuses about injuries. But has he seen our first team squad injury list? The pressure looks like it is beginning to tell on Liverpool, and Manchester City, after recovering from their recent blip, may well have the ability to retain their title.
The Daily Telegraph had an interesting feature this week where they compared the progress of teams in the Premier League by assessing how many points they have attained at this stage of the season set against how many they had at exactly the same time in the last campaign. Liverpool top this “league” with +12, followed by Tottenham (+9), Watford (+7), and then we are one of three teams on +5 (with Arsenal and Bournemouth). Five teams have fewer points than at this stage last season with Huddersfield (-13), Burnley (-11), Manchester City (-7), Manchester United (-5), and Leicester (-2) showing their lack of progress. Having said that, Manchester City had a record breaking campaign last time, and may still win the title, without reaching the heights that they did then. They seem to have the strongest squad, and may be too strong for a nervous Liverpool team.
Today’s opponents sit 14th in the league just two places and six points below us, but only four points above the drop zone. Their next few games will decide whether they join us in the mid-table pack, or take part in the relegation dogfight. There are currently six teams in that contest who are not averaging a point a game, with Palace just above them. Their seven wins this season have been against Fulham (twice), Huddersfield, Burnley, Leicester, and most impressive of all, away wins at Wolves and Manchester City.
In fact they have picked up more points on their travels than at Selhurst Park, where they have only won three of their twelve home games. In those dozen games they have only scored 8 goals (and conceded 11), making games on their home ground the least entertaining in the Premier League in terms of goals by some margin. Away from home they have scored more than twice as many goals (and conceded more than twice as many also!). A worrying statistic is that Palace have only once this season recorded back to back victories. As they beat Fulham in their last game, this gives them the opportunity to double this.
Our head to head record against Palace is a positive one, and in fact the last seven games have resulted in wins for us or drawn games. Our last four visits to Selhurst Park have resulted in three wins and a draw. It should really have been four wins (oh Michail, why didn’t you take the ball into the corner?).
Apparently Arnautavic is now fit to resume his place in the squad, but can he displace Chicarito in the starting eleven, after the Mexican had one of his best games for us against Liverpool? They could be selected to play together but I believe that would upset the balance of the team. With the continued absence of so many players I expect the team to be as follows:
Fredericks (or Zabaleta), Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell;
Rice, Noble, Snodgrass;
Chicarito (or Arnautavic)
Our old boys, Tompkins and Kouyate are both doubtful due to injuries, but I notice that Zaha can play as he is in the process of challenging his ban for ironically applauding the referee who sent him off in a recent game. If his finishing could match his approach play then he would be some player but he has not been able to do this. Another statistic I noticed was that in the past two years the Palace penalty taker, Milivojevic, has scored 15 penalties, which puts him way ahead of all the other teams’ penalties in the league. I wonder how many of those kicks were awarded for fouls on Zaha?
In three of our last four visits to Selhurst Park there have been four goals scored in each match. Despite the dearth of goals at that ground in this season’s games I fully expect another four this time. If we are serious about pushing upwards to join the race for seventh place then this game is one we need to win, and I expect a 3-1 victory if we can reproduce the form of the Liverpool game. If we are not quite on the ball then there could be a repeat of last season’s 2-2 draw. And if the West Ham of the Wimbledon / Wolves games turns up then we could be on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat.
If you fancy a small wager on our team then you can get 27/10 on a West Ham victory. A 3-1 win has odds of 28/1, and a 3-1 win with Issa Diop the unlikely scorer of the last goal in the match you can get odds of 1250/1. Any one of those three outcomes, or all three of them will do for me.