When Arsenal embarked on their famous ‘Invincibles’ season in 2003/04, West Ham were taking one of their regular sabbaticals in the Championship – and, thus, unable to put a spoke in the celebratory wheel. With Liverpool now looking a great good bet to emulate Arsenal’s feat, the Hammer’s have a final opportunity to make something of their season by snatching victory and becoming the ultimate party poopers. As long shots go though, this is a lob from well inside your own half.
Coming off the back of the latest disappointing and uncontested defeat to Manchester City, the instinct is to write off this match, get it out of the way with as little damage as possible to the goal difference. Without doubt, the performance at the Etihad was painful, but those supporters seemingly remembering a time when West Ham could come away from any game with an against the odds victory may have their nostalgia filter set too high – maybe the occasional home win against a title chaser but rarely on the road – and even more rarely in the north-west. A quick reminder that the Hammers have recorded just one victory at Anfield since the mid-1960’s puts tonight’s game into context – and in some of those games we even had a decent team.
It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that tonight’s game will pan out in a similar way to last Wednesdays. We have little to offer in terms of competition to a relentless and ruthless Liverpool side that has only dropped two points all season. Not that this should be an excuse to throw in the towel before a ball has been kicked. We can accept and forgive heroic failure but not unconditional surrender.
David Moyes is doing himself no favours if he wants to earn any supporter sympathy. It is one thing to park the bus, it is yet another to abandon it and set it ablaze. Being content to concede possession is fine, if it provides an opportunity to hurt your opponent on the break – not so smart if you simply give the ball straight back whenever you gain possession. A gulf in class can be understood and tolerated, but it is still 11 against 11 and a team should never appear out-numbered – as West Ham so frequently do. Sadly, a collective lack of pace, and an absence of belief or commitment in individual players will likely prove our downfall once again – both tonight and possibly in the months to come.
It is easy to cherry pick statistics to prove a particular point but if you ignore the promising start to the season (11 points from the first 6 games) it gives you a return of just 13 points from the last 20 league outings – relegation form in any season. It is all well and good having a run of winnable games on paper to end the season with, but the points still need to be won. Right now, it is not obvious how that is going to happen.
The good news from the weekend was an almost clean losing sweep for our relegation rivals with only Brighton (on the fringes anyway) picking up a point. With Norwich looking a lost cause, there remains a chance that two of Watford, Villa and Bournemouth will continue to struggle and save us from the drop. Watford and Villa were well beaten while Bournemouth fell to a VAR inspired defeat at Burnley – VAR at its finest in turning an apparent equaliser into a penalty at the other end. Not something that would ever happen to Liverpool.
Roly-poly referee, Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire, will once again be on hand to ensure that most of the decisions go the host’s way. VAR responsibility, for picking up accidental handballs and offside shin pads while ignoring stamping assaults, will fall to Lee Mason. What a farce VAR has become, but at least it gives the commentators something to talk about.
TV pundits, Lawro and Charlie Nicholas, have both opted for a conservative 2-0 home win. The logic, I suppose, is that Liverpool will want to do just enough to ensure victory before calling it a day – game management as it’s known in common parlance. I don’t suppose there is any chance of Liverpool being complacent or over-confident?
It would nice to think that Moyes and his Hammers will make a game of it and give the long-suffering travelling support something to cheer. We did, at least, create a number of chances in the reverse fixture last month, despite being easily outplayed. Perhaps a combination of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen in the most advanced players can ask a few questions of the Liverpool defence. Perhaps we will abandon the zonal defensive system that has left us so vulnerable from set pieces. Perhaps we won’t line-up as the slowest team in the league. Perhaps there might be a rare start for Pablo Fornals. Who knows what goes through a manager’s mind?
I heard a story many years ago about when Joe Louis was due to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight boxing title in 1936. Louis was red-hot favourite and every newspaper correspondent except one tipped him to win. The dissenting voice figured that if Louis won no-one would be interested to remember his tip, but if Schmeling won (which he did) he would be able to dine out on it for years to come. On that basis, I am predicting West Ham to win 1-0 tonight – with a late Liverpool equaliser ruled out by VAR causing Jurgen Klopp to spontaneously combust.