West Ham are facing Liverpool at Anfield on Halloween. Can we expect trick or treat?

It doesn’t come much tougher does it? Liverpool, the reigning premier League Champions, who in the season that ended a little over three months ago, finished 18 points clear of Manchester City, who themselves were 15 points ahead of third placed Manchester United, are unbeatable aren’t they? Just a few days ago they were made to work hard but completed a comeback win against Sheffield United to extend their unbeaten Premier League run at Anfield to 62 games, so what chance do we have? They were also not at their best against FC Midtjylland, the Danish champions, in their Champions League game in midweek and could easily have conceded an equaliser before wrapping up the win in time added on. And who can forget the 7-2 drubbing they took at Aston Villa? But as the 62 game unbeaten run shows, at Anfield they are exceptionally hard to beat.

As West Ham fans we know this only too well – we couldn’t manage it from September 1963 (at about the time Gerry and the Pacemakers were recording their soon to be number one – You’ll Never Walk Alone) right through to the end of August 2015 until we thumped them 3-0 on their ground in front of a shocked home crowd, with goals from Lanzini, Noble and Sakho. Despite only having 33% possession (not untypical at Anfield) we matched them in all areas that day and displayed excellent counter attacking, and fully deserved our victory. Slaven Bilic came out with an excellent quote after the game “we parked the bus, but we didn’t put the handbrake on”. We even did the double over them that season with a 2-0 win in the return fixture at Upton Park with goals from Antonio and Carroll.

Do you remember the game there in February last season? When Wijnaldum scored the opening goal in the first ten minutes it seemed that we would be in for a long night, but Diop equalised within a couple of minutes, and we held on for 1-1 at half time. Fornals replaced Soucek early in the second half and hadn’t been on the field long when he put us into the lead. Unfortunately Fabianski chose this game to be probably his worst in our goal, and was badly at fault as Salah and then Mane scored to clinch a 3-2 home win.

2019-20 was a strange season of course due to the lockdown because of the pandemic, which meant that the last game was played a full 50 weeks after the first, the longest Premier League season ever. It was a strange season for West Ham too, with a very good beginning and end but with a lengthy poor spell in between. There was a certain symmetry in the campaign with us picking up 12 points in the first seven games (W3, D3, L1), and 12 points in the last seven games (W3, D3, L1). If only we could have maintained a similar record in the 24 games in between where we only amassed 15 points (W4,D3, L17)! An average of 12 points every 7 games would equate to 65 points in a whole season. That would have been good enough for a fifth placed finish last season. We’re not at that point yet but that is the level of consistency we must be aiming for.

The match at Anfield is our seventh of this new season, and with 8 points so far we will be unable to match the 12 points that we had after 7 matches last time, even if we do win the game. Nevertheless, I maintain that the start to this campaign is greatly superior to the last in view of the opposition we have faced. Not only has the quality of our football been a massive improvement, but the confidence and belief is evident for all to see, and much credit must go to our manager and coaching staff for the effect they have had in turning around the club.

We all knew that it would be a difficult start when we saw the fixtures schedule. But I wonder how many of us looked at those opening seven games and worked out how many points we picked up in the equivalent fixtures last season? How many points do you think we collected from home games against Newcastle, Wolves and Manchester City, and away trips to Arsenal, Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool? Those seven games yielded zero points, in which we scored five times and conceded 20. With Liverpool to come we are already 8 points better off than we were last time when matching up the equivalent fixtures with 12 goals scored and 8 against. Even if we only picked up similar points to last season in the other games, we would finish with 47 points. But I expect much more than that, and a top half finish.  

But to achieve that we need to avoid injuries to the key players in our squad, which is a little thin in some areas. Michail Antonio has probably been the most in-form striker in the whole of the Premier League since football resumed after the lockdown, and his importance to West Ham, and the playing system that has evolved this season, is massive. He is a crucial cog in the system and the team. As an example, there was a massive difference in the performance of the team when he had to go off against Manchester City to be replaced by Haller. Haller is not a bad player, but he just doesn’t fit into the system we play, and arguably never has in his time with us. As Antonio is unable to play then we need to replace him with someone of a similar type, but we haven’t got anybody like that. The alternative will be to adopt a new approach and jettison the system that has been so successful so far.

Perhaps we might consider 4-4-2 with similar personnel? That system would have drawbacks of course. A back four of Coufal, Balbuena, Ogbonna, and Cresswell in front of Fabianski. A midfield 4 of Soucek, Rice, Fornals and Masuaku, with Haller and Bowen up front? Or perhaps a place for Lanzini, Yarmolenko or Snodgrass or maybe even Benrahma if they believe he is ready? What about Noble or Coventry? Possibly even adopting what they call the false 9 with no traditional strikers, and flooding the midfield with 6 players and excluding Haller from the starting eleven?

Do we need extra pace at the back? Almost certainly yes, but would Fredericks, Diop or Dawson get a look in? Or even Ashby who is considered to be a great prospect? Perhaps Diop’s pace would be an alternative to Balbuena? Balbuena hasn’t done too much wrong in his return to the team due to Diop’s self-isolation, but speed could be important when facing Liverpool’s attack. However, I doubt that Moyes will tinker with the players at the back, but who knows? It’s all speculation but we shouldn’t go to Anfield to roll over. We must take this new found confidence and belief into the game and give it a go. Wouldn’t it be great to come away extending our unbeaten league run to five games? It will be difficult but Liverpool themselves have their injury concerns over a number of players and certainly miss Van Dijk at the back. It’s a real shame that Antonio is not available to exploit this.  

Unsurprisingly, the bookmakers don’t think we have much chance and quote odds of around 7/1 for us to pick up three points. Even the draw at 4/1 is a long shot. But our draw against Manchester City last weekend ruined many accumulators. Can we do it again? In this season of surprise results I am hoping for another one.    

Hamstrings and Shoestrings: Chances Of A West Ham Upset At Liverpool Torn Apart By Antonio Injury

It didn’t need Mystic Meg to predict that there would be injuries at West Ham, making the usual short-sighted penny pinching by the Board all the more unpalatable.

We all knew it was going to happen, it was only a case of just when. Still, the reports that Michail Antonio could be out for anywhere up to 4 or 6 weeks have come as an unwelcome blow, as West Ham prepare for their annual outing to Anfield. And potentially it will be an even more significant blow in the run of easier games that follow the Liverpool one.  

It had taken a while, but David Moyes hit upon a system that worked for him and suited the players available. A hard-working, disciplined, compact unit, capable of quick counterattacking – a system that made best use of what there was to work with, and compensated for its deficiencies. In the recent run of games, it had proved both effective and entertaining.

That system, though, relies heavily on a strong, athletic, mobile, and pacey presence upfront. In the past it had been Arnautovic, now it is Antonio. Very few would be inclined to describe Sebastien Haller in similar terms. But with the Board failing to spend the money required to recruit a suitable backup (to a problem that anyone could have predicted) there are limited options in a shoestring squad. The lack of ambition/ intelligence/ interest/ investment/ foresight/ self-awareness (*delete as applicable) strikes again.

It is fair to say that Haller has (to date) represented poor value for money at West Ham. The poisoned chalice of disappointment that goes with being the clubs record signing is in safe hands, just as it had with Felipe Anderson before him. Whether the fault lies with the players or is a consequence of absurd random recruitment practices is one to debate. It is easy to argue that neither Haller nor Anderson looks particularly interested in a West Ham shirt but a large part of the problem could be not being suited to English football or the style of football being played.

In the case of Haller, it is clear that to thrive he needs someone to play alongside him – and to receive more crosses into the box. Without reverting to a back four (and the defensive vulnerabilities that would involved) it is difficult to see how the team can be set up to provide that support. Whether such a one-dimensional player is worth £40-odd million is a valid question to ask, though.

Some suggest that Andriy Yarmolenko would be a better option, but I don’t see it myself – certainly not if his (almost) disastrous cameo last weekend is anything to go by. And pushing Jarrod Bowen further forward is not only ineffective, but weakens the team elsewhere.  It is a side that needs to work tirelessly when we don’t have the ball – which is almost 60% of the time – and Bowen provides a vital contribution in that endeavour.

With Moyes prioritising a clean sheet over goals scored, I believe he will go with a straight Haller for Antonio swap – it’s as near like-for-like as it gets. The out-ball will be the problem, though, and the Hammers will need to find different options for keeping the ball when they win it. Could that be Said Behrama? Possibly, but would be unlike Moyes to be make such an adventurous a move.

Elsewhere, I might be tempted to bring in Issa Diop for Fabian Balbuena. Not that the latter has done much wrong in recent games but because Diop may handle the pace of the Liverpool front three and provide cover for the threat from the Liverpool full-backs better.  

The long term absence of Van Dyke’s quality is a massive blow to the home side’s hopes of retaining the title – but the Antonio absence makes their job far more straightforward this weekend – even if other injuries mean they are struggling to find two specialist centre-backs. They have far greater depth than we do.

There is a Pavlovian response among a section of West Ham supporters to detest anything and everything to do with Liverpool (Football Club). Personally, I don’t get that. They are just another north-west club who beats us on a regular basis. They were worthy champions last season, by some distance, and have an excellent manager in Jurgen Klopp. It is a side very much in his image.

Their US owners are, however, one of the leading protagonists in the Big Picture money and power grab that has recently been exposed. It is yet another nail in the coffin of the ordinary matchday supporter in the search for an even greater share of the TV revenues.  The move towards a European super league has been brewing for some time and the proposals to organise it as a closed shop illustrate perfectly why sport and business are uncomfortable bedfellows. I have long believed that European games will eventually be switched to weekends to capture a bigger worldwide TV audience.

Personally, I would say let them have their super league, provided that resigning from domestic competition is a condition of the breakaway circus. Of course, that isn’t what they want. They want cake, to eat it and then have a second helping – with B teams competing in the lower tiers of the pyramid. More games for their customers to enjoy!

An oddity from last weekend’s hard-earned point at home to Manchester City was how little was made of the penalty incident where Garcia challenged Antonio in the area, completely missed the ball and sent the striker sprawling. Not worthy of VAR review apparently, whereas had it occurred at the other end, we would have been seeing it on repeat from every angle. In fact, anywhere else on the pitch and a foul would have been given. Isn’t this what VAR is meant to be for? Clear and obvious situations where the referee was poorly positioned to make penalty calls – rather than analysing offsides to the nearest millimetre.

Add in Gundogan escaping a yellow card for his cynical attempted foul on Declan Rice and it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I’ve never understood why a professional foul should dealt with differently depending on where on the pitch it occurs. Hardly a match goes by without someone ‘taking one for the team.’ It is revered in the pundit fraternity as some kind of heroic or selfless act rather than the intentional cheating tactic it has become. Time it was dealt with more harshly – a 10-minute stint in the sin bin, perhaps.

Talking of TV coverage, why do commentators continue to talk about players scoring in front of The Kop or the Stretford End when the stadiums are completely empty? It all seems rather pointless in the circumstances!

If West Ham are to extend their unbeaten run to five games it will require all the resilience shown in the Man City performance, another slice of the good fortune experienced at Tottenham and for VAR to be on its best behaviour. If each of those can be mysteriously aligned, there could be a point in it for us. On the other hand …….   

The Incapables take on the Invincibles in the Monday night match. West Ham expectations are at an all-time low.

As West Ham visit Anfield for their annual charity giveaway, the big talking point is whether the Hammers will produce a shot on target

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.

COYI.

Liverpool v West Ham – a few facts to help you decide who is likely to come out on top!

Let’s examine a few facts to help us decide the potential outcome in tonight’s visit to Anfield.  But as they say in the world of investments “Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results”. As far as betting on the match is concerned, you can get up to 20/1 on a West Ham victory and 7/1 on a draw. I have seen 200/1 quoted for West Ham to repeat their 3-0 victory at Anfield in 2015. But some bookmakers don’t bother to quote odds for that scoreline, obviously believing that nobody would want to bet on it.

  • Liverpool have played 26 Premier League games so far this season. They have won 25 of them and drawn the other one, giving them a total of 76 points out of a possible 78.
  • They have been top of the league all season apart from after the first match when Manchester City were top on goal difference (as a result of winning 5-0 at the London Stadium!)
  • In the last 7 games between the two sides, Liverpool have won 5 of them and drawn the other 2, scoring 4 goals in 4 of the 7 matches.
  • In the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed), the two sides have met 57 times at Anfield. Liverpool have won 39, 15 have been drawn, and West Ham have won 3. The West Ham wins were in 1928, 1963, and 2015.
  • Liverpool have won their last 17 league games. The record for consecutive wins in the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed) is 18 held by Manchester City.
  • Liverpool have won their last 20 home league games. The record for consecutive home wins in the Premier League (and Division 1 before the Premier League was formed) is 21 held by ….. Liverpool!
  • Liverpool last lost a league game 14 months ago when they went down 2-1 to Manchester City. They haven’t been beaten in their last 43 league games, winning 38 of them.
  • In all their Premier League games going back to 7 December (11 matches), Liverpool have only conceded one goal (in a 2-1 victory away to Wolverhampton). But in their 8 league games prior to that they didn’t keep a clean sheet.
  • Since 1901, Liverpool and West Ham have met 140 times in all competitions. Liverpool have won 75, 37 have been drawn and West Ham have won 28.
  • West Ham once scored 7 goals in a game against Liverpool (1930). Liverpool have never managed more than 6 in a single game against West Ham.
  • David Moyes has been the manager 15 times in visits to Anfield. He has never won a game there.
  • West Ham have 5 points from their last 8 league games. On form in the last 8 games that is the poorest record in the Premier League.
  • West Ham have thrown away 19 points from winning positions this season. That is the most in the Premier League.
  • West Ham haven’t lost 5 away league games in a row for more than six years. We’ve lost our last 4!
  • Antonio has played against Liverpool five times in the Premier League. He has only failed to score in one of them.

Not many positives there! But at least almost all of the teams in the relegation battle with us lost this weekend (apart from Brighton who drew at Sheffield United).