After the implosion at Bournemouth, the Reds are back in Premier League action at Anfield. This time, the visitors are West Ham United. The Hammers themselves are in terrible form. They don’t have a win in their last six games in all competitions. Since beating Chelsea 2-1 in the 4th round of the EFL Cup, Slaven Bilic’s men have had two draws and four losses.
They seemed to be getting back on track with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford but that has swiftly been followed with a 4-1 reverse at the same venue in the EFL Cup quarter-final and the 5-1 humbling by Arsenal at the London Stadium.
For Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, it is about putting Bournemouth out of the system. The team went on a bonding trip to Barcelona and even watched the Catalan giants thrash Borussia Monchengladbach in their last group game of the Champions League.
Joel Matip is likely to be back to provide a calm head in defence, and Sadio Mane has recovered from the knock he suffered against Bournemouth. There are question marks over the availability of James Milner though.
Here are a few individual battles that could well decide the outcome of the game.
Joel Matip v Andy Carroll
Matip’s importance to this Liverpool side was exemplified by his absence at Dean Court. He brings a calm and assured presence to the back four. With Alberto Moreno possibly filling in for Milner, Matip needs to be the man to bring Dejan Lovren to calmness and help him not get flustered.
West Ham will hoof balls up for Carroll and their game will revolve around crossing the ball in to find the head of the former Red. Goalkeeper Loris Karius has not exuded much confidence and he is under pressure. Bilic will look to play on that and bombard the young German with aerial balls from all parts of the pitch.
Matip though, will have other ideas. He has generally been regal in the air, his passing is terrific and he even moves forward at times with aplomb. One positive for Matip and Lovren will be the fact that West Ham will not press as much. That has never been the game of either Carroll or Dimitri Payet, but that will mean more numbers deeper for them. So even though Matip and Lovren won’t be under as much pressure when they have the ball, they will be tasked with finding a pass to the forward player in the most space and in the best position to move us forward.
Divock Origi v Winston Reid
The young Belgian now has three goals in three games and his confidence in front of goal will be high. But in the Bournemouth implosion, he felt the pressure in the second half. He was losing aerial duels against Jack Wilshere, something that he should not be doing under any situation. He was not strong enough and did not hold the ball up well enough when we needed the ball to be in the opposition half, as much as possible.
Reid leads a very uncertain West Ham defence. They have conceded nine goals in their last two games and the last thing they needed right now is a visit to Anfield, where the Reds have scored freely this season. Reid and West Ham though have happy memories of Anfield, winning 3-0 on their last Premier League visit here.
Origi though will have different ideas this time. He has filled in really well for the injured Philippe Coutinho and has eased any fears that fans might have had. For Reid, his responsibilities go up a little more given the absence of James Collins. The Welshman had to be taken off after just seven minutes in the loss to Arsenal.
Roberto Firmino v Michail Antonio
The Englishman is set to return to the team, giving the beleaguered Bilic a huge boost. Firmino had his worst game in a long time at Bournemouth and in the familiar surroundings of Anfield, he will be looking to set the record straight.
In Coutinho’s absence, there is an onus on Firmino to step his game up a few notches and be the creative lynchpin for the side. Antonio is a powerhouse, and he will be looking to impose himself on Firmino. The Englishman is not a right-back who will sit back and absorb the pressure. He will look to pin Firmino back and leave himself with as less defending to do as possible.
But, pressing is one of the biggest strengths in Firmino’s game and Klopp will look to him to push Antonio back and reduce the pressure on whoever is playing at left-back especially if Milner misses out and Moreno is called into duty.
Nathaniel Clyne v Dimitri Payet
Payet has not yet hit the heights of last season, but is still West Ham’s most important player. He has had a hand in all of West Ham’s last three goals. He provided a pinpoint assist for Diafra Sakho in the Premier League game at Old Trafford and scored in the cup loss three days later.
Last week against Arsenal, his stunning free-kick hit the crossbar, with Carroll pouncing on the rebound. Clyne is the most reliable performer Klopp has had since arriving at Anfield.
Against Payet, his role is very simple – give the Frenchman as little space and time as possible. Also, Payet is not the kind of player who enjoys a physical battle, so it could be a good idea for Clyne to get stuck in, in the opening few minutes and impose himself on their talisman.
Also, for the entire Liverpool side, it will be crucial not to concede set-pieces anywhere within 35 metres of goal as Payet is perfectly capable of conjuring up magic from dead ball situations.