Liverpool’s last away day, an accomplished (yet at-times fraught) 1-0 win at Vicarage Road, perfectly illustrated why Liverpool head the race for the final group stage berth in next season’s Champions Legue.
With the riches promised by Champions League qualification now firmly in reach, such inconsistent displays should become increasingly rare, with preparations for 2017/18 already underway.
West Ham Confidence Based on History
During the Premier League era, at least, neighbours Everton have seemingly won this fixture at will. Yet, inexplicably, it has proven troublesome for Liverpool in recent years. Of the entire travelling party, manager Jürgen Klopp will be by far the most determined to enact vengeance upon West Ham as he makes a maiden visit to the London Olympic Stadium. In 2015/16, his plans for FA Cup glory were thwarted by an extra-time defeat on East London turf:
That defeat had also been preceded by a 2-0 league reverse at West Ham, which saw the Hammers complete the league double over Liverpool and build an unassailable lead in the race for the seventh (and final) European qualification spot.
Liverpool’s last away win at West Ham came three years ago, when there was far more than a mere Champions League spot at stake. On 6 April 2014, Liverpool maintained what looked to be a solid lead at the summit after two Steven Gerrard penalties gave the Reds a 2-1 win. Sadly for Liverpool, the greatest dream would not be realised, with sky-blue ribbons instead adorning English football’s most coveted silverware that year.
Attack, Attack, Attack…
Today, both clubs are very much reliant on attacking midfielders for a real goal threat. For West Ham and Liverpool respectively, Andy Carroll and Divock Origi possess their own unique strengths. Carroll’s aerial presence is perpetually underrated by fans and media alike – of course, this has in no small part stemmed from his disastrous spell at Liverpool after a marquee £35m transfer.
For his part, Origi has contributed some vital goals, showing great determination after being on the receiving end of a truly medieval tackle from Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori in April 2016. However, it has been Philippe Coutinho stealing the headlines, especially with Sadio Mane’s periods of absence due to injury and AFCON duties.
Coutinho’s fitness remains in question ahead of this clash, but the smart money is still on Coutinho to open the scoring. That noted, Liverpool’s shaky defending from set pieces must also be accounted for, making a “Both Teams to Score” stipulation crucial when it comes to building any accumulators – such as those seen on Footy Accumulators, complete with free bets for an initial £10 outlay – this weekend.
Few could blame Liverpool fans, in every corner of the world, for cowering behind the sofa when Carroll becomes the target man for every corner. Indeed, the end of the aforementioned match with Watford almost saw the hosts equalise (as an indirect result of a set piece) with seconds remaining. This implies that Liverpool’s defence still has some very real vulnerability, upon which even the most unmotivated of safe, mid-table sides should capitalise.
Prediction: West Ham 1 Liverpool 3 – Coutinho to be the first goalscorer, precipitating a sad end to an underwhelming debut season for West Ham at the Olympic Stadium.