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Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 12.11.16
1-2 West Ham (a; FA Cup) 02.09.16
0-0 (h; FA Cup) 01.30.16
0-2 West Ham (a) 01.02.16
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Southampton (h); 1-0 Watford (a); 1-2 Palace (h)
West Ham: 1-0 Tottenham (h); 0-0 Stoke (a); 0-0 Everton (h)
Liverpool: Mané 13; Firmino 11; Coutinho 10; Lallana, Milner 7; Origi 6; Can, Wijnaldum 5; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
West Ham: Antonio 9; Lanzini 8; Carroll 7; Ayew 5; Noble 3; Collins, Feghouli, Payet, Reid 2; Calleri, Kouyate, Obiang, Sakho 1
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Sturridge Origi Coutinho
Just two more matches, as Liverpool try to crawl across this marathon finish line.
And it's not getting any easier. One hand gives, the other takes away. Lallana and Sturridge are both finally fit enough to start, but Firmino and Lucas are now doubtful with muscle injuries. And Liverpool are traveling to opposition they've been very bad against in recent seasons, whether in the league or cups, whether with a depleted side or a full complement of players.
I wouldn't necessarily be surprised to see either or both of Firmino and Lucas play. Firmino has been "doubtful" and "had his fitness managed" for about a month now. Lucas was back in training yesterday, and should be able to complete two sessions before this fixture.
But let's guess that neither will start. The defense and midfield are easy to guess: the same back four as we've seen in the last few matches – the "preferred" back four – and Lallana in midfield, with Can in the holding role. The front three is harder to guess. Both Sturridge and Origi would probably have to play; I highly doubt it'd be Alexander-Arnold or Woodburn, and if Lallana comes into the front three, I've no idea who comes into midfield. But one of Sturridge or Origi would probably, ostensibly, have to play on the right in Liverpool's usual 4-3-3 formation.
Both Origi and Sturridge have played well with a strike partner in the past – and Origi's simply not been good in this formation, with these tactics, against congested opposition lately – but as much as I'd like to guess a 4-4-2 diamond, it's not a formation which matches up well against West Ham's 3-4-3. Regardless of formation or personnel, we are going to need to see much better movement from Liverpool's front three, making runs, using the channels, drawing center-backs out of preferred positions. But maybe we'll get Firmino. And if that's the case, I hope we also get Sturridge rather than Origi, for all the reasons I've written about over the last few weeks.
But if Liverpool think they've got it bad with injuries, take a look at West Ham's casualty list. Carroll, Antonio, Noble, Kouyate, Sakho, Obiang, and Ogbonna. Two strikers, three central midfielders, a center-back, and an archetypal utility player who could feature in any position. Five players who featured in the 2-2 draw at Anfield, including the starting (and goal-scoring) striker, both central midfielders, and one of two center-backs. A player who's scored against Liverpool in all three of his starts against Liverpool. Liverpool's former club record signing, who also scored in this fixture last season. West Ham's long-serving captain, who has 16 appearances against Liverpool.
That's a lot of very important players absent. And it's not as if West Ham have a ton to play for, safe for a few weeks, now on 42 points, smack in the middle of the 8th to 15th pack. And yet, West Ham are unbeaten in their last five matches. They've kept three consecutive clean sheets, since switching to three at the back. They're coming off what's arguably they're most impressive home win of the season, in their new stadium, beating London rivals Tottenham, what was basically the final nail in Tottenham's title chase coffin.
Adrian; Fonte, Reid, Collins; Byram, Fernandes, Nordtveit, Cresswell; Lanzini, Calleri, Ayew. Ashley Fletcher's an option up front, Feghouli and Snodgrass could play in the attacking midfield/wide forward roles, but otherwise, West Ham are down to the barest of bones. For what that's worth, given recent form, recent meetings, and Liverpool's never-ending ability to Liverpool.
Those wing-backs can easily cause Liverpool problems on the counter: expansive, quick, and excellent crossers. West Ham's supporting attackers – likely to be Ayew and Lanzini – will cut inside and switch positions and overload and generally look to create confusion, and Liverpool aren't the best at handling confusion. And even with two stand-in central midfielders, West Ham are likely to be defensively secure, with three mountain center-backs who have all stifled better and more in-form Liverpool attacks in the past.
Not to mention the strange voodoo that Slaven Bilic has against the club. Liverpool have beaten one of his teams just once in seven matches: the first leg of a Round of 32 Europa League tie against Besiktas in 2014-15, a tie that Liverpool ended up losing on penalties. With West Ham, Bilic's won three and drawn two. Liverpool's last win over West Ham is Liverpool's last game against West Ham before Bilic became manager, way back in January 2015.
None of that can matter. The past has to be the past: past meetings against West Ham and past failures which have left Liverpool in this position, whether last week's or last month's or five months ago. Liverpool need to win tomorrow, and then Liverpool need to win again. Liverpool need six points from these last two matches, because nothing else seems likely to suffice.
But tomorrow first. Nothing but tomorrow. Nothing but West Ham, and righting recent wrongs. And nothing but a win.