Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4
Matchday 11 of the Premier League season is set to bring a number of highly interesting contests, not least the Manchester Derby on Saturday. The one between West Ham and Liverpool at the London Stadium on Sunday is among them as well, as one of the teams strives to prove it’s current place in the top four is no fluke, while the other aims to regain the league title.
It wasn’t too long ago when the biggest worry for the Hammers was to escape relegation from the English top flight, but things have changed significantly in the last couple of seasons. Having finished sixth last term, just two points short of Champions League qualification, they are now fourth with 20 points from 10 matches, the same tally as defending champions Manchester City in third, and three more than Manchester United and Arsenal in fifth and sixth, respectively.
David Moyes and his men are undefeated in the last six matches in all competitions. They triumphed 0-1 away to Everton, 3-0 over Genk in the Europa League at home, and 1-0 over Tottenham Hotspur at home, before knocking Manchester City out of the Carabao Cup on penalties in the round of 16. Then they beat Aston Villa at Villa Park by 1-4, and drew 2-2 away to Genk this Thursday.
Said Benrahma managed to overturn the Belgian side’s lead with a brace, only for Tomas Soucek to give a point back to Genk with an own-goal three minutes before the end.
After four rounds in the European competition, West Ham top Group H with 10 points, ahead of Dinamo Zagreb, Genk and Rapid Vienna. A point from the remaining two fixtures would be enough to guarantee passage to the knockout stages, but a win is needed either in Vienna or later at home against Dinamo if they want to secure the top spot.
Much has been said in the last year or so about Declan Rice. The 22-year-old defensive midfielder has reportedly been targeted by the likes of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs, but Moyes recently ruled out any possibility of the England international leaving the London Stadium in the near future, even for a ‘bargain’ price of £100 million. Rice’s stock rose through the roof following his superb performances at the Euros earlier this year, which helped Gareth Southgate’s team reach the final of the tournament.
Michail Antonio has been attracting much attention as well, though his options for the future appear rather limited at the age of 31. Nonetheless, the hard-working striker has six goals from nine league matches this term.
Forward Andriy Yarmolenko and attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic sat out the Genk clash with minor knocks and they remain doubts for Sunday. There are no other injury concerns for the Hammers.
Moyes rotated his team in midweek, but now, Lukasz Fabianski is set to return instead of Alphonse Areola between the posts, Kurt Zouma should take his place in the heart of defence, Soucek is likely to start instead of Mark Noble, and Pablo Fornals could replace Manuel Lanzini behind Antonio.
Still the only unbeaten team in the Premier League this season, Liverpool’s run without a single defeat stretches to 25 matches in all competitions at the moment, equaling the club record set during the reign of the legendary manager Bob Paisley in the early 80s. They’ve so far managed to prove wrong every critic who pointed towards a lack of transfer activity in the summer market and what they perceived as ‘lack of depth’ as a weakness for the 19-time English champions.
Be that as it may, Liverpool still trail Chelsea at the top of the table by three points. They’re only two above Manchester City and West Ham, which means that thy could drop to fifth if City beat United and the Hammers end their unbeaten run.
Liverpool’s recent form is obviously very good; they won five of the last six matches in all competitions. They smashed Watford at the Vicarage by 0-5, triumphed over Atletico in Madrid in the Champions League by 2-3, destroyed arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford by 0-5, moved past Championship side Preston North End in the Carabao Cup by 0-2, staggered a bit as Brighton and Hove Albion managed to grab a point at Anfield (2-2), and eventually completed a double over Atletico Madrid by winning 2-0 at home on Wednesday.
Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane were both on target in the first half of the match, and Atletico defender Felipe was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Mane.
Unlike West Ham, Liverpool have already secured the top spot in their group in Europe, widely perceived as the Champions League “group of death”. With all four matches so far ending in triumph, they have 12 points, seven more than FC Porto, eight more than Atletico, and 11 more than AC Milan.
Klopp is currently dealing with a bit of a crisis in the middle of the park. He will have been thrilled that Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara both returned to the fold against Atletico, but he won’t be able to count on Naby Keita, James Milner (both hamstring), Harvey Elliott (ankle fracture), and Curtis Jones (scratched eye). Defender Joe Gomez (calf) and forward Roberto Firmino (hamstring) are also out.
Andy Robertson is set to return to the left defensive flank after being rested against Atletico, despite Kostas Tsimikas putting in a fine performance in his place. Klopp has been rotating Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate next to Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence, and his choice for this match remains to be seen. Fabinho will hold the fort ahead of the back line, likely with captain Jordan Henderson and Thiago by his side, though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping to start too after impressing against Atletico.
With no Firmino in the team, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jota starting alongside Mane and Mohamed Salah upfront. Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi will have to wait for their chance on the bench.
Barring an early red card or one of the two defences having a rarely seen fiasco, this match should be another one of those that neither team finds easy to win. Liverpool will seek to dominate possession, keep the ball in the opposition half and frequently create chances, but the Hammers, born on the wings of the support from the stands, should be able to give them a very good game.
And yet, this is another match that Liverpool must be looking to win if they’re serious about going for the title, while West Ham won’t be too bothered if they don’t. The lack of pressure on the shoulders of Moyes and his men could be an advantage, but the Merseysiders have shown that they can deal with all sorts of pressure. A narrow Liverpool win seems the likeliest outcome.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4
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