Liverpool travel to face West Ham in their penultimate game of the Premier League season, with hopes of a top-four finish still in the balance.
With Manchester City just a point behind Liverpool with a game in hand, the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s side is rife. Anything but a win over West Ham would open the door for Arsenal or Manchester United to creep into the top-four in what remains of the season, making it a game with huge ramifications in terms of Liverpool’s Champions League hopes.
The task is clear. Back to back wins against West Ham and Middlesbrough would see Klopp finish his first full season in charge with a top-four finish and a huge platform to build on for the following campaign. Any transfer dealings will pin on securing their place among Europe’s elites so it’s imperative Liverpool rally themselves in the final stages and go out all guns blazing.
That being said, Liverpool are hardly in stellar form right now. It’s been very much a case of two steps forward and one step back, with a drab 0-0 draw against Southampton their latest stutter. The blunt nature of their attack will no-doubt be a worry for Jurgen Klopp, who has been urged to unleash Daniel Sturridge at the London stadium for a rare start.
With Arsenal circling and ready to pounce on any mistakes, Liverpool must bring their A-game on Sunday. Their record should give them confidence heading into the game, having only lost one of their last 10 top-flight matches in London and winning their last three away games.
West Ham come into the game with much less at stake than Liverpool, having secured their stay in the Premier League last weekend with eight points separating them from the danger zone. However, Bilic’s side will still be motivated for the three pints with the Hammers able to finish anywhere between eight and 16th from now until the end of the season. A win would see them rise from 12th to ninth, with a top half finish potentially crucial in deciding Bilic’s fate at the club.
Liverpool will need to have their wits about them on Sunday, with West Ham unbeaten in five league games (W2, D3), after losing their previous five. Likewise, they have kept three consecutive league clean sheets at their new stadium for the first time and with Liverpool’s attack looking a shadow of its former self in recent weeks, Bilic will be confident of continuing that record.
Their last match against Tottenham should give Liverpool all the warning signs they need heading into this one, with just the one goal separating the two sides to end Mauricio Pochettino’s title aspirations. Key to their successes will be keeping The Reds at bay, with goals increasingly hard to come by due to untimely injuries up top. Six of West Ham’s seven league wins at the London Stadium have been by a 1-0 score-line and should they fail to score on Sunday, they will end the campaign with 19 home goals to their name – the joint lowest tally in a Premier League season.
Head To Head
West Ham are unbeaten in five league and cup games against Liverpool, securing three wins in the process. They have also won their last three home games against Sunday’s opponents. It’s a game that rarely ends in a stalemate with West Ham winning four and Liverpool securing seven wins since a 1-1 draw in 2011.
Liverpool will be without captain Jordan Henderson once again, with the midfielders season over. Meanwhile, Lucas Leiva and Roberto Firmino represent fresh injury concerns for Klopp. The German must decide whether to opt for Divock Origi who has been out of sorts lately or give Sturridge a start after an impressive cameo against the Saints.
West Ham will be without former-Liverpool striker Andy Carroll who suffered an adductor strain and will miss the remainder of the campaign. Likewise, captain Mark Noble has been ruled out. Cheikhou Koyate underwent a wrist operation on Tuesday and will miss out while Ogbonna, Antonio, Diafra Sakho and Pedro Obiang are also out of contention.
Liverpool have so much to play for in the last two games and if they do their job, they’ll be in the Champions League next season. It’s hard to think of a much bigger incentive for what remains of the campaign and surely the players will rally themselves for this one. West Ham won’t be easy opponents but I think The Reds will get the job done.
Predicted Score: West Ham 1-2 Liverpool
Written by Leanne Prescott.