The importance of the West Ham fixture

This is a big game. I know it seems strange that a match against a Sam Allardyce team should be labelled as “big”, but this one is. They beat a disappointing Chelsea team at home last week after the visitors failed to put the game to bed in the first half and then lost their way in the second half (as they did against us). What was important is that Fat Sam had his side increase their pressing efforts after half time, and that won them the game. Thus far Liverpool haven’t looked the best when under pressure due to the youth and inexperience of the side, but I think that the presence of Lucas may be our trump here.

We’re without Suarez, which will make scoring goals difficult. I’m sure Shelvey will take up a position as the false 9 as he is the most lively midfielder we have in terms of getting into the area, but I honestly don’t know who Rodgers will pick to play wide on the left. I’d be tempted to bring Wisdom back and play Enrique and Johnson down the left, but I’m not sure how Wisdom will handle the West Ham wide men. One thing is certain – we can’t afford to go behind.

But mostly this is a big game because of its relevance to the league table. Lose or draw and we stay 12th, and with Chelsea winning today and Spurs at Everton we could find ourselves further out of touch with the top 4; and indeed with the top 10. But a win puts us 10th in West Ham’s place, and if Everton get anything from Spurs we can close to within 5 or even 4 points of 4th. That is massive in terms of our season. We have winnable fixtures coming up, so being that close now will create a good platform for a challenge as we head into the New Year.

But Liverpool over the past few seasons have always lost the “big” games (in terms of importance rather than in terms of the fixture profile). In 09/10 after a poor start to the season we went on a little run while fixtures elsewhere went our way, and come November a win at Stamford Bridge would put us back in touch with the top of the table. A draw would not be a bad result given how Chelsea had started the season (and it was an away game), but they were struggling and had come back to the field. This was our chance!  Instead we lost poor game 2-0, and from that moment on our challenge for anything dissipated (and Chelsea regained their mojo and took the double).  The difference one game makes…

Then came the Spurs game at Anfield in 10/11 – a win in the penultimate game of the season would put us in pole position to finish 5th after that dreadful start under Hodgson. Again we lost tamely 2-0, and even though we maintained a chance to yet beat Spurs for 5th, we lost the next game as well. Last season a bad 0-0 against the same club at White Hart Lane lead on to the loss against Arsenal and the evaporation of our top 4 dreams. While we have mixed good football with bad over the past few seasons, our primary shortcoming has been playing dreadful football in critical games.

Under Rodgers we’ve not played dreadful football outside the game against Arsenal and our capitulation after going down to 10 men against WBA. There is a case for the Sunderland game as well, but again that was early doors and it was their first home fixture. So while I don’t expect us to be dire against West Ham, the importance of taking 3 points here cannot be denied, and without Suarez we will have to do it the hard way. Local pundits reckon it will be a score draw, and I’m hard-pressed to fault that. But this is as close to a must-win as Rodgers has had thus far in terms of our league aspirations (rather than in terms of his job, which I honestly do not think was ever on the line but some “fans” disagree). It is in such pressure games that sides either come together or fall apart, and I honestly can’t call which way we will go. A hard-fought draw is probably enough for the team to go on believing, but a win on the road without Suarez that takes us back into the top 10 and within touching distance of the compressed set of teams between there and 4th? Priceless…

  1. J J:

    Was a superb win. Seems like a lot of games are important nowadays. We’ve got 4 games coming up, all winnable, although Stoke would be tough.

    That’s a good sign to me. It tells me that we’re in the running at least. Far from favourites, but only 4 points back. At the start of the season, we’d have considered, Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle as our main rivals for 4th. We’re not at the half way point, but 4 points behind Spurs, 2 behind Arsenal, and 5 ahead of Newcastle is looking pretty good. Especially considering the amount of bad decisions tha have gone against us (easily worth 4 points so far this season).

    Well done Brendan. Lets keep the good run going

  2. eye_of_the_fly:

    Hey Thundyr. I was pleased with the West Ham performance; I thought our strength of character and determination in coming back from a 2-1 deficit was a positive sign for the future. And it’s always a pleasure to shove Fat Sam’s ill-considered pre-match comments firmly back down his throat….”they don’t score many without Suarez”….well we put three past your defence-minded side Sam! I thought Shelvey adapted admirably to his alien role as a false-nine and I was delighted for Joe Cole, who took his goal extremely well. Glen Johnson’s first-half rocket shows his quality in attacking positions but I remain wary of his defensive frailties…although he looks far more comfortable on the right. I thought Joe Allen was poor though – although I felt he was extremely unfortunate to concede the penalty for handball being that he was an inch away from the strike and had no chance of removing his arm from the ball’s trajectory – and I wonder whether Lucas’ timely return could allow Joe to take a rest in readiness for the busy festive period? Our upcoming games are definitely winnable and I’m hoping to see some deserved momentum and, dare I hope, some deserved praise from the media for Brendan Rodgers’ efforts. It’ll be interesting to see the direction of our January transfer policy; I’d like our business to be conducted early and decisively!

  3. thundyr:

    We have recently shown a decent amount of bottle, something that we’ve lacked for some time. The players don’t give up, and even though we’ve generally struggled to score late on it does mean that we’re on the right road where those late goals will come. We got a bit lucky with this one; let’s be honest. Diame dominated the game during the middle period, and him going off freed up our midfield, though it is fair to say that after half-time we began to assert ourselves on the game a bit more. And once again it was Shelvey and Henderson’s understanding that was key in several moments. I was dismayed at the introduction of Joe Cole, but his movement allowed Shelvey to play the false 9 role properly, where Downing simply did nothing to help him. I’m glad Cole scored, and it was a well-taken finish. I don’t rate him at all, and it takes him a long time to catch up to the speed of the game each time, but we’re short on resources and anyone able to contribute positively is welcome.

    I remember a lot being made of Benitez winning his first fixture – against City and after being behind at half time. Winning after going behind was something Liverpool hadn’t done it for more than 5 years to that point. When he won at Craven Cottage after going in behind at half time, it was the first time Liverpool had achieved such a victory in 13 years! I’m not sure it’s been that long since we last won in similar circumstances, but this was a massive confidence builder for the team, not just because of where it puts us on the table, but because we had no Suarez in a tough away fixture and we trailed 2-1 at the half. It had a sense of good fortune about it, but a win is a win, and this was an important one. Now we need to start winning the ones we “should”.

    As for the January window, I think Rodgers must sell Downing and get a “ready made” left back. With Borini nearing fitness, and Enrique showing at least some skill on the left wing, I think our first XI is actually coming together nicely, especially with Suso, Shelvey and Henderson as the support cast. We need Assaidi and Sahin to kick on and stake a claim on a first team spot, and that can’t happen if we just buy more players that will start ahead of them. What we need is strength in depth, and apart from right back and central midfield we’re a bit thin. I can see Rodgers going for a number of “secondary” and younger targets, perhaps splashing the cash in terms of quantity. It may make the second half of our season a bit haphazard, but I’m not sure that we need too many first choice players. We need people who can allow players like Allen, Gerrard, and Sterling a chance to rest, but we don’t need players to replace them, and that means that our cost per player should also be less.

  4. thundyr:

    I think the games are important because a) we’ve got ourselves in a bit of a hole thanks to our first 5 fixtures and all those draws, and b) the fixtures coming up are ones Liverpool would generally be expected to win. So there’s added pressure now, and a lot of that comes because most people would look at our next two games, both at Anfield against sides that are poor on the road, as 6 points without a second thought. But the matches still need to be won, and Fulham with Haageland are a totally different proposition to without, and let’s not forget how many goals Berbatov has scored against us. But win 3 of the next 4 and I’m sure we’ll find ourselves stuck to the lower end of the group that begins to break away from the pack around this time of the season. Unfortunately last season we were the first casualty from that break away group, but the pressure definitely got to everyone back then. This side looks to have a lot more about it than Dalglish’s team at the same stage, and that is a promising sign even though we’ve scored 7 fewer points in the same number of fixtures.

    Two interesting things. 1.) If the season had started after the Man United game, Liverpool would be third on the table. 2.) Top 4 teams score an average of 1.78 points per game. Over these 11 games, Liverpool averaged 1.81 points per game, and in fact had Liverpool not been denied 2 points by the officials at Everton we would have scored exactly 2 points per game. Anyone still daring to claim we are a mid-table team is either deluded or a United fan. 3.) (Did I say 2?) It’s almost exactly a year since we last won back-to-back league fixtures.

  5. eye_of_the_fly:

    Haha, I was horrified at the introduction of Cole and feared for the worst too! I remain sceptical of his ability to consistently influence the team at EPL level and share your view that he tends to look sluggish and lacking in speed of thought as well as physical speed. One goal does not change that impression but I wonder how Liverpool will find any takers for a has-been on £90,000 per week? I fear we will encounter the same problem with Downing come January. His £20M arrival will no doubt have been accompanied with a similarly inflated salary and his performances since joining Liverpool will have convinced nobody that he is worth even a fraction of that investment. He has had countless opportunities to stake his claim but has failed on every occasion. Even against West Ham at the weekend he had opportunity to dribble at their full-back and consistently failed to beat his man. He lacks conviction in every aspect of his game, he lacks belief, lacks confidence and honestly I don’t see him really striving and busting a gut to make an impression either! Unless we can persuade Harry Redknapp’s ego at money-mad QPR then I fear we’ll be stuck with Downing for a while yet.

    I agree that a left-back, along with a striker, should be our January priority. The persistent links with players such as Theo Walcott and Darren Bent evoke mixed views for me; Walcott has stagnated completely at Arsenal but he is still relatively young and perhaps could have his career resurrected? But anything more than a £4M-£5M fee would be too much! I’m not exactly sure what the issue with Bent is at Villa; he has performed consistently in the EPL but perhaps there is an attitude problem there? Or maybe Villa’s well-known financial constraints are a factor in his relegation to the bench? A six-month loan could serve both Liverpool and Bent well, assuming he has the hunger to prove his doubters wrong. But I would steer well clear of a permanent deal at this stage. With a severe lack of quality left-back options available perhaps Enrique will revert to his more usual full-back role with Borini’s imminent return and Sterling, Suso and Suarez occupying the more advanced positions? I’d hate for us to waste money on a second-rate signing and find ourselves stuck with another Paul Konchesky disaster….

  6. thundyr:

    Some of the names we are linked with in January make me wonder at the sanity of reporters. I don’t see why we would prefer any of Bent, Huntelaar, Llorente (the list goes on) over Carroll; these are all more-or-less the same kind of player, except that Carroll is younger and is already a Liverpool player. There seems to be genuine interest in Sturridge, who isn’t a player I particularly rate though he does score fairly regularly even as a squad player. We’re also apparently desperate to get Tom Ince back, which makes me really wonder what Dalglish was smoking last season.

    I really don’t know what to make of potentially signing Walcott either. He’s young, obviously quick, but that isn’t all that we want. How many times do you see us hitting a raking ball for Sterling to run onto? Never. So what use is all that speed when coupled with a guy with average ball control, mediocre work rate, and a less than stellar scoring rate? Since we signed Joe Cole I have became a firm believer that we should never buy a player from our rivals. Once we’ve eliminated the players who cost too much, have too-high wage demands, or wouldn’t come to a Europa League club, right now I can’t think of any players in England that I would pick ahead of: Reina-Johnson-Skrtel-Agger-Enrique-Gerrard-Lucas-Allen-Sterling-Suarez-Borini. Unless we’re talking about Suso, Henderson, Shelvey, Wisdom, and Kelly of course…

  7. J J:

    Not that impressed with most we’ve been linked to either, but I wouldn’t say those you mention are no different to Carroll. Perhaps similar types of player, but Carroll has fitness issues (pretty bad considering his age), he has attitude problems (rumours about drinking etc won’t go away), he has confidence issues which is there for all to see, and in terms of touch, passing and even goalscoring record, he’s a long way behind people like LLorente and Huntelaar. I’d prefer both to Carroll.

  8. thundyr:

    According to some, Ince and Sturridge are done deals. Not sure how to feel about that, though Sturridge is a better purchase than Walcott (which isn’t necessarily saying much). If he moves in as a right winger, with Sterling moving to the left (ie away from Johnson with whom he combines really poorly), that means we’re stuck with “in his shell” Gerrard or “not playing according to our system” Gerrard, neither of which helps us control midfield (and failure to control midfield lead directly to giving away 3 soft goals at home to relegation candidates – we might not have a great record against the worst sides in the league in recent times, but losing 3-0 at home to one of them isn’t done). If we score from 10% more of our chances as a result we’ll race up the table, so I can’t really fault the effort to bring in another forward (even though we need a left back just as desperately). Will be interesting what happens when Borini is fit again, and whether Sterling will finally understand he’s just a kid playing a man’s game. But something has to give in midfield: Allen looks jaded, Gerrard isn’t working, and Lucas isn’t at full match fitness. Rodgers needs to change something soon – he has to learn to rotate this squad.





*