Liverpool v West Ham, Premier League, April 19, 2010
Even the silver-lining of the Icelandic volcanic cloud, which has forced Fernando Torres to stay in Spain as medics continue to probe his dodgy knee, may not be enough good luck for West Ham to claim a win at hoodoo venue Anfield.
Leaving their current predicaments momentarily to one side, when we dip into the history books there is little comfort that the Hammers will be able to get anything out of their trip to Merseyside on Monday night. Overall, Liverpool have won nine of their last 11 Premier League meetings with West Ham, while the Eastenders have scored a pitiful four goals in fourteen matches at Anfield, being the worst goal ratio of any league side to have played there ten times or more.
Recent history this season also leaves West Ham starring down the barrel of another defeat. The Hammers, just three points above third-bottom Hull before the kick-off on Monday, have not won on the road since their 2-nil triumph at Wolves on the opening day of the season. That is compared to Liverpool’s formidable home record this term of 12 wins and four draws in 17 matches in front of the adoring Kop.
Nevertheless, arguably with nothing to lose, West Ham fans may be cautiously optimistic as they head to Scouse-land. At the end of March the end seemed nigh in east London after the Hammers had lost crucial home matches to both Wolves and Stoke. With daily reports that manager Gianfranco Zola’s head being on the chopping block, the Irons looked nailed on certainties for relegation.
Yet, against the odds, April saw a revival at Upton Park. West Ham picked up a brilliant point at Everton, and they followed that up with a much-needed three points against the Black Cats last time out. Suddenly there is hope at the Boleyn Ground.
As they prepare for their trip up north, Gianfranco Zola is further boosted by a host of striking options. Carlton Cole and Ilan Aruajo are most likely to continue their recent partnership up-top, however Mido, Benni McCarthy, and Guillermo Franco are all potential candidates to come off the bench for the Hammers in a match that no-one will be expecting them to win.
In contrast though to the options in attack, Zola is short-changed in midfield without the services of star player Scotty Parker. Parker has been the shining light at Upton Park all season long, and in his absence (suspension for ten yellow cards) the Hammers will rely on the likes of Mark Noble and Valon Behrami to battle it out against Steven Gerrard and co.
In El Nino’s absense, Liverpool are likely to play David Ngog as a lone striker with skipper Steven Gerard in an advanced midfield role to provide support. Â£20 million summer-signing Alberto Aquilani will once again be asked to provide the creativity in central midfield, with Ryan Babel and Maxi Rodriguez, or Dirk Kuyt, providing support out wide.
Liverpool’s defence is somewhat disrupted, as Emiliano Insua and Fabio Aurelio are both still out. That should see Daniel Agger continue at left-back, while Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher, Sotirios Kyrgiakos filling out the rest of the defensive positions.
The big talking points for Liverpool though ahead of the match centre around a host of off-the-field stories that could end up upsetting Rafa Benitez’s on-the-field tactics. Aside from the constant rumours linking the Spanish waiter away from Merseyside, with Juventus and Real Madrid said to be eyeing up Benitez this summer, the big news this week has been the decision of much-hated American owners Hicks and Gillett to sell the club.
With the club seemingly in so much disarray, and with the little matter of the Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid on Thursday night to look forward, West Ham may be able to take advantage of Liverpool’s hectic schedule and sneak a point in a low quality match.
101gg predicts: Liverpool 1 – West Ham 1