Slaven Bilic was backed by West Ham’s Board after Saturday’s 5-1 defeat to Arsenal. It’s commendable that the Board are sticking with the Croatian manager, but Bilic must turn the Hammers’ season around rapidly, and it must happen quickly with January around the corner.
Heading to Liverpool on Sunday, the Hammers must shake off the dismal performance from last weekend for what surely will be another difficult match.
Last week, with Andy Carroll set to come on for the first time since his knee injury in August, and West Ham trailing 1-0, the Hammers looked in good position against the Gunners. Then, Alexis Sanchez took over the show, and in the 20 minutes remaining, Arsenal grabbed an embarrassingly large lead to somber the London Stadium crowd.
Bilic is going to need a stronger showing in order to stay in the Board’s favor. He needs the players to give a full 90 minutes of effort, too.
West Ham have gone through the ringer in recent weeks, facing Manchester United twice, Tottenham, and Arsenal. Liverpool are the last of the top teams the Hammers are pitted against for some time.
If West Ham can’t pick up points at Anfield, the pressure will be on during the tight Christmas calendar of matches to pick up points from the likes of Burnley, Hull City and Swansea, as the Hammers sit in 17th place in the Premier League.
Last year, the Hammers did the double over Liverpool for the first time since 1963/64. Jurgen Klopp has this Liverpool team playing much stronger, and the Hammers are winless in six matches.
Liverpool’s defeat to Bournemouth last weekend ended a streak of 11-matches unbeaten. The Reds have yet to lose two-straight Premier League matches under Klopp.
The Reds sit in 3rd place in the Premier League, and need three points to keep Manchester City from overtaking them. Liverpool lead the Premier League with 262 shots, and are likely to add to that number unless West Ham’s defense shores up quickly. Bilic will want to avoid anything like the onslaught delivered by Arsenal the week prior.
This Liverpool attack looks a bit different without Philippe Coutinho leading the charge. The playmaker is out until the end of December with an ankle injury. Daniel Sturridge is out with a calf injury, but Sadio Mané and Joel Matip are both expected to be available.
Carroll is set to start for the Hammers against his former club Liverpool. Last week the striker scored a consolation goal as he tucked home Dimitri Payet’s free kick, rebounding off the woodwork. Carroll brings another dimension to a match with his aerial ability.
The Hammers have lacked the finishing necessary to tuck away the slew of chances Payet creates, but Carroll can change that. On Saturday, he showed once more his poachers ability as the ball fell for an easy headed goal.
Ashley Fletcher shows promise at striker, but with Carroll fit, Fletcher will likely revert back to an impact substitute role.
The André Ayew situation is unclear, but if he is available to play, he can combine with Carroll to be a real attacking threat. If Ayew is not starter, Bilic will likely employ an attacking three underneath Carroll, consisting of Payet, Manuel Lanzini, and Michail Antonio.
The attacking three of the midfield can be very dangerous. Lanzini will be in the center of the pitch where the Argentinian is most comfortable. He needs to show his creativity and combine with Payet should West Ham get anything from this match.
Antonio is fit once more after a groin injury kept him out against Arsenal. The English winger must take his opportunity to push further up the field if Bilic does employ a four-defender formation, instead of using Antonio as a wing back.
Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang are vital in their holding midfield role this week. The two need to slow down counter attacks, providing cover for a shaky defense.
Cheikhou Kouyate and James Collins will miss the trip to Liverpool. Collins limped off against Arsenal after 6 minutes of play, and Kouyate missed the match entirely. Bilic will not look to use Alvaro Arbeloa again after the Spaniard’s abysmal performance as a right back last Saturday. Too often the former Real Madrid hugged Winston Reid’s shoulder, allowing ample room down the left wing for Sanchez and company to take advantage of.
But with center back options Kouyate, Collins, and Reece Oxford all injured, Bilic may be forced to stick with four defenders. Instead of Arbeloa or, God forbid, Antonio at right back, he may use Håvard Nordtveit on the right side. Nordtveit is another player with a shaky start at the club, but he deserves another chance after his mistimed challenge led to Tottenham’s winning penalty in mid-November.
Aaron Cresswell will be available once again after missing the Arsenal match with a groin injury. The England-international will slot into the left back role after Arthur Masuaku covered for him last week.
Whomever starts for West Ham, they will have their work cut out for them as part of the Hammers’ worst Premier League defense in nearly 30 years, conceding 29 goals in their opening 14 matches this season. It’s their worst tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1988-89.
It’s not all the attacking dominance of the opposition, either. The Hammers have made a league-high six individual errors leading to opposition goals this year.
Darren Randolph still keeps his starting role, despite conceding five goals last match. The Irish goalkeeper had little fault in any of the goals.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 West Ham
The going won’t get any easier for the Hammers against the Reds on Sunday. Even without Countinho, Liverpool’s attack will not have any trouble against West Ham’s defense, a group surely lacking confidence after being caught out so many times.
Andy Carroll will score his second goal of the season, instilling confidence in the striker ahead of three winnable matches leading up to Boxing Day. But in defense, there is no sure option for the right back role, and opposing teams will make use of that deficiency. Come January, buying a right back will be West Ham’s top priority.