After their stunning upset of Tottenham helped Chelsea to win the Premier League title, West Ham have another opportunity to play spoiler, this time against Liverpool. West Ham are now well and truly safe from relegation, and as such are fighting solely for a top table finish. Liverpool, in contrast are locked in a four way battle for the last two Champions League spots. The two Manchester clubs, alongside Arsenal, have shown flashes of brilliance and a propensity to collapse at any moment. Liverpool are no different, and the inconsistency of the fur has left the top four race wide open.
The final two games will be crucial for West Ham. Though the team is only playing for pride, Slaven Bilic is faced with the key task of planning for next season. What does the lineup look like? What is the formation going forward? Who stays with the team, and who will be sold? It’s a set of key questions that need to be answered before the next season starts.
Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are poised on a knife edge right now. They lead Manchester City by one point, and Arsenal by a further point. However, both teams have a game in hand. Even Manchester United are still in with a shout mathematically, despite Jose Mourinho publicly giving up on their chances.
If Arsenal win their game in hand, they’re a mere point behind Liverpool. It’s a lot of pressure for Jurgen Klopp’s side, and it means this match amounts to a must win.
Last week, a missed penalty from James Milner allowed Southampton to escape with a point against Liverpool. It was a rather unsurprising result. Liverpool have been nothing short of dreadful against mid table sides this season.
The Merseyside club have been plagued with injuries this season, but the struggles seem to be fading just a bit this weekend. Roberto Firmino and Lucas Leiva will miss the match, as will Jordan Henderson, but Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge are both likely to be available.
Alongside the returning pair, Philippe Coutinho will be looking to regain his form, while Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum are still struggling to find consistency. The back line is a worry for Liverpool. James Milner is functional but far from top class at Left Back, while Matip is often stranded without a top class partner. At Right Back, Nathaniel Clyne is usually a consistent performer, but he’s hit a bad patch of form of late.
West Ham is singly handedly filling an entire hospital wing at the moment. Needless to say, finding players fit enough to start is going to be a complicated task in and of itself for Bilic.
Andy Carroll is still injured, which means everyone’s favourite ineffective Argentine will start up front. Jonathan Calleri showed improved work rate and impressive movement against Tottenham, but he still found time to miss a great chance. With survival now guaranteed, most fans would prefer youngster Ashley Fletcher get the chance. This may have something to do with the fact that Fletcher can actually score.
Alongside Calleri, last week’s hero Manuel Lanzini is certain to start again. Lanzini has looked slightly less effective since being pushed wider in the new 3-4-3 setup. Still, his raw talent shone through in a dramatic way against Tottenham.
Lanzini’s attacking partner will be Andre Ayew. West Ham have yet to see the best of the record signing, and similarly to Lanzini, his production has been stalled by the switch to the 3-4-3. Still, against an error prone Liverpool defense, Ayew should get a few chances to score.
Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, and Pedro Obiang are all out for the season. That means Havard Nordtveit and Edimilson Fernandes are the only fit options. As such, both are certain to start. It’s a pairing that has showed some promise in limited opportunities this season.
Nordtveit has a lot to prove in the remaining games. The Norwegian midfielder has been a a bit of a disappointment this season, and some rumors have suggested he plans to return to Germany. With only two games remaining for him to start, it might be the last opportunity for Nordtveit to prove he deserves to stay at the club.
Fernandes, in contrast, is a rising star at West Ham. Fresh off winning an award as signing of the season, the young Swiss midfielder has looked extremely promising this season. So far, Fernandes has looked like a very talented utility man, but he has yet to show the quality to start consistently.
Angelo Ogbonna is, of course, out for the season. Arthur Masuaku will be out injured as well. West Ham have been playing with a back 5 over the last few games, and that will surely be continued after the clean sheet against Tottenham.
Jose Fonte, James Collins, and Winston Reid were nothing short of heroic in the last match. However, the trio have all struggled with poor form and injuries this season, and could perhaps be overrun by pacy forwards like Sadio Mane.
On the wings, Aaron Cresswell and Sam Byram will both start. Just like the rest of the defense, they’ve experienced mixed form this year. However, after a season best outing against Tottenham, hopes should be high for regained form.
Prediction: West Ham 1-0 Liverpool
Liverpool have struggled against teams lower in the table this season. West Ham are coming off a stunning upset of Tottenham. West Ham seems perfectly poised to play spoiler again. Liverpool have experienced defensive lapses all season, and have a history of struggling under pressure. It feels as though West Ham have a great opportunity to make this season memorable.