15:00 GMT, Saturday 24th February, Anfield (Liverpool, England)
With the exception of a week to forget at the end of last month, Liverpool are a team on fire. Not only are the Reds undefeated in their previous 15 home games, they’ve scored at least twice in nine of the previous 10 Premier League matches.
While they currently top the table in terms of form (last eight games), they remain precariously balanced in the top-four and will need to maintain their momentum if they’re to be justly rewarded for their efforts this season.
David Moyes may not be watching his side playing in the same vein as their opponents in this fixture but he has slowly improved the club’s fortunes since his November appointment. While they’re not safe yet, the Hammers have steadily climbed away from the relegation zone with a series of solid displays despite suffering a lengthy injury list.
With only two defeats in 12 league games, including a win over Chelsea and a draw at Tottenham during this period, the Hammers will have no reason to fear the Reds despite conceding four goals in both of their previous encounters.
Last Time Out
FC Porto 0-5 Liverpool (Champions League)
The Reds all but guaranteed their place in the quarterfinals with an eye-catching win over a Porto side who were caught in full glare of Liverpool’s headlights. Jurgen Klopp’s side were in control of the match from the first whistle and although it took 25 minutes for Sadio Mane to open the scoring, that goal broke the Portuguese side’s resistance.
Mane grabbed the headlines with a hat trick that marked a welcome return to form for a player who has struggled to replicate last season’s exploits. Interspersing his goals, strikes from both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino helped Liverpool run away with the tie.
Despite Porto being considered as one of the weaker sides remaining in this year’s competition, they beat both Monaco and RB Leipzig convincingly in the group stages. This result and moreso, the nature of the game itself, therefore sends out a clear signal of intent from the Merseysiders.
West Ham United 2-0 Watford (Premier League)
West Ham eased to victory over the Hornets with a clinical performance that left Moyes looking up the table rather than down. Despite finishing the match with only 36% possession, the Hammers made far better use of the ball when they had it than Watford.
While nullifying the Hornets attacks comfortably, West Ham were able to quickly work the ball into dangerous positions once they won it back from the visiting side.
Marko Arnautovic returned to action and proved an inspirational figure for his team with another busy and effective display under his new manager. Playing in a more central, advanced role, the Austrian was at the heart of most of his side’s good play.
Javier Hernandez found the net twice although the first of which was correctly ruled out for offside. Arnautovic then doubled the lead in the second half but was highly unlucky not to score again as he proved a constant menace to the Watford defence.
Nathaniel Clyne (muscular) is the only player preventing Liverpool having a clean bill of health which should provide Klopp with plenty of options for this fixture. With no midweek games next week, Klopp is likely to field his strongest possible team to cement his side’s place in the table and potentially push for second spot with Manchester United facing Chelsea this weekend.
West Ham Lineup
West Ham’s list of missing personnel continues to shrink, however, Arthur Masuaku (suspended) Pedro Obiang (knee) Edimilson Fernandes (ankle) and Andy Carroll (ankle) all remain unavailable for this weekend’s match. Manuel Lanzini looks set to miss out again with a hamstring problem which could lead Moyes to naming an unchanged side to the one who won against Watford.
Key Battle: Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) vs Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)
Liverpool’s defence have been continually criticised this season when they’ve conceded goals, however, once again they’ve shown a string of good displays and kept three clean sheets from their last four games. This can hardly be attributed to their new signing Virgil Van Dijk as each clean sheet has come with a different partnership in central defence.
Van Dijk has started to show some influence at his new club, however, and this weekend’s test against the Hammers could see him further shed the Red’s shaky reputation.
Having endured a terrible start to life in East London, Marko Arnautovic has been a player dramatically transformed under David Moyes’ guidance. His revival has not only seen him find his feet in the Premier League once more, but he currently looks to be playing better than he was in recent seasons at Stoke.
With seven goals and four assists in his last nine league appearances, it’s perhaps no coincidence the Hammers failed to win a match during his recent absence with a hamstring injury.
Cleared and acclaimed
47 days after the alleged incident during the Merseyside derby, the FA announced on Tuesday that Roberto Firmino would not be facing any charges following Mason Holgate’s allegation of racial abuse. While the story has been handled discreetly by both the Merseyside club and the FA, it will no doubt be a huge weight lifted from the Brazilian's shoulders.
Just two days after hearing the good news from 25 Soho Square, Firmino was then awarded the Liverpool's Player of the Month for January. The fact that the forward managed to perform to such a high standard throughout the ongoing ordeal of having to clear his name shows exactly the kind of character which Liverpool will need in the final months of this season.
Firing up the table
A common problem faced by many of the clubs in the bottom half of the league this season has been the lack of threat they pose in attack. Six of the eight teams below West Ham have scored less than a goal per game in the league while Stoke and Southampton have faired only marginally better.
What has helped the Hammers climb away from danger has been the increased amount of goals they’ve been able to score in recent weeks. Their last 10 league matches have produced 20 goals and a +6 goal difference which is far superior to the teams currently around them. Whatever West Ham fans thought of Moyes when his appointment was announced, he may be on course to slowly win some new admirers.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 West Ham United
With both teams in fine goal scoring form, this game should provide plenty of excitement. Liverpool’s strong home form suggests they will be the team to come out on top and extend Moyes’ record (currently L7, D7) to fifteen games at Anfield without a win.