Having spent big this summer, Jurgen Klopp will be desperate to see his Liverpool side get off to a flying start in the Premier League as they face West Ham United on Sunday. With Fabinho, Alisson and Naby Keita all expected to make their competitive debuts, there’s much reason for Reds around the world to be excited.
However, West Ham are coming off a summer of optimism themselves with a number of new faces embarking upon a new dawn at the London Stadium. The charming Manuel Pellegrini strolled into replace David Moyes some months ago, some impressive transfer dealings following.
Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere have all been brought in to improve on last season’s league goal tally of 48. At the other end of the pitch, young French talent Issa Diop has been bought to start just ahead of goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, snapped up for £7 million after Swansea City’s relegation.
Despite that, Liverpool remain favourites for the fixture. Here are three ways they can take all three points.
Target Wilshere through Keita
In Jack Wilshere, West Ham have a playmaking midfielder that the fans can relate to and potentially adore. They also have a weakness. Unsurprisingly, his risk-taking style brings risks — especially when utilised in a midfield pivot as he often has been in pre-season.
Wilshere’s dribbling and passing skills offer West Ham another weapon in their artillery to cause Liverpool problems, but he’s prone to taking the former too far.
Not only does his love of dribbling bring about injuries, it also brings around turnovers. Wilshere was dispossessed 1.3 times per league game last season and in Naby Keita, Liverpool have the perfect man to target him with.
Likely playing ahead of Fabinho, Keita — who won 2.4 tackles per game last season — has the capability to win the ball back in a dangerous position before thrusting Liverpool into an attack with his other talents.
Go for Gomez
Dejan Lovren’s late return from international duty combined with Joel Matip’s thigh injury has left Klopp with something of a selection headache going into Sunday’s game.
The relatively unknown Nat Phillips has made an impression during pre-season, but won’t be considered ready for a league game, leaving the German boss with a straight choice between Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez to partner Virgil van Dijk.
Gomez’s speed gives him the edge over an ageing Klavan, potentially offering Liverpool an advantage going forward and back.
Combined with the pace of van Dijk, Gomez could allow Liverpool to play a high-line that won’t risk the likes of Yarmolenko, Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson to race in behind whilst squeezing the Hammers back towards their own goal and potentially forcing an error from the likes of Wilshere.
KEY STAT: Joe Gomez made 1.5 interceptions per league fixture last season for Liverpool, with Klavan’s 0.8 nearly half as many.
Should Klopp opt for Klavan instead, he’d risk compromising Liverpool’s ability to push West Ham back or their ability to defend the counter-attack.
Whilst Nathaniel Clyne’s return from injury has been welcomed by Liverpool fans, most have been left with their minds firmly made up that Trent Alexander-Arnold should keep his first choice right-back status going into the new season.
Clyne would be a more defensive choice, potentially better equipped to keep the dangerous Anderson quiet. Combine that with Alexander-Arnold’s late return to pre-season due to international duty and you’d have a case for Clyne to start.
However, Alexander-Arnold’s superior attacking qualities offer him an overwhelming advantage in the race for a spot, especially with West Ham’s chosen left-back, Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku, likely to leave gaps that can be exploited.
The 19-year-old looked sharp as Liverpool cruised to a seventh pre-season win against Torino on Tuesday and should be more than fit enough having only played once at the World Cup earlier this summer.
He’s also quicker than Clyne, with his ability to get up the pitch likely to benefit Liverpool more as they seek to squeeze West Ham back and move the ball into dangerous areas quickly following turnovers.
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