Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
13:30 BST, Sunday 12 August, Anfield, Sky Sports Main Event
Liverpool made tremendous progress under Jurgen Klopp last season after reaching the final of the Champions League and cementing a top four spot domestically.
The Reds have made some shrewd additions to their side in areas they were short last season, with Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho adding options to the midfield and Alisson Becker providing a highly anticipated change in goal.
West Ham were one of the Premier League’s busiest sides throughout the summer as they brought in nine senior players, breaking their transfer record in the process with the acquisition of Felipe Anderson.
The Hammers finished in 13th place last season, but their goal difference was the joint-worst in the division, shipping 68 goals — as many as relegated Stoke City.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 3-1 Torino (Friendly)
The Reds completed an impressive pre-season campaign by beating Serie A side Torino 3-1 at Anfield. The win was Liverpool’s seventh in nine matches. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino all started for the home side, as did new signings Keita and Alisson.
Fresh from a 5-0 thumping of Napoli, Klopp’s side didn’t take long to get on top of their opponents and could have gone ahead from the penalty spot, but new signing Fabinho missed the chance. Firmino put the Reds ahead shortly after, before Georginio Wijnaldum doubled the lead.
Andrea Belotti pulled one back for Torino with half an hour to play, but despite seven changes to his line up throughout the game, Klopp’s side sealed the game when Daniel Sturridge turned home a Shaqiri cross.
West Ham United 1-0 Angers SCO (Friendly)
Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham also had an impressive pre-season, losing only once in seven matches. They ended their warm-up period with 1-0 win over Ligue 1 side Angers.
The Hammers started brightly and deservedly went ahead when forward Javier Hernandez got on the end of an Aaron Cresswell cross.
Felipe Anderson enjoyed a positive outing for his new side — often combining well with Marko Arnautovic — and slick play from the duo could have ended in the midfielder notching his first goal for the club, but for Angers goalkeeper Mathieu Michel.
For all the firepower the Liverpool possess in attack, Klopp has a defensive dilemma on his hands. Virgil van Dijk is currently the only fit senior centre half, with Dejan Lovren late to return to training following the World Cup.
Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are recovering from pre-season knocks, which means that youngster Nathaniel Phillips could have a chance to shine.
New signing Fabinho is also a doubt in midfield, which could mean James Milner features in the holding role while Jordan Henderson recovers match sharpness.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is in contention to take up his position at right back, but Nathaniel Clyne’s return to the fold gives Klopp another option. Wijnaldum has had an impressive pre-season and could form a solid partnership with Keita.
West Ham Lineup
Following the Hammers’ flurry of signings throughout the summer, it will be interesting to see how Pellegrini sets his team up for this clash.
The potency of the Liverpool attack and advanced midfield can’t be ignored, so Jack Wilshere may play a little deeper alongside either Carlos Sanchez or Pedro Obiang. Ryan Fredericks’ pace may see him selected ahead of veteran Pablo Zabaleta at right back.
In any other scenario, Pellegrini could be tempted to play two up front with Javier Hernandez partnering Marko Arnautovic, but Liverpool’s attacking threat may force him to rethink the strategy. Sanchez could come straight into the starting XI, though Mark Noble is also still an option.
Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko could start on the West Ham wings in support of the lone striker, while Lukasz Fabianski will start his West Ham career in goal.
Key Battle: Mohamed Salah vs Aaron Cresswell
All eyes will be on Liverpool’s self-named ‘Egyptian King’ when the curtain is raised on Sunday afternoon. Salah had a sensational 2017/18 campaign and claimed the Premier League’s Golden Boot in style.
Having set his bar so high, though, Salah will be expected to come close to matching his exploits of last season, under a microscope as the entire footballing world follows his every step.
Cresswell is Salah’s first direct opponent of the 2018/19 season and there will be much emphasis on his ability to contain the Egyptian’s threat. With a penchant to get forward, he could force Salah to track back and pick up defensive duties when Liverpool don’t have the ball.
Are Liverpool ready to push for top spot?
The Reds’ impressive campaign last season wasn’t without its shortfalls and issues. Defensively, Klopp’s side were by no means watertight, especially before the turn of the year.
Van Dijk’s arrival has shored up the back four, though the signing of Alisson may eventually have more importance come May. Outside of their illustrious front three, however, Liverpool were short of real quality to provide backup when it was needed.
The Champions League final was a perfect example, when Salah was forced off with an early injury to be replaced by a barely match fit Adam Lallana.
Shaqiri and Keita have been brought in to bolster the midfield and provide a different dimension, while Sturridge’s pre-season form is a good sign for Klopp.
Time will tell, but Liverpool seem to have addressed their shortcomings. Once Lovren and Matip return to full fitness, then Klopp will have an impressive array of players at his disposal.
West Ham with a point to prove?
The ugly scenes that marred the 3-0 home defeat by Burnley last season seem a distant memory.
Angry and vocal fans berated the club’s senior executives over lack of investment in the playing squad, but perhaps not even the most die-hard of Hammers fans would have expected a window quite like this one.
The club made nine new signings over the summer and brought in backup in almost every area of the pitch, but the money invested must bring returns. West Ham weren’t the only side to recruit heavily in the market, but it does signal intent.
Defensively, the London club were weak last season, but the acquisition of the likes of Lukasz Fabianski, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena will bolster Pellegrini’s ranks. The squad desperately needed injection, but can it handle the newfound pressure and expectation?
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 West Ham United
Liverpool may be defensively vulnerable for a week or two while their senior players get back to full fitness and West Ham may be able to exploit that on Sunday, but it would merely be consolation.
The Reds’ attacking power will have far too much speed, movement and efficiency for West Ham. 3-1.
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