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West Ham memorably upset Spurs at the London Stadium last weekend with a narrow 1-0 victory. Slaven Bilic’s side have been defensively disciplined in recent weeks and finding a way past them looks far from a straightforward task for Jurgen Klopp’s men on Sunday.
The Hammers held firm in East London, effectively ending Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes of landing the Premier League title.
It was made all the more impressive considering their opponents arrived aiming for a tenth consecutive Premier League victory and were brimming with confidence prior to kick off but they came across an effective West Ham rearguard and struggled to create clear-cut chances.
— Sky Football (@SkyFootball) May 9, 2017
Source: Sky Football via Twitter
West Ham managed just three clean sheets prior to the 14th of December, one of which came against now-relegated Sunderland.
They clocked up just one clean sheet between Boxing Day and the beginning of April with a number of media outlets and pundits using words like ‘hapless’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘abject’ to describe their back four!
A 5-1 hammering at home to Arsenal in mid-December resulted in speculation about Bilic’s future and a defensive shake-up was long overdue.
The Croatian began that match with a back three of Ogbonna, Reid and Collins, with the latter frustratingly limping off after just seven minutes. The Welshman could only watch from the sidelines as his teammates were routinely forced out of position and torn apart easily by the Gunners.
All of the focus was on Chilean star Alexis Sanchez but the horror show left the Hammers just a point above the relegation zone and nervously glancing over their shoulders.
Bilic hasn’t been shy in coming forward with criticism of his side. He lambasted his side’s defending against bottom club Sunderland and was extremely vocal about his side’s intensity in training following the aforementioned Arsenal mauling.
Action was taken in the January transfer window with the much-publicised transfer of Jose Fonte from Southampton. The club paid £8 million for the services of the defender, who they hoped could bring some organisation and discipline to their back four.
The Portuguese star has been very vocal since joining the club although his side managed just a single clean sheet between his arrival and beginning of April.
Things have begun to turn around in recent weeks, however, with Fonte part of a backline which has kept an impressive four clean sheets in their last five Premier League games.
He’s struck up a good relationship with Winston Reid and James Collins and has also been aided and abetted by a hard working midfield. They’ve kept Everton, Stoke, Swansea and most notably Spurs off the scoresheet in recent weeks.
Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane may currently be vying for this season’s golden boot but neither of the two strikers were able to find a way past the Hammers.
Jose Fonte on West Ham: “When we play as a team & work hard, it’s difficult to beat us. We’ve found a good system & we’ve been excellent.” pic.twitter.com/HL5wvaDk2d
— West Ham HQ (@WestHam_HQ) May 9, 2017
Source: West Ham HQ (WestHam_HQ) via Twitter
Need to step up
The East London club could still finish in the top ten this season but they’ll need another workmanlike performance against Liverpool on Sunday. Pundits are expecting the Reds to find a way through but West Ham can be backed at around 9/2 to keep another clean sheet at the London Stadium.
February 2010 was the last time they managed four successive shutouts.
Liverpool’s lack of clean sheets should give the Hammers hope of scoring themselves, with tipsters including Oddschecker suggesting “both teams to score” would be a smart bet this weekend.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were criticised for their lack of invention on Sunday as they were held to a goalless draw against Southampton and significant improvement is needed here if they are to secure their place in Europe next season.
Far from convincing
They’re aiming to make it four successive away wins in the Premier League, although they’ve been far from convincing during that run. An Emre Can wonder goal masked their deficiencies against Watford with a nervy final few minutes seeing the Hornets rattle the woodwork.
They came from behind to sneak past Stoke and the 1-0 win at the Hawthornes was far from swashbuckling.
The Reds have struggled in a number of their visits to lower ranked sides this season and have suffered away defeats at Turf Moor, the Vitality Stadium and the KCOM already this campaign. This will be a huge test of Klopp’s credentials.
The former Borussia Dortmund boss does not have a good record against his opposite number. They’ve met three times, with the German yet to mastermind a victory over the Croatian. The sides drew 2-2 in December.
Slaven Bilic has proved to be Liverpool’s nemesis in recent years and nervous Reds fans will not be pleased to see him in the opposite dugout once again. He’s only lost one of his seven games in charge against them including dumping them out of the Europa League whilst in charge of Besiktas.
The Merseysiders are looking to maintain third place in the table, which would book them their passage to the UEFA Champions League group stages without having to qualify.
Manchester City have a game in hand and are breathing down their necks; Klopp’s side cannot afford to drop further points here.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 12, 2017
Source – Liverpool FC (LFC) via Twitter
Lallana’s return a boost
Adam Lallana’s return is a huge positive for the visitors with the former Southampton man finding the target in the reverse fixture whilst Andy Carroll has been ruled out of a clash for West Ham and will not face his previous employers.
The hosts will press high up the pitch once again and work hard for 90 minutes. Bilic is getting a decent tune out his starting XI currently and they won’t make it easy for Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.
The Reds tend to perform better against expansive sides who set out to play football hence their excellent record against top six sides. Bilic is highly likely to send his side out with the intention of keeping things tight and restricting the space on the pitch.
This is likely to frustrate their opponents.
The Hammers are playing with confidence and the incentive of a top half finish should be enough to keep them focussed here.
Liverpool are going to need a moment of magic from one of their big-game players to unlock their opponents here. Perhaps another beauty from Emre Can is required. Perhaps a lucky deflection may go their way.
Either way don’t expect the away side to cruise to a victory in East London as they are unlikely to get things all their own way. In order to take all three points they need to complete something Spurs, Everton and Stoke all failed to do – scoring against West Ham.
It’s harder than it sounds.
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