The real football returns… West Ham United await
The real football is finally upon us. Exactly 13 weeks since Liverpool last played a Premier League game where they thumped Brighton 4-0, Anfield will witness the return of Premier League action. Following our final friendly against Torino last night, attentions are firmly fixed on the visit of West Ham United to open another Premier League season. For the 1st time since 2014, Liverpool will kick off at home having started at Stoke, Arsenal and Watford in the previous 3 campaigns.
West Ham United come to Anfield to start life under Manuel Pellegrini and neither will have fond memories of their last visits to the stadium with both suffering defeats by a 3 goal defecit. West Ham were torn apart under David Moyes last term with all of the front 3 on the score sheet as well as the now departed Emre Can in a 4-1 victory at the end of February. Manuel Pellegrini visited Anfield in March 2016, just days after leading his Man City side to a penalty shootout victory in the league cup final over the Reds. He witnessed Adam Lallana, his former player James Milner and Roberto Firmino score goals in a comfortable 3-0 victory to follow up a 4-1 victory earlier in the season at the Etihad as Klopp’s side claimed revenge for that final defeat.
Jurgen Klopp has managed Liverpool 3 times at Anfield against West Ham, a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup in 2016 was followed up by a 2-2 draw in the league the following season whereas February’s victory was his first home victory over the Hammers although Klopp had already seen his side triumph 4-0 and 4-1 at the London Stadium by this point.
West Ham’s new boys include a player who for a few windows had his links with Liverpool in Andriy Yarmolenko who they have taken from Borussia Dortmund although the transfer that made the most noise was their acquisition of Jack Wilshere from Arsenal on a free transfer, a player who is aiming to put his injury nightmares behind him, having plagued his career at their London rivals for several years.
West Ham United last tasted victory at Anfield in August 2015 when they followed up an opening day win at Arsenal with an impressive 3-0 victory in the year the saw them say goodbye to Upton Park, although they claimed 2 victories at Upton Park following this meeting, 1 in the league in early January 2016 and then in the final ever meeting at Upton Park, an extra time victory in an FA Cup replay. Liverpool last lost on the opening day back in 2012 when West Bromwich Albion beat them 3-0 at the Hawthorns as the Brendan Rodgers era began. The last time Liverpool lost on the opening day at Anfield? 2003 to Chelsea in a 2-1 defeat.
For Liverpool, the big questions are over who partners Virgil Van Dijk with Dejan Lovren’s late return having reached the World Cup Final and possible concerns over Joel Matip, possibly giving Joe Gomez a chance to stake a claim for the centre back position. The other question is whether the late returners who have had less than a fortnight’s training in Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino will start or be included in the match day squad although Klopp was very optimistic when asked last week about Firmino and Alexander-Arnold taking part in the opening game. All eyes will instantly be trained on Mo Salah who had a debut season to remember and will be aiming to continue that rich vein of form and prove he is not a 1 season wonder as some rival supporters are describing him and the new number 10 in Sadio Mane who has impressed in both of his campaigns at the club. Alisson is likely to get his competitive Liverpool debut and it is highly likely that Fabinho and Keita may also start leaving the question over who sits in the attacking midfielder role, the so called number 10. The obvious candidate in the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would appear to be Adam Lallana who himself has suffered with injuries. Another player who has had his injury worries but has excelled in pre-season is Daniel Sturridge. It will be interesting to see if Klopp chucks him straight in from the start, possibly allowing Firmino to return from the bench or even uses Sturridge as the number 10 with the ability for the front 4 to regular swap their positions, making it harder for West Ham to mark them.
Here’s hoping that Liverpool make it a 5th opening day victory out of 6. Liverpool will then have 8 days to wait until they are next in action, once again in front of the TV cameras down at Selhurst Park for an away trip to Crystal Palace. A trip which will require the travelling Liverpool supporters to potentially use 2 days of their annual leave allocations to cover the trips down and returning.