West Ham Have a Chance at Anfield, But Must Draw on Memories of 2015 Success

Oct 29, 2020, 5:30 PM GMT
Moyes' West Ham won't get away with another slow start | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

When the Premier League releases the fixtures for a new season (usually in June), it's natural to glance towards games involving the division's biggest clubs.

Not only are those fixtures the ones fans look forward to most, they're a real acid test when it comes to determining the character of any given squad.

Some teams relish those big occasions, grabbing the bull by the horns and making a right good fist of it, while others crumple under the pressure and burden of unfavourable history.

Mark Noble
West Ham usually don't have much joy at Liverpool | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

One fixture, if you're a West Ham fan, that usually provides the latter - as well as a truck load of heartache - is a trip to Liverpool. Only once since 1963 have the Hammers emerged victorious, when Slaven Bilic oversaw a counter-attacking masterclass to throughly outclass the Reds 3-0.

On that day in August 2015, West Ham set out to match Liverpool's high intensity 4-3-3 system, with a vibrancy and urgency to break at speed key to what was an unexpected success. That same system is employed by Liverpool's current cast of stars, only the level of performance has been ratcheted up around 100 notches by the success-hungry Jurgen Klopp.

Truth be told, Liverpool are by far and away the best team in England - with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City no longer the consistent, dominating force they once were - and arguably have the world's most dangerous front three at their disposal; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

They also house the finest central defender in the world, Virgil van Dijk, one of the world's most consistent and athletic goalkeepers, Alisson Becker, and one of the best readers of the game, in versatile defensive midfielder Fabinho.

After reading all of that, you'd be inclined to think West Ham are in for a thumping then?

Well, maybe not.

Fabinho limped off in the Champions League | Pool/Getty Images

West Ham are not only in a decent run of form, owing to a change of formation that has seen David Moyes' side look ten times more resolute than usual, but the Reds will definitely be without Van Dijk, who has a serious knee injury, and after limping off in the Champions League midweek, Fabinho as well.

There's also the fact that 2020 has not only been horrible on a human level, it's been outright weird on a footballing one. Anybody can beat anybody in empty stadium football, and even Liverpool are fallible - evidenced by their recent 7-2 annihilation at the hands of Aston Villa.

That all points towards West Ham, who have taken points off Tottenham and Manchester City in recent games, as well as crushing both Wolves and Leicester, actually having a chance.

But for that to happen, Moyes' side must take some learnings from how Bilic took the game to Liverpool on that glorious summer's day five years ago.

Happy Slaven Bilic GIF by West Ham United - Find & Share on GIPHY

West Ham May Not Be Pretty to Watch, But Michail Antonio Is Box Office

Shape wise, things should stay as they are - the hosts playing 4-3-3, and the visitors playing 3-4-2-1, 5-2-3, 5-4-1 (whichever way you want to interpret it, basically) - but the fearless, we're coming for you attitude that was on display must again come to the fore.

West Ham mustn't be overawed by the occasion and retreat into their defensive shell, and instead
they must harass Liverpool's backline and make it difficult for the Reds to transition the ball forwards. The game has evolved, there's no question about that, but the fundamentals of not giving Klopp's side time on the ball are as important today as they were back then.

Sure, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will be around 15 to 20 yards higher up the field than Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez - christ, he played left back in that game - were, but that shouldn't scare West Ham into retreating into a low, passive block.

The other thing West Ham must do - and it's perhaps the biggest thing that West Ham did under Bilic in 2015 - is allow Michail Antonio, fitness permitting, to come deep to get the ball, before driving centrally at the heart of Liverpool's defence - likely to be patrolled by Joel Matip and potentiallyteenager Rhys Williams.

Mark Noble
West Ham outclassed Liverpool in 2015 by running with the ball centrally | Clive Mason/Getty Images

If Antonio doesn't start the game because of his hamstring concerns, Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals must take up the mantle, presuming Sebastian Haller or Andriy Yarmolenko come in to replace him. Essentially, somebody - who can dribble and you know, run - must be marauding forward with the ball at speed, trying to penetrate the spine of Liverpool's side because they are as fragile as you're ever likely to find them.

Off days for Liverpool don't come around very often, and while it's tempting to sit back, soak up pressure and ride the crest of the attacking wave - they do have Salah, Firmino and Mane all fit after all - Moyes must be prudent, look past that and be proactive.

Tomas Soucek is always there to provide his usual aerial threat, should things go wrong, but adding an extra string to West Ham's attacking bow is the right way to go about this one. Moyes' got it right over the past weeks, let's hope - for West Ham's sake - he does it again against an opponent he knows oh so well.

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