By Séamus Leonard
With seven games to go in the English Premier League, Liverpool’s hopes of European football next season depend as much on the results of the teams around them as on Brendan Rodgers’ side’s own fortunes.
The Merseysiders currently lie in seventh position in the table, seven points behind Chelsea in the fourth and final Champions League spot and five behind fifth-placed Arsenal. To add to the huge challenge that faces the Reds, both of those London sides have a game in hand. While the situation may be far from ideal for Liverpool, it does leave it with a relatively straightforward task: win all remaining games to have any chance of featuring in continental action next season.
The recent form book, however, makes pleasant reading for Rodgers, with his side winning six of the last seven outings in all competitions. The one “blip”, as Rodgers described it, came in the humbling 3-1 league loss at Southampton. The Northern Irishman was left with egg on his face tactically that day at St. Mary’s when his decision to opt for just two men in central midfield backfired dramatically.
Learning from mistakes has not been Liverpool’s forte throughout the current campaign, but to Rodgers’ credit he did bring in Jordan Henderson to bolster the engine room last week against Aston Villa, and the England U-21 captain capped yet another fine individual display with a sublime finish to level the game at 1-1 at Villa Park before Steven Gerrard’s penalty sealed all three points.
Liverpool is still without the recuperating trio of Fabio Borini, Joe Allen (both shoulder) and Martin Kelly (knee), and Rodgers intimated at his pre-match press conference that an ongoing thigh problem could keep Raheem Sterling out of the equation for a number of weeks. Aside from that, the hosts have no other injury concerns, and it is highly likely that the same XI that started the come from behind win at Villa Park will take to the field on Sunday.
West Ham’s attacking options will be limited by the absence of Andy Carroll – the big Geordie is deemed ineligible as he is on loan with the Hammers from his parent club. The England international striker netted a brace of brilliant goals in the 3-1 victory over West Brom last weekend. The nature of the finishes – one a bullet header and the other a magnificent volley after the ball came over his right shoulder – will have brought back memories of the excellent double he scored in a red shirt in a 3-0 win over Manchester City in April 2011 which, at the time, seemed to suggest he was destined for great things at Anfield.
Carroll’s career has been stop-start since, however, and comments from Rodgers during the week would suggest that there is still no room for the man Kenny Dalglish used to call ‘The Big Yin’ in the current Liverpool set-up.
Another Liverpool old boy, Joe Cole, is also set to miss a return to familiar ground with a hamstring injury. It’s probably just as well for the former Chelsea man, as recent comments about his time with the Reds are unlikely to have gone unnoticed by The Kop.
The Hammers have amassed 36 points so far this season, and another four would see them reach 40 – the point at which it is generally accepted a side has reached safety. A win on Sunday would all but assure the East Londoners of survival, but with the club without a victory at Anfield since 1963, history suggests the Boleyn Ground boys will have to wait a little bit longer before they are clear of the threat of relegation.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston.
Liverpool v West Ham United
When: Sunday, April 7, 0830 EST/1330 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool, West Ham 3-1 West Brom
League Position 2012-13: Liverpool 7th (48 points), West Ham United 11th (36 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique
MID: Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson
FW: Downing, Suarez, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Wisdom, Coates, Skrtel, Coady, Morgan, Yesil, Suso, Sturridge
Projected West Ham United Starting 11
DEF: Demel, Reid, Collins, O’Brien
MID: Jarvis, O’Neill, Diame, Nolan, Vaz Te
FW: C Cole
Subs from: Henderson, Spence, Pogatetz, Tomkins, Potts, Collison, Taylor, Chamakh, Maiga
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard