West Ham United-Liverpool Preview
Coming off a rare loss, Liverpool look to set a Premier League record with a 21st consecutive victory at Anfield, tie another standard for consecutive league wins and extending their lengthy overall league unbeaten run Monday when the champions-elect host West Ham United.
The Merseysiders entered the weekend 22 points clear of two-time champions Manchester City with 12 matches to play, with history now their foremost challengers in England as they canter to their first Premier League title in club history. But the aura of invincibility Jurgen Klopp's side have enjoyed most of the term was punctured to a degree Tuesday when Atletico Madrid claimed a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their round of 16 Champions League tie.
Liverpool (25-1-0) failed to overcome a fourth-minute goal by Saul Niguez as Atletico defended en masse and prevented the Reds from getting a shot on target. It was just the third loss in 43 matches across all competitions for Klopp's side - the second meaningful one considering Liverpool played essentially its Under-23 team in their 5-0 loss to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup in December.
Despite the loss, Klopp was not overly disappointed by the outcome, realising his side have overturned larger deficits in the cauldron known as Anfield.
Coming here and having 70 per cent possession is exceptional, our build-up was outstanding against a high-press team; it was, for me, next level, to be honest - it was the best we did for a long time," Klopp noted to Liverpool's official website. "We had not enough clear-cut chances. We had chances, not enough but that's normal, I would say. To stay in a game like this is, for us, development."
The bigger negative coming out of the defeat was the hamstring injury to talisman and midfielder Jordan Henderson, who is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks and will be racing to be match fit for the return encounter versus Atli.
"Hendo, it could have been worse. How we all know, it was a hamstring," Klopp said. "Hendo is exceptionally important, not only football-wise but for some other reasons as well which hopefully everybody knows. But we still have options there and that's good."
Among those options are James Milner and Naby Keita, with the former entering Tuesday's contest after Hendersn suffered his injury.
Even with the loss, the talk around Anfield on Monday will be the records Liverpool can set or equal with a victory - in addition to clinching a top-four finish with 11 matches to spare and furthering the best start of any club in Europe's top five leagues.
The Merseysiders have won 20 consecutive matches at Anfield, equal to the mark Manchester City established in 2011-12. They also have won 17 straight overall since the only occasion they dropped points - a 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Oct. 20 - and three points versus West Ham would equal Manchester City's 18-game winning streak accomplished from August to December in 2017.
Liverpool, who also have a jaw-dropping 34 wins in their last 35 league matches dating to their 2-1 loss at Manchester City on Jan. 2, 2019, are also unbeaten in their last 43 overall (38-5-0). A win or a draw in this contest would give Liverpool sole possession of the fifth-longest unbeaten streak among teams in Europe's top five leagues, ahead of the 2017-18 Barcelona side.
The Reds are also within shouting distance of Arsenal's Premier League standard of 49, which included the 2003-04 Invincibles who went 26-12-0. Perhaps more amazing is Liverpool have already recorded more wins during their current unbeaten run than the Gunners accumulated in theirs (36).
Then there is Anfield, where Liverpool have not lost a league match since a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on April 23, 2017. The Reds have since gone 43-10-0 there, have recorded five straight clean sheets there, and not conceded a goal in 495 minutes since Richarlison scored in first-half stoppage time of Liverpool's 5-2 crowning of Everton in the Merseyside derby Dec. 4.
And as if all those unbeaten runs were not an imposing enough psychological hurdle for relegation-threatened West Ham (6-6-14), there is Irons manager David Moyes ongoing run of futility at Anfield. The one-time Everton and Manchester United boss carries an albatross of an 0-7-8 lifetime record into Liverpool while the Irons are in wretched form - winless in their last six in league (0-2-4) and with just 14 points in their last 20 matches.
West Ham are trying to salvage something from a challenging week of games, coming off a 2-0 loss at Manchester City on Wednesday. Moyes played five at the back trying to mitigate the damage, and while the scoreline looked respectable, the Hammers had only 29 percent possession and three shots - none of which were on target.
They enter this contest at the top of the drop on 24 points but entered the weekend with the best goal differential of the bottom three clubs. Moyes recognises the daunting challenge Liverpool present and knows his side must play their best match of the season to even have a puncher's chance of pulling off the shock scoreline of the Premier League season.
"It'd mean a lot for me (to beat Liverpool)," Moyes admitted during his Friday news conference. "Anfield is never an easy place for any manager or team to go to, but we'll go there and do everything we can to get a result.
"With any top team, all the managers of all the other teams are trying to find ways of beating them. That's the way football is. Manchester City were the top dogs in the last few years. Liverpool have found ways of getting above them in the league. There'll be other teams who are trying to overtake Liverpool in the coming weeks and years."
Moyes confirmed right back Ryan Fredericks and winger Andriy Yarmolenko are unavailable for this contest. Fredericks suffered a shoulder injury in Wednesday's loss while Yarmolenko is out with a thigh injury. It will be interesting to see if Moyes drafts top offensive options Felipe Anderson and striker Sebastien Haller into his first XI after both were unused versus City.
Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners in east London last month as Mohamed Salah converted a penalty in the 35th minute and set up a second-half marker by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Reds are unbeaten in their last seven (5-2-0) versus West Ham since losing a fourth-round FA Cup replay after extra time in February 2016.
West Ham's lone win in 24 visits to Anfield in the Premier League era (1-7-16) in all competitions was a 3-0 victory in August 2015.
Updated February 22, 2020