Liverpool v West Ham – teams
Roy Hodgson has had little choice over his line-up for today, the 11 he starts with are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 against a West Ham side that like Liverpool has failed to meet expectations this season.
West Ham came into the weekend at the bottom of the table, Liverpool in the bottom half and just three points above the relegation places.
Although the Reds manager has rarely had a full squad to choose from this season he’s not suffered too badly from injuries, but today he’s down to the bare bones as far as central midfield is concerned. The club’s best two central midfielders this season have been Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard. The Brazilian is suspended today, whilst the club captain is out for at least a month after suffering an injury in a meaningless friendly for England during the week. Jay Spearing might have had a chance to step in but fell victim to an injury nightmare of his own right at the end of yesterday’s training session. Alberto Aquilani was allowed to go on loan to Juventus for the season.
This means Roy starts with Christian Poulsen with another starter, Raul Meireles, likely to be his partner in central midfield. Meireles has been used by and large as a wide player since arriving at the club, a position he’d not been accustomed to previously. Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez also start, likely to be in the wide positions. David Ngog starts alongside Fernando Torres.
In defence the manager goes with Glen Johnson at right-back, much to the disappointment of fans who would like to see Martin Kelly get another chance in the position with Johnson used further forward. Hodgson often plays members of his squad out of their usual positions, but is reluctant to use Johnson anywhere else. “Glen Johnson has the qualities to play lots of positions,” said Roy yesterday, “but I have not even considered it because there is no reason to do so. We have other players in the wide positions that we can use. For me, he is a specialist right-back and a very good one too. If you have someone like that then there is no need to consider changing his position.” Why Roy feels Meireles should be used out of position as a wide midfielder and Johnson shouldn’t is one of many mysteries of Hodgson’s reign.
Jamie Carragher has been subject to criticism that has largely been kept under the radar following a reported angry exchange with Reds supporters at the end of last weekend’s embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Stoke – something the player has claimed was an exchange with just one fan. Today he hopes to put all that behind him as he captains the side in Gerrard’s absence, for what will be his 650th appearance for the club.
Konchesky and Skrtel also start at the back, with Pepe Reina of course in goal.
Roy doesn’t like to be asked about formations, it’s one of the questions he typically responds to in a rather negative fashion, but he tried to give some kind of insight yesterday: “There is very little difference between playing 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-2-4. Often the differences are what sort of positional play the players adopt on the field and how much they are prepared to leave those positions and create space. We’ve done quite a lot of work on that. People may describe the formation differently but I’m still hoping we’ll cause the same problems to defences by the movements from the midfield players and those in the forward positions.”
Hodgson’s tactics, as much as the poor results for the bulk of the season, are the main reasons why fans voted overwhelmingly that they wanted him sacked immediately in polls run on various Liverpool websites this week. Almost 5000 responses were received and a staggering 95% of the votes were for Roy to go right now, even without a replacement lined up.
Roy’s use of the word “foolish” to describe the Liverpool head of conditioning and fitness Darren Burgess is just the latest in a string of gaffes from the manager in his conversations with the media. Fans expected a show of solidarity towards the man who spoke out on the club’s behalf, not an insult from the man who was known to have one eye on the England job ahead of his appointment as Liverpool manager.
Despite all that Liverpool supporters will always get behind their players and today will be no different. This is a chance for Poulsen to show why it was worth spending money on him and for Meireles to show why he was scouted for his abilities in the centre of midfield. Fernando Torres will be desperate to get back amongst the goals and Glen Johnson will want to show Hodgson why his criticism was unfounded.
And even if the new owners make the decision most supporters want by removing Roy from the post as manager, the less of a mess he leaves behind the better. This is the side at the bottom of the table against the side that wants to start winning leagues again, something it’s not done since Kenny Dalglish was at the helm. Many fans want him back there now, even if it’s only a temporary role. A win today shouldn’t make any difference to Roy’s future – he shouldn’t be surviving game-by-game. But a win today is vital, and very much expected.
Martin Broughton will be at the ground for the last time as Liverpool Chairman before stepping down.
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 G Johnson, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 3 Konchesky, 18 Kuyt, 28 C Poulsen, 4 Raul Meireles, 17 Maxi, 9 Torres, 24 Ngog
Subs: 1 Jones, 6 Aurelio, 16 Kyrgiakos, 34 Kelly, 33 Shelvey, 19 Babel, 39 Eccleston
West Ham: 1 Green, 4 Gabbidon, 15 Upson, 23 Ilunga, 37 Jacobsen, 13 Boa Morte, 14 Kovac, 16 Noble, 9 Cole, 30 Piquionne, 33 Obinna
Subs: 29 Stech, 02 Reid, 05 Tomkins, 18 Spector, 12 Barrera, 17 McCarthy, 24 Nouble