(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am making edits in the interim, adding projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction in this blog.)
Both Liverpool and West Ham United were big spenders in the summer transfer window. While the Reds hope the money spent will at least allow them to challenge Manchester City, the Hammers have a more modest goal of stabilising themselves in the Premier League as the teams open their season Sunday at Anfield.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Widely acknowledged as the only team with better than a puncher’s chance of denying City back-to-back Premier League titles, Liverpool – who handed the Citizens three of their five meaningful losses in the 2017-18 season and eliminated them in the Champions League quarterfinals – spent over £160 million to eliminate the few shortcomings they had and add more firepower to an already-vaunted offence after finishing fourth in the table and runners-up in the Champions League.
“There’s competition everywhere. All over the pitch we’ve got two or three guys in the same position,” captain Jordan Henderson told Liverpoolfc.com. “It’s good competition. Everyone is pushing each other on in training to start. And if you don’t start you have to be ready to come and make an impact.
“I feel as though we’ve got a fantastic squad. But it’s down to us to go out and do the business.”
Liverpool (21-12-5 in 2017-18) addressed their most pressing need at keeper, signing Brazil international Alisson from AS Roma for a then-record £67 million to replace Loris Karius, whose two howlers in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid put a disappointing end to a captivating season.
Naby Keita likely will start straightaway in the midfield of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 set-up as Henderson recovers from helping England reach the World Cup semifinals. Keita actually signed for over £50 million before last season but played for RB Leipzig in 2017-18. Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum are vying for that other midfield spot that flanks James Milner.
The attacking three are as good as it gets in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Salah won the Golden Boot last season with a Premier League-record 32 goals and scored 44 in all competitions, while Firmino and Mane combined to net 47 as Liverpool adjusted to the mid-season departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona and continued to score goals at a break-neck pace.
Into this mix enters Xherdan Shaqiri, the Switzerland international who came over from relegated Stoke City for the cut-rate price of £13.5 million and is one of the best players on the right wing in Europe while capable of finishing with either foot. He and holdover Daniel Sturridge will challenge for minutes behind the aforementioned trio of stars.
The defence is anchored by centre back Virgil Van Dijk, who starts his first full season at Anfield after a protracted transfer saga prevented his arrival from Southampton until January. Van Dijk’s partner likely will be Joe Gomez since Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are nursing injuries and Dejan Lovren is still working his way back to match shape after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final.
Though West Ham (10-12-16) finished 13th on 42 points last term, it was a season to forget as the east London side endured plenty of hardship. While David Moyes steadied the Irons after they sacked Slaven Bilic in November, supporters cared little for his style of play. During a 3-0 home loss to Burnley in March there were repeated pitch invasions as co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan vacated their chairman’s box due to the rising ire.
After two seasons at London Stadium, West Ham finally opened up the wallet and underwent a staggering makeover. It started on the touchline with the return of Manuel Pellegrini to the Premier League. The Chilean, who guided Man City to their second Premier League title in 2014 and finished no lower than fourth in his three seasons there, had been at Chinese side Hebei China Fortune.
He signed a three-year deal with West Ham in May after assurances the Irons would be aggressive in the summer transfer window, and the owners stayed true to their word as £90 million was shelled out to begin West Ham’s rise from mid-table mediocrity to something better.
The linchpin signing was Lazio right wing Felipe Anderson for £36 million, but the most pivotal one may have cost nothing. Oft-injured midfielder Jack Wilshire moved across London on a free transfer from Arsenal, and with Anderson and newcomer Andriy Yarmolenko on the flanks plus holdover strikers Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito Hernandez, West Ham have an attack that can give defences fits.
Arnautovic scored 11 goals last season but failed to tally in the first 12 matches last season, and the Austria international is determined to come out of the blocks firing this term.
“I remember how I know myself as a player and that wasn’t it,” he lamented to the club’s official website. “When I moved to playing as a striker, and seeing my statistics now I want to play as a striker, score goals and help the team. I like this position now, you feel free, always towards the goals and provide assists, it’s a good position.”
West Ham’s goalkeeping situation was calamitous last season as both Joe Hart and Adrian struggled. Adrian remains as a deputy to summer signing Lukasz Fabianski after the Poland international signed from relegated Swansea City. Issa Diop, a £22 million transfer from Toulouse, likely will pair in central defence with Angelo Ogbonna while Arthur Masauku and newcomer Ryan Fredericks operate the flanks in Pellegrini’s preferred 4-4-2.
Liverpool did the double last season, winning both matches by 4-1 counts as Salah racked up three goals, and have won three on the trot versus West Ham. Anfield has been the stuff of nightmares for the Irons, whose lone win in 23 matches in all competitions there in the Premier League era (1-7-15) was a 3-0 victory Aug. 29, 2015.
Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 2/9 odds, while West Ham are a clear darkhorse at 11/1. The odds of the teams splittng the points is also long at 5/1.
One outcome bettors seem to expect is at least a four-goal scoreline as Liverpool and over 3.5 goals checks in at 29/20 odds. A draw and over 3.5 goals is 18/1.
Salah is the favourite as a first-goal scorer at 12/5, with Sturridge a suprising second at 16/5. Firmino is 7/2, Mane further back at 9/2 and Shaqiri has 5/1 odds to open his Liverpool account with the first goal of the match. Arnautovic has 11/1 odds for those who fancy an Irons first strike.
Salah, Sturridge and Firmino are all even-money or better to score in this match, with Mane not far off the trail at 11/8 and Shaqiri 3/2. Arnautovic has 3/1 odds to find the back of the net, and Yarmolenko checks in with 9/2 odds as an anytime goal-scorer.
Everything about this contest screams fire-wagon football, and Liverpool will undoubtedly do their best to play in such a style. How composed this new-look West Ham United side will be key to them having any chance of nicking a rare point at Anfield, but Arnautovic does have the tablesetters in Wilshire, Anderson and Yarmolenko to help stretch Liverpool’s defense.
This should be an up-and-down affair, with Liverpool having more ups than West Ham on this day.
PREDICTION: LIVERPOOL 4, WEST HAM UNITED 1