Liverpool safely negotiated the Europa League group stage with a 1-0 win away to Udinese (though Di Natale nearly ensured my 1-1 prediction was correct with the last kick of the game!), but having had to unexpectedly stay the night in Italy they haven’t had much time to prepare for a tricky fixture at Upton Park. From a statistical point of view, this is could be a very intriguing contest.
For instance, Euro Club Index say the Reds have a 35% chance of winning, compared to 33% for the Hammers and 32% chance of a draw, so they certainly think it’ll be a close one.
The attacking stats suggest there won’t be much in it either. West Ham have averaged 4.4 shots on target per league game at home this season, whilst Liverpool average 4.7 away. Shots on target figures have a massive bearing on a result (and I will be investigating this further in a future post), so again it looks to be a tight match in theory. Can Brendan Rodgers’ side maintain that shooting accuracy figure without Suárez though?
The Uruguayan striker picked up his fifth booking of the season against Southampton last week, and is suspended from Sunday’s match. Aside from irregular starter ‘Own Goals’ (who is Liverpool’s second top scorer in the league at present!), the rest of the squad have just six goals between them.
As Jose Enrique is likely to be playing at left back rather than the advanced position from where he scored against Wigan, that means that three of the Reds’ six available goal scorers this season will be in the defence.
The obvious candidate to start upfront is Jonjo Shelvey, as he played that role in the recent match with Young Boys at Anfield. He played as a ‘false nine’ that night, and the stats suggest he had a decent game.
He scored with his only shot, created four chances, played an accurate through ball, and was accurate with 89% of his passes, so he obviously linked up well with the other forward players.
Not only that, but Shelvey currently has the second best shooting accuracy in the Premier League this season (for players who have taken a minimum of fifteen shots). He’s also joint third top scorer in the Europa League this season with four goals, so Rodgers will certainly be hoping he can break his duck in the league on Sunday. What else do the stats suggest might happen, and do Liverpool have a chance of a win?
The Hammers have the third worst possession average at home in the division this season; whilst that’s obviously down to their tactics, it does mean that Liverpool should be able to play in their preferred style, as they’ll have plenty of the ball.
But I think how the Reds’ defence deals with West Ham’s attacking tactics will determine the result, as clearly Liverpool are highly unlikely to score a bagful with their limited attacking options.
West Ham have taken a greater proportion of their shots within the goal area than any other side in the Premier League this season. Conversely, Liverpool allow their opponents the fewest. If the Reds can maintain their form in this area, they can keep the Hammers at bay, keep a clean sheet, and then hopefully nick one at the other end. That’s a lot of big ‘ifs’ at the moment though!
Personally, I think Liverpool will keep a clean sheet (and with five in their last nine league games, plus the first choice back four, keeper and Lucas on the pitch than they should have a good chance of one) but won’t carry enough of a goal threat to trouble Allardyce’s men at the other end, so it’s a 0-0 prediction from me.