Klopp’s Liverpool isn’t a football team, it’s a dramatic theatre production. How else do you explain a 4-5 win over Norwich, or leaving it to penalties to beat Stoke in the League Cup? These games might be great for excitement, but should Liverpool finish in 7th behind West Ham and fail to acquire domestic silverware, the season will have to go down as a grave disappointment.
In contrast, the Hammers will consider their current spot to be quite satisfactory and would love to give the Reds a bloody nose into the bargain with a victory at Anfield. More of Slaven Bilic’s charges are returning from injury—having Dimitri Payet back fit will be a welcome boost. With six goals and four assists in 15 starts, Payet has certainly been one of the signings of the season and if West Ham finish in the European places they will have him to thank.
Injuries have left difficult gaps for Klopp ever since he took over, and this match is likely to see a midfield three of Emre Can, Henderson and Joe Allen being deployed—all of whom are good players, but none of them are particularly creative. With Benteke slated to start, it looks as if Liverpool are going to try to throttle possession and hit the big Belgian with crosses from deep. West Ham’s midfield looks equally tenacious, Kouyate, Song and Mark Noble all in good form—they were equal to the challenge posed by Manchester City, so won’t be overawed here by any stretch. They will be looking to release Payet and Enner Valencia whenever they can to run at that ragged Liverpool defence.
120 minutes of football plus penalties, whatever the result, is a heavy burden on legs that have already played a lot of games. Klopp will rotate where he can, but there’s still a strong chance of Liverpool fading as the game wears on. West Ham have had a full week off and will be raring to go, attacking from the very beginning. There’s not many fixtures in this round of the cup that are likely to be as fiercely contested as this one, with these sides battling for league position already. It’s a chance for either side to earn some self-belief and maybe start an invaluable league run.
There’s one result that Klopp in particular will dread—a draw, going to a replay. The very last thing his team needs is more games! A blunted performance against Stoke was fairly predictable from this entirely unpredictable side who are quite capable of both losing and winning games in equal measure.