While Liverpool are doing well against the Hammers with six wins and two draws in the last eight league refs, West Ham’s good record against the top teams this season will certainly give Jurgen Klopp food for thought.
West Ham United has had a curious season so far. The eight points have all been won against clubs that were among the top seven teams in the Premier League last season, even though they only managed to pick up 10 points from the 14 matches against these teams in 2019/20.
It will be a challenge, but here are some ways in which Liverpool can put the formidable West Ham man Mikhail Antonio in place
The 30-year-old has scored 11 Premier League goals in 15 appearances since the resumption of football in June. That is more than a quarter of his total of 39 goals in the Premier League, which took him five years to achieve. Antonio is clearly in the shape of his life.
And the Liverpool manager’s main concern, especially given the injury problems the Reds suffer in central defence, is the form of Mikhail Antonio.
However, two of his three goals scored from the right side of the penalty area were against Liverpool. He scored in a 4-1 defeat at Anfield in 2018, before scoring Sadio Mane’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw in London in 2019/20. It is clear, however, that he does his best work right in front of the goal frame.
Nevertheless, he is not a particularly clinical striker. Even in this lucky streak, his 11 goals are due to chances that Understat rated 10.7 expected goals. Not that this should be underestimated – which Roberto Firmino would not have given to convert the chances according to their value last season.
But it shows that Antonio is unlikely to pose too great a threat from unconventional areas, especially since his goal against Manchester City last weekend was a fabulous piece of improvisation. In his Premier League career he has never scored a goal from outside the penalty area, and 36 of his 39 goals were scored from the center zone within the width of the six-yard box.
With Mohamed Salah falling into the first category and Mane into the second, the West Ham Reds are likely to face problems of their own. But Antonio can certainly strike back.
And he will almost certainly put Alisson to the test if he gets the chance. Only three players in the Premier League last season averaged more shots on goal per 90 minutes (per FBRef) and only four players who shot at least 60 shots put more of them on goal.
His threat in the air could also be a serious problem for a Liverpool team without Virgil van Dijk and (probably) Joel Matip, their best players for winning air duels.
Nonetheless, where he fell short of his expected scores in open play, he scored 12 league goals from set pieces from chances worth about eight (per understat).
However, where he scored six header goals each in both 2015/16 and 2016/17 – only one goal less than the best header in the league in both years, per WhoScored – he has since only scored six goals in the league.
West Ham are unlikely to score a large number of goals in open play, so Liverpool will have to be very wary of Antonio if dead balls occur.
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What is perhaps less obvious is how strong Antonio is as a dribbler. He has already kicked the ball past a total of 16 players, the eighth strongest in the top group (per FBRef), and he has made 15 successful dribblings that led to shots in 2019/20, putting him in ninth place in the standings alongside Roberto Firmino and Heung-Min Son.
It sounds obvious, but he lives by service – 10 of his 12 unpunished league goals since the beginning of last season have been supported – and in the games where he has not scored any goals this season, he rarely received the ball into the middle of the penalty area.
The Reds will undoubtedly already be working out the best plan to keep him calm at the set-pieces, and also how to stop the supply to him in central areas.
So how does Liverpool stop their goals? Antonio will probably lead the line alone in David Moyes’ preferred 4-5-1 formation. So if they can deny him service, that will be a big step to keep him calm.