Liverpool v West Ham: Reds to remain on-course
Title-contenders Liverpool take on Champions League-chasing West Ham on Saturday evening from Anfield. Mark O'Haire previews the Premier League encounter...
Minamino the man for Liverpool
Liverpool followed up Sunday's League Cup success with a relatively routine 2-1 triumph against Norwich in the FA Cup on Wednesday evening. The Reds overcame Chelsea on penalties in a gruelling and thrilling Wembley encounter and showed their strength in depth by winning their fifth-round tie at Anfield despite making 10 changes to their starting XI.
Takumi Minamino was on-target twice as the Merseysiders reached the quarter-finals. The Japan international - an unused substitute against Chelsea - opened the scoring when he was teed up by Divock Origi to drive in from close range, adding a second just before half-time when he was left unmarked at a corner to hit a great strike into the roof of the net.
Victory means an unprecedented quadruple remains a possibility but boss Jurgen Klopp was keen to play down the potential clean sweep of trophies and instead praised his squad depth. He said: "That's the reason for the situation we are in. We have this kind of mentality and character in the squad. It is exactly what we need to be successful in the long term.
West Ham fall short at St Mary's
West Ham manager David Moyes admitted his side "probably didn't deserve" to progress from their own FA Cup showdown with a much-changed Southampton in midweek. The Hammers fell behind to a 30-yard screamer, although Michail Antonio levelled on the hour mark. However, the hosts scored from the spot and added a decisive third in injury-time.
The Irons brought in Alphonse Areola and Issa Diop for Lukasz Fabianski and Aaron Cresswell but were well beaten overall. And West Ham's night was made worse after seeing Tomas Soucek depart with a bloody facial injury, making the Czech the midfielder a doubt for Sunday's clash at Anfield. First-teamers Vladimir Coufal and Angelo Ogbonna remain out.
Speaking post-match, Moyes said: "We went behind to a worldie and fought back. But we gave away a terrible second goal and the third didn't matter. We didn't do well enough to get through. I thought in the first half we had a lot of the ball but not the quality in the final third. We didn't take our half-chances. It's disappointing but probably didn't deserve it."
Reds strong favourites at Anfield
Liverpool suffered a 3-2 defeat in the reverse match at the London Stadium back in November - the Reds' only reverse in 11 recent matches with West Ham (W8-D2-L1). The Merseysiders have also proven exceptionally strong in Anfield encounters with the Hammers, registering a W35-D12-L1 return over the past 48 league match-ups here.
Liverpool 1.33 have won their last six Premier League games by an aggregate 18-2. As hosts, the Merseysiders are unbeaten in 17 league outings (W13-D4-L0), winning the last eight by an aggregate 26-2. The Reds are relatively injury-free but could be fatigued following a taxing week and may have one eye on Tuesday's Champions League tie.
West Ham 10.50 haven't appeared the same free-wheeling side as earlier in the season with the Irons looking laboured in the final-third, generating just 4.80 Expected Goals (xG) across their past five outings. And the Hammers have tended to fall short on the road to elite opposition - the visitors have W0-D1-L4 at top-half tams, averaging only 0.38 xG.
Tough week could impact goals output
Understandably, the goal expectancy and respective goal lines have been set high for Saturday evening's showdown. Over 2.5 Goals has been chalked up at just 1.53 and is bound to go close with Liverpool on-show - Jurgen Klopp's outfit have covered the line in 19/26 (73%) Premier League matches, including 9/13 (69%) at Anfield this term.
But with West Ham producing stubborn and impotent efforts when travelling to the division's leading lights, there's a potential for this contest to fall below goal expectations. With Liverpool now at the business stage of the season - where only results really matter - plus the demanding week for each team - a lower-scoring clash could be on the cards.
So backing Liverpool to win, Under 4.5 Goals and Diogo Jota to have 1 Or More Shots On Target appeals at 1.90. Fourteen of the Reds' 18 victories have arrived alongside Under 4.5 Goals (including nine of 10 at Anfield), whilst Jota has hit the target in 14 of his 19 Premier League starts this season, as well as seven of eight starts on home soil.
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