LIVERPOOL are hoping to keep their title push on track at West Ham on Monday night and Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks his best bet.
West Ham v Liverpool | Monday 4th February 2019, 20:00 | Sky Sports
Liverpool fans will remember, only too well, the near-miss that was their 2013-14 campaign, when they had a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League with three games to go, only to finish as honourable runners-up to Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City.
This year, Pellegrini hopes to throw a dent in the Reds’ title charge once again, but this time from an outsiders’ perspective, as manager of West Ham United.
Liverpool need AA help
In Liverpool’s last two games, they have shown glimpses of defensive frailty for the first time this season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side just got over the line in a 4-3 nail-biter against Crystal Palace, before drawing 1-1 with Leicester and being slightly fortunate not to concede more.
Those two clashes alone, account for 29% of their goals against tally in the Premier League all season, which suggests absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, at right-back, has been a huge issue.
For the last two games, Jurgen Klopp has had to play midfielders in that position; James Milner against Leicester, then Jordan Henderson against Palace when the former was suspended.
Milner is back from a one-match ban here and while he can deliver the occasional good cross, he lacks pace and that could be a problem, especially up against Felipe Anderson.
West Ham have shown their mettle against top six opposition at the Olympic Stadium, with seven points from five home league encounters.
In the 1-0 home defeat to rivals Tottenham, they forced Hugo Lloris into a series of fine stops, too.
In 3-1 and 1-0 victories over Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, the East Londoners had been able to start Marko Arnautovic, who led the line superbly in both games with his powerful running.
The Austrian though is likely to be absent on Monday with a bruised foot and alternatives Pellegrini has are poacher Javier Hernandez and target man Andy Carroll.
Hernandez can be a sublime finisher, but he could be too diminutive and languid for this type of match, while Carroll is only effective when pressure is applied throughout and it will be difficult for the Hammers to sustain the necessary intensity for that to happen.
Ideally, Hernandez could be paired with Carroll but the rest of West Ham’s squad is suited better to 4-3-3 than 4-4-2, due to the need for wide men to be given creative freedom.
Pellegrini, therefore, will be left with a major dilemma which, should he get wrong, could leave the team looking rather imbalanced.
Mane over Salah
Sadio Mane turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Leicester last time out – and the Senegalese speedster’s goal means he has now scored three in his last five appearances.
In the previous two games combined, Mane has taken seven shots from inside the area, while the recognised goalscorer in this Reds side, Mohamed Salah, has taken just two.
While Salah can be very clinical, evidenced by the fact he is the Premier League’s top scorer with 16 goals, he averages two shots from inside the area per 90 minutes, which is only the joint-29th most in the division – fewer than Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre.
Of course, that is partly a reflection on the Egyptian’s quality of finishing in comparison with the Huddersfield front-men.
However, trends imply that if a forward is in excellent goalscoring form, the sustainability of that form is greater when they are getting a lot of chances and missing some of them, rather than getting fewer and converting a higher proportion of them.
When one of Liverpool’s big-hitters is not performing, they tend to have another ready to step up a level and Mane looks an appealing anytime option at 17/10 with Betway.
The Betting Angle
Over the last eight matches, Liverpool’s Expected Goals For (xGF) record averages 2.12 per game; the most in the Premier League.
West Ham’s Expected Goals Against (xGA) record meanwhile, stands at 1.86 per game over the same period.
Rather than back Liverpool via one of the skinny outright prices, therefore, we’ll take BoyleSports’ offering of 15/8 on Mane to score in a Reds victory as our best bet.
West Ham v Liverpool – Sadio Mane to score and Liverpool to win (15/8 Boylesports)