Liverpool have made a fine start to the 2023/24 campaign, having won five straight games across all competitions since opening their account with a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League.
Having defeated Austrian side LASK in the Europa League opener on Thursday evening, the Reds now turn their attention back to the domestic scene, with resilient West Ham United making the trip to Merseyside to face Jurgen Klopp’s men at Anfield.
The Hammers have also started the term in good form since winning the Europa Conference League in June, consequently Liverpool’s rivals in European competition this year.
In the league, they occupy sixth place – just three points and places behind Liverpool – after winning three of their opening five matches, only suffering defeat last time out against imperious league champions Manchester City.
Liverpool will be confident of securing victory but will need to be on their toes, to say the least; under David Moyes’ tutelage, West Ham have become one of the most successful sides in English football and have indeed extended that success onto the continental stage.
Last month, high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion were defeated on home soil following a counter-attacking masterclass from the Irons, who know how to sit deep and soak up danger before striking teams on the break.
Such could prove difficult for the Reds, but with firepower to rival any side in world football, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and co will be raring for an opportunity to continue the surging start to the season.
What’s the latest Liverpool team news?
Captain Virgil van Dijk, who started against LASK, is now eligible for selection in the Premier League, having missed the past two matches due to picking up a red card against Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Thiago Alcantara are not expected to be available for the clash against the Irons, so Joe Gomez is likely to deputise at right-back once again despite teenager Stefan Bajcetic’s promising performance in the role against LASK.
Klopp could field an unchanged midfield trio from the side that came from behind to defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 at Molineux last Saturday, with Ryan Gravenberch looking lively and picking up an assist in midweek but departing with an injury in the second half – though it is suspected to just be cramp.
Darwin Nunez posted a goal and an assist in the Europa League and already looks to have made improvements from last season, where he split opinion after his club-record £85m transfer from Benfica.
But the Reds’ German manager may well opt to reinstate the dynamic Cody Gakpo into the starting fold, who scored against Wolves but sat the recent European contest out.
How is Wataru Endo performing?
One player who might find themselves relegated to the bench once again after featuring from the start against the recently defeated Bundesliga opposition is Wataru Endo, who didn’t quite take the opportunity to impress.
With both Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo opting for Chelsea over Liverpool in a high-profile transfer battle this summer, the Merseyside club decided to make an astute £16m swoop for experienced holding midfielder Endo, who joined from Stuttgart.
The Japanese star was described as a “proper warrior and leader” by Bundesliga commentator Kevin Hatchard after the move was confirmed, with the 50-cap international making the most clearances, and winning the most aerial duels and possession wins in the defensive third since the start of the 2021/22 league season, according to Squawka.
He hasn’t quite cut the mustard for Liverpool so far though, winning just one ground duel on Thursday, also being dribbled past one and making only one tackle.
An industrious midfielder, sure, but not the slick-passing, all-conquering midfielder that Klopp needs to serve as the starring No. 6 – a reliable and resourceful squad option, shall we say?
Against West Ham, it is the robustness and swiftness of the midfield that will decide the home side’s fate, and despite flattering to deceive against the Old Gold last week, Liverpool must now unleash Alexis Mac Allister, who was moved to the bench against LASK.
How good is Alexis Mac Allister?
He had won the 2022 World Cup in December and starred in a successful season with the Seagulls, scoring ten goals and supplying two assists in the Premier League, praised for his “impressive” start to life on Merseyside by the Daily Star’s Neil Docking.
As per FBref, the 24-year-old ranks among the top 15% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for shot-creating actions, the top 17% for progressive carries and the top 13% for successful take-ons per 90, highlighting the energy and optimism he brings to the fold – something that could prove vital in breaking down the Hammers.
The £150k-per-week phenom didn’t impress on his last start, with The Athletic’s James Pearce noting that he “struggled badly“, but this is due to a relentless international break with his nation halfway across the world and having played Bolivia merely days before at an alarmingly high altitude.
Dubbed a “maestro” by one South American journalist, the 5 foot 8 sensation has been a controlled and assured presence at the heart of Klopp’s midfield for the majority of his time at Anfield thus far, completing 86% of his passes, winning 58% of his ground duels and succeeding with 60% of his dribbles, also making 5.4 ball recoveries per game, as per Sofascore.
He is the engine that Liverpool need to steer over the line against West Ham, and while he does not boast Endo’s defensive qualities, he could be the difference-maker as his side look to stay hot on champions and pace-setters Manchester City’s trail.