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Liverpool v West Ham United

Filed: Friday, 30th January 2015
By: Preview Percy

Liverpool. They're not one of Preview Percy's favourite clubs. But you probably worked that out for yourselves....

Next up we venture north to Liverpool up the M1 and M6 preferably using the nice toll bit to avoid sharing motorway space with the great unwashed who might be consumed with envy at the Bentley. Should you have given the chauffeur the day off and really have no alternative to public transport, there doesn’t seem to be too much in the way of engineering works that would hamper your journey. Just make sure that there aren’t any unsuitable types clogging up first class for you – should you see anyone who you think oughtn’t be there have the guard remove them.

At present our hosts sit in 8th place with 35 from 22 – a point and a place behind our good selves. I have often referred to them as the “Tottenham of the North,” mainly because of their supporters. However, this season the comparisons on the pitch have been more pronounced than usual. Like their North London twin club they have been muddling their way through matches, rarely looking particularly convincing but somehow picking up points anyway. They do have a couple of advantages in that respect over Spurs of course. Firstly there is the traditionally home-friendly nature of the refereeing at Anfield. Cast your mind to last season where an assault that left Downing requiring 23 stitches was punished by nothing more than a free-kick whilst Nolan’s petulant hack (after being kicked three times in succession) got an admittedly deserved straight red. Go, as they say, figure.

Secondly, Anfield is the undisputed home of the dive. Of course other clubs have their divers – the first leg of their league cup semi-final against Chelsea for example had the Work Experience Girl With An Inappropriate Number Of Rings Through Her Lips screaming at both sides on the telly “in the name of God will just one of you buggers please just once try to stay on your feet.” However, few clubs have quite honed the tactic (for that is exactly what it is) of getting into free-kick range and going to ground quite as “well” as Liverpool have. Which is handy because they still have Steven “We Beat The Crap Out Of Him In Self-Defence” Gerrard in the team until the end of the season. Gerrard is (obviously) a bit handy at free-kicks, the majority of his goals in the league this season coming from free-kicks and penalties.

Gerrard will be swapping Liverpool for Los Angeles at the end of the season as long as it’s ok with some of his more dubious pals, so they’ll be looking for someone else to step up to convert the free-kicks and penalties “won” next term.

They’ve had a few issues in goal. Simon Mignolet (I’m sure that was the name of a dish on the menu here at the New Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered last week) has had a poor season so far and was even replaced by Aussie Brad Jones before Christmas. Only for Jones to do something to his hip and or thigh. Mignolet has still not looked that convincing since his return between the sticks and Jones is said to be close to fitness so it will be interesting to see which ‘keeper gets the nod from Brendan “David Brent” Rodgers this weekend. Meanwhile they are probably making their usual entirely above board and in no way illegal approaches to alternative custodians of the onion bag as we speak.

They’ll definitely be missing Downing’s assailant Flanagan who has a serious knee injury, meaning the football Gods of Karma ended up doing the job that Michael Oliver should have done last season. Also a doubt is defender Mamadou (translation: not as good as Diafra) Sakho who picked up a back injury in the Chelsea match.

This match may see a return for Daniel Sturridge who stuck his head around the door back in August then promptly disappeared. It’s fair to say that he’s not had the best of luck with injuries, a run that started with him picking up a thigh strain, followed by a calf muscle injury followed by another thigh strain. In fact the Work Experience Girl With An Inappropriate Number Of Rrings Through Her Lips tells me she has documented no fewer than nine separate occasions in his career where Sturridge has missed matches due to thigh strains. She obviously has far too much time on her hands. While we’re not quite in the “Kieron Dyer” territory of bad luck injury-wise, there’s been enough going on there to suggest that Sturridge must have knocked over a lot of those ladders he was walking under causing them to crash onto a mirror or two on his way through the old Indian burial ground. Given the nature of those injuries I’d have thought it would probably be better for the player to start and see how it goes rather than to come on cold, though Brent may have other ideas.

Sturridge’s striking partner back in August was Mario Balotelli. He’s not exactly been the most resounding of successes since his return to England and some commentators were pointing fingers at him for Chelsea’s goal the other night when his failure to pick up Ibrahamovic allowed the Chelsea defender an unchallenged header. Brent has questioned the player’s fitness in the past though whenever I’ve seen him on the pitch in a Liverpool shirt it was an apparent lack of application that seemed to be the issue. To put it bluntly he looks for all the world like someone who doesn’t want to be there. One almost expects to hear the voice of Harry Enfield’s “Kevin The Teenager” telling everyone “it’s so unfair” ringing out from the screen. There have been signs that Balotelli’s apparent feelings for being at Anfield may just be reciprocated by his team mates – some of the body language seen from his fellow red-shirts suggests that he might not be the most popular player in the squad shall we say. Given Sturridge’s lack of match fitness Balotelli will probably stay until the end of the season at least but I don’t think too many would be surprised to see him shifted on elsewhere in the summer. Let’s just hope that they don’t take advantage of our visit to tap up Sakho this weekend.

If Sturridge starts he’ll most likely be one of the three up front alongside Raheem Sterling. Every time I write about Sterling he seems to be in the midst of contract talks. His current deal expires in 2017/18 but he has been negotiating yet another new deal. Some of the delays in sorting out a new contract have been technical – his parasite, I mean agent is apparently moving on to set up his own agency and there’s been a spot of haggling over where all that lovely commission is going to end up. However, there have been reports that the latest offer made by the club has been rejected with Real Madrid and Chelsea said to be interested – though that may, of course, just be an idea planted in the media by his agent or agents in order to push his salary up. In the absence of Sturridge and the barely discernible presence of Balotelli, much has been placed on the shoulders of the 20 year–old to the extent that he was actually given his own midwinter break over the Christmas period, a break that he used to pop over to Jamaica, presumably of his own accord.

Us? Well last week was a banana skin successfully negotiated. It was a poor first half overall – a really up-for-it and in form Bristol City were always going to provide a challenge and we did have to be thankful for Carroll and Noble’s interventions on the goal line to make sure that we went in level. The second half saw improvement and I guess the best thing we can say about the performance was that it was “professional”.

We have five on the injury list. Jenkinson and Tomkins both have unspecified knocks whilst the usual sites still list Ginge as having a groin/pelvis injury when it was clearly his back that was the problem in the win over Hull. Song is also shown as having a knock – which might explain why he looked out of sorts in the Cup match and Demel who had a cameo down in Bristol also shows up as having a muscle problem. Of those five Jenkinson and Tomkins face late fitness tests whilst the rest all show up as likely to be ok. Make that six on that list as news of a possible hamstring problem for Joey O’ arrives.

Kouyate’s availability will depend on how he feels after going walkabout in Equatorial Guinea. The flight we had to arrange cost something like £60k. Maybe we ought to send the Senegalese the bill – they could pay it out of whatever Blatter pays them for their vote this time.

Which brings us on to the subject of Sakho. Now the Senegalese are jumping up and down over the fact that the player wasn’t fit enough to play for them in the African Cuppa Soup but was fit enough to come on as sub down at Ashton Gate. There was an obvious reason for this. A trip to Ashton Gate does not involve sitting in a plane for 7 hours at a stretch. The report that the club got from an independent quack said that if the player flew for that length of time he’d most likely be unfit to play. Notably the rest of the players flew to and from Bristol last weekend whilst Sakho was driven down there in a nice spacious limo which could stop every hour or so to allow the passenger to get out and stretch his legs.

I must say that, given the Senegalese’s role in Sakho getting crocked in the first place, it’s a bit rich of them to start moaning now, especially as they were given every opportunity to assess the player themselves. Over the years we’ve got a pretty decent record for releasing players for international duty – it certainly bears scrutiny in comparison with this weekend’s opponents for example and if Football Associations are going to start moaning about this sort of thing on a regular basis I’d suggest they look a bit closer at some of the more blatant examples of wrong doing within FIFA first rather than just pocketing whatever the going rate is for a Blatter vote these days.

Prediction? Well we won’t win of course. Over the last 50 years or so we’ve had some deserved tonkings but there have also been a number of occasions where, just as we’ve seemed to have them cornered they get their usual get out of jail free card (literally in Gerrard’s case) handed to them by some spineless refereeing. Last time up there Downing’s injury happened in the third minute. Given that the so-called “Select” group of referees have all the collective backbone of a filleted slug, Oliver was never going to give Flanagan the red his assault deserved – he’d probably still not have given it in the 90th minute knowing him. Had we had to play against ten (rather than 12) men for 87 minutes who knows how the game might have ended up. Add to that the strange reluctance of the officials to punish the diving blight that pervades the English game and you can see my reluctance to go for a win.

I’ll therefore be popping over to Winstone’s The Turf Accountant’s place to place the New Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered’s Adrian Chiles Hardship Fund (£2.50) on a 3-1 home win, which will delude the home support into believing that they’re still a European powerhouse for a few more weeks at least.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met at Anfield: Lost 1-4 December 2014. Own goals (Demel, Skrtel and O’Brien) and suspect refereeing were the order of the day at Anfield as they marched on to win the league. Nearly.

Danger Man: Daniel Sturridge – if fit he’s the missing link up front. Bizarrely, should he actually get any game time we ought to be a bit wary of Balotelli. Anyone having that bad a time of things usually scores against us.

Daft Fact Of The Week: The home side’s reliance on goals from (often dubiously awarded) set plays can be gauged from the fact that their starting line-up against Chelsea the other night had mustered a grand total of 19 goals from open play this season.

Referee: Andre Marriner Andre Marriner – The good news is that Old Mother Riley has given the bag a shake up and we have now got a referee that we haven’t had for over a year. The bad news is it’s Andre Marriner.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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