One of this weekend’s most eye-catching fixtures pits champions Liverpool against a promising West Ham side enjoying an unexpectedly good start to the season.
How much will key injuries in both camps influence the outcome of what, on paper, is a one-sided fixture? Jürgen Klopp just can’t seem to catch a break, as Liverpool’s injury crisis went from bad to worse on Tuesday night.
Not only did Mo Salah hobble off after the final whistle, but Fabinho – playing out of position at centre back – sustained a hamstring injury in the first half, which will likely keep him out for at least a few weeks.
With Virgil van Dijk out for the season, and Joël Matip struggling to return to full fitness, losing the Brazilian now leaves the Reds dangerously short in the heart of defence, with Joe Gomez the only fit senior centre back left.
The loss of Van Dijk, in particular, is a body blow to Klopp’s hopes of a successful title defence – which has begun shakily, to say the least. Losing talismanic goalkeeper Alisson threatened to expose an unsure backline further, but he, at least, has returned earlier than expected to reinforce Klopp’s side.
With Fabinho now out, teenager Rhys Williams is likely to be Gomez’s defensive partner moving forward. That’s unless the manager opts to look at other options over the inexperience of Williams.
Antonio’s injury rocks West Ham – but evens the scales
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All this means Liverpool will head into this weekend’s fixture, in arguably their weakest state at the back in years.
West Ham’s defence, meanwhile, has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts this season, with David Moyes somehow turning one of the previous campaign’s leakiest defences into an efficient tackling machine. For once, the Hammers’ backline may well be stronger than their more vaunted opposition’s.
However, the Irons come into the fixture with an injury concern of their own – one perhaps which may prove just as consequential as Liverpool’s. 2020 has been an “Indian summer” year for Michail Antonio, rocking opposition defences with his hustle-and-bustle style.
Unfortunately, the former England international compounded a minor hamstring strain against Manchester City, leaving Moyes’ side shorn of its talisman and best forward. With the Clarets’ attack this season built mostly around Antonio’s dynamism, West Ham suddenly look a diminished prospect for opposing teams to handle.
Between Liverpool’s new-look defence and West Ham’s unsure attacking line up, this weekend’s game at Anfield promises to be an intriguing match up – not only for fans of the two clubs but neutrals too.
The team that prevails will likely be the one which adjusts best to injury concerns. Ultimately, this fixture will prove a litmus test of how each side can cope without key personnel for the foreseeable future.