Tactical analyst George Elek looks at how Sunday's meeting with Liverpool could play out...
There is arguably no better time for West Ham to host Liverpool, with Jürgen Klopp’s men struggling to find their early season groove in the absence of the injured Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson.
Seven points from their past four games represents a decent haul, but they have only scored three goals in that period. Liverpool are missing the penetrative pace of Mane, whilst Henderson’s metronomic passing had provided the platform for Liverpool’s attacking trio.
They have won their last three games on the road, all by one-goal margins, against Stoke, West Brom and Watford and a focus on not conceding the first goal away from home has seen their form improve from early season struggles, but West Ham’s form since switching to the back three should give them a great deal to be positive about.
The Hammers have kept three consecutive clean sheets, with the trio of Jose Fonte, Winston Reid and James Collins proving tough for opposing teams to break down.
The advancing Sam Byram and Aaron Cresswell on the flanks has enabled Andre Ayew and Manuel Lanzini to drift inside and provide a fluid attacking force.
Liverpool’s forward play has come under much scrutiny this season, with an unwelcome trend of dominating possession against weaker teams, but in areas of the pitch where they are unlikely to hurt the opposition.
They enjoyed nearly 65 per cent possession against Southampton last Sunday and had 17 shots but, except for James Milner’s missed penalty, just three of these were taken from inside the box.
Lucas Leiva has stepped into Henderson’s central midfield role and whilst his passing may be tidy, it perhaps lacks the probing effect of the club captain’s. Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can have taken on this deep-lying playmaker role, with the forward players dropping too deep at times in an attempt to force the issue.
Against Southampton Philipe Coutinho, who should be Liverpool’s greatest attacking threat, did not touch the ball once inside the penalty area. Firmino has managed three touches in this zone in their past two fixtures.
West Ham can take heart in this chink in Liverpool’s armour; with the tremendous work of the defence on Friday night largely keeping Tottenham’s attacking talents quiet. Spurs were restricted to just four shots on goal from inside the area, whilst England striker Harry Kane touched the ball just twice in the box.
To keep Liverpool at bay the key is pressing high in wide areas, forcing Coutinho and Firmino to drop deep to get the ball. Cresswell and Byram will likely be charged with that responsibility, whilst the back three will have to ensure that the Liverpool centre-forward, whether it is Origi or Sturridge, is not able to peel into the space in behind that will be vacated by the wingers.
The likes of Can, Lallana, Wijnaldum and Firmino are experts at timing their runs into the area to meet crosses, so the onus should be on keeping Liverpool’s possession in the area between the half-way line and the final third, forcing them to take pot-shots from long range.
Such a tactic would also see West Ham able to really hurt Liverpool on the counter-attack. In Ayew and Lanzini there is little doubt that the hosts have the weapons to punish Liverpool.
Full-backs Nathanial Clyne and James Milner look to push right up the flank, meaning there should be a great deal of space for the fluid forwards to cause damage going forward. Jonathan Calleri was full of energy against Tottenham, and a similar harrying display in putting pressure on the Liverpool centre-backs would enable West Ham to win the ball in advanced areas.
The teams who have had the most joy against Liverpool this season have structured their performance in two areas, with a defence set-up to frustrate and a front line looking to spring into life higher up the pitch. It will be a tough test to maintain the unbeaten run, but West Ham proved on Friday that they have the tools to beat anyone.