Brendan Rodgers believes Liverpool will replicate their trajectory of last season and improve from their slow start to the campaign. Liverpool suffered a disappointing home loss to Aston Villa last week to make it two defeats from their opening four Premier League matches. While they claimed victory on their return to the Champions League on Tuesday, a 2-1 win over Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets -- secured via a last-gasp penalty -- failed to impress. Yet Rodgers is confident Liverpool will get back to the free-scoring form that so nearly took them to the Premier League title last season, although that may not be in time for their visit to West Ham on Saturday.
“There's no magic formula, it's just constant work on the training field” he said, according to Liverpool’s official website. “I remember this time last year, we were sat in press conferences and the questions I was getting asked were about whether we were going to be able to score goals. We ended up with 101 goals. It's just time and patience with players. The way we were playing in March, April and May last season, we weren't playing that way last September. It'll be the same this year."
Undoubtedly contributing heavily to Liverpool’s lack of forward spark is the absence of their top two goalscorers of last season. While Luis Suarez has left for Barcelona, Daniel Sturridge remains sidelined with a thigh injury picked up on international duty at the start of the month. Rodgers, who welcomes Martin Skrtel back to the squad on Saturday, believes Sturridge has a chance of returning to full fitness in time to take on Merseyside rivals Everton next Saturday.
Even without Sturridge’s injury, it was always likely to take Liverpool some time to start fully firing this season having welcomed so many new arrivals over the summer. Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are still trying to find their feet, as is Mario Balotelli, although the striker opened his goalscoring account for Liverpool against Ludogorets.
Liverpool’s opponents also come into the match having seen their new striker get on the score sheet for the first time. Enner Valencia marked his first start for West Ham with a spectacular strike from distance in a 2-2 draw with Hull City on Monday night. It was also a game that saw a first West Ham goal for another of their new strikers, Diafra Sakho. That both players have found the net comes as a big boost for West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, who is again without former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll for the long term. And Allardyce now hopes his side can follow in the footsteps of Aston Villa and take advantage of Liverpool’s European commitments.
“On past history of playing teams after they've played in Europe, and having taken Bolton into Europe I know how hard it can be,” he said, reports West Ham’s official website. “He has assembled a big squad, whether he plays the same team on Saturday that played on Tuesday is something we have to try and predict. If we can seek out any advantage we will do, from our part we'll concentrate on things within in our power and that is making sure we play well to the best of our abilities.”
Prediction: Liverpool failed the first test of their ability to cope with the demands of the Champions League with an insipid performance against Aston Villa. West Ham will pose another decent test on Saturday. With Valencia in the side not only do West Ham this season have an adequate replacement for the perennially injured Carroll but they also have a striker who appears to be prompting a slightly more varied way of playing. At back, though, West Ham have so far lost some of their defensive stability and have yet to keep a clean sheet. Although Allardyce should stiffen up his side’s midfield with the introduction of Alex Song for Mauro Zarate, Liverpool will fancy themselves to score. But with Rodgers’s men still making far too many defensive errors, there could well be goals at both ends.
West Ham 1-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 12.30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra