Two wins from four in league and of to a winning start in the Champions League is a plenty decent start on paper, but after the narrow victory over Ludogorets on Tuesday, Liverpool's early season narrative has become one of flirting with disaster rather than settling into the new season. The win over Spurs--a performance that saw the squad at nearly full strength for the first and only time this season--was a flash in the pan, more a productive of Spurs being Spurs than Liverpool being half-decent.
Which they are, and Spurs are most definitely Spurs, but anyone hoping for an instant return to the heights of last season will have no doubt been left disappointed. They're yet to click consistently, especially in central defense and up front, with a midfield that's looked disjointed in the absence of Joe Allen. So maybe just struggling with everything outside those two fullbacks in their early twenties, then. At any rate, six points from twelve leaves room for growth, and a win tomorrow would see them (relatively) back on track despite lingering injury concerns.
They'll have to earn it in a fixture that's been challenging in recent years despite wins in consecutive seasons under Brendan Rodgers. Sam Allardyce's West Ham side have played Liverpool very tight at Upton Park, and while their start to the season has been mixed--losses at home to Southampton and Spurs, a win away at Crystal Palace and a draw at Hull--we can likely expect more of the same tomorrow.
Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Matt Jarvis, and Joey O'Brien will all miss out, but Alex Song could make his first start in a West Ham shirt after appearing as a substitute last weekend. In the draw at the KC Stadium, Allardyce went with Adrian in goal, Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell, James Tomkins, and Guy Demel across the back, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Stewart Downing (featuring centrally for portions of the match), and Mark Noble in midfield, and Mauro Zarate getting forward to support Diafra Sakho and impressive newboy Enner Valencia up top.
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Not much news on the injury front, where only Martin Skrtel is expected to be available. Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson are back in training, with Sturridge expected for the Merseyside derby, while Joe Allen has been ruled out a further three weeks by Brendan Rodgers, Emre Can another five, and Jon Flanagan for three months with news yesterday that he needed corrective surgery for his knee injury. After missing midweek due to suspension, Lazar Markovic will be included once again.
Rodgers has some tricky work over the next few weeks, and with a number of longer-term absentees, balance is going to be crucial. At the back it looks like Skrtel will take his starting spot back, with one of Dejan Lovren or Mamadou Sakho making way. The manager's preference seems to be the newly-arrived Croatian, which sends Sakho back to the bench after three consecutive starts. Barring any late fitness worries, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno should start at right- and left-back.
Steven Gerrard's rest will most certainly come on Tuesday when Middlesbrough visit, though with Joe Allen still out the captain might see minutes in the League Cup tie. Here he'll start again, with Jordan Henderson and one of Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana joining him. Neither were particularly great against Ludogorets, though at least for Lallana there's the fact that he's not yet up to speed. Coutinho's been woeful for most of the early season, but with Rodgers reaffirming his belief in the young Brazilian, I'd expect him to start with Raheem Sterling pushed central in a diamond midfield.
That's only possible if Rodgers decides Rickie Lambert or Fabio Borini is ready to join Mario Balotelli up top, of course. After his cameo midweek, though, it seems that Borini could prove himself prescient and get more playing time than anyone could have guessed when he fought for a chance to stay. Longshot that we get both Borini and Lambert and Balotelli on the bench, but hopefully Balotelli's picking up momentum after his goal on Tuesday and will get another tomorrow. If it's not Lambert or Borini, it should be similar to the lineups we saw against Villa and Ludogorets, with Sterling and Lallana flanking Balotelli in attack and Gerrard, Coutinho, and Henderson in the midfield.
Kickoff is set for 5:30PM BST/12:30PM EST, with Sky Sports 1 carrying coverage in the UK and NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra airing the match live in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.