The difficult thing about overachievement is staying at your elevated status once you’ve got there, especially as those below are reloading with fresh, expensive ammo in a bid to shoot you down.
In turning the latter half of last season into a breakneck sprint for the finish line, Liverpool weren’t much thinking about the consequences of what would happen should they finish above a few clubs who aren’t used to having their noses put out of joint. They are getting their answers now.
Chelsea got cuter and meaner to the tune of one Cesc Fabregas and one Diego Costa in the summer, Arsenal may have made their usual mistakes but they have still strengthened, whilst Manchester United have gone on the kind of madcap spree normally reserved for a panicky resident of Tornado Alley who feels the need to stock up on overpriced supplies.
Throw in the fact that Luis Suarez has gone and you see exactly what the Reds were up against at beginning of this season. They needed a convincing start to dispel nerves, and haven’t had one.
Their key to this weekend’s trip to West Ham is likely to be Mario Balotelli, billed as the replacement for Suarez but actually a player who changes the way his side operates.
Without the injured Daniel Sturridge, the onus is on Liverpool’s attacking midfielders to get around the Italian and provide a goal threat but only one of them, Raheem Sterling, looks to be in any sort of form right now. Brendan Rodgers might be wise to overlook Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Lazar Markovic here, instead picking Fabio Borini to partner Balotelli and Lucas Leiva to solidify midfield, setting the stage for Sterling as he does so.
Because this will be a tough game for Liverpool, and for reasons that you don’t often associate with a Sam Allardyce side.
There have been 13 goals in West Ham’s four games so far this season, not quite the levels we saw at Liverpool in 2013/14 but still fairly high.
Their most recent clash, the 2-2 draw at Hull City on Monday, showcased the ability to attack thrillingly through the likes of Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho, Mauro Zarate and, yes, Stewart Downing, whilst being open to somewhat madcap errors at the back. Sound familiar? Change the names, the wages and the levels of Twitter fury and you could be talking about Liverpool.
All of which means that we should be set for an entertaining game in front of the cameras on Saturday evening, one in which the over 2.5 goals is a predictably short 1.58 and Both Teams To Score is an even shorter 1.47.
Over 3.5 strikes is more appealing at 2.48, whilst the 3.90 on Liverpool winning by exactly one goal also tempts given the likelihood of a 2-1 or 3-2 away win. The 3.80 on a draw probably warrants more attention though.
Valencia’s brilliant goal at Hull sees him jump to the top of West Ham’s charts at 3.25 to net at any time, whilst the lively Downing is decent value at 8.50 to score against his former club.
For Liverpool, Balotelli tops the list at 2.18 any time, whilst it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him cut loose and net two or more against such a leaky home defence at 7.50.
West Ham 2 Liverpool 2 – 12.00
Over 2.5 goals – 1.58
Mario Balotelli to score at any time – 2.18
Over 3.5 goals – 2.48
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