Liverpool will be aiming to continue their unbeaten start to the 2023/24 Premier League season on Sunday when they take on West Ham at Anfield.
The Reds have made a strong start to the new season, winning four and drawing one so far. They beat Wolves 3-1 at Molineux in their first game after the international break to go third in the table. Prior to Sunday’s league fixture, Jurgen Klopp’s side travel to Austria to face LASK Linz in their Europa League group-stage opener on Thursday.
West Ham, on the other hand, tasted their first defeat of the season last weekend, losing 3-1 to defending champions Manchester City. Before that, the Irons had registered three wins on the bounce against Chelsea, Brighton and Luton Town. Like Liverpool, they will be in Europa League action on Thursday, hosting Serbian side Backa Topola.
With an exciting game at Anfield on the cards, here are the key battles to watch out for at the weekend.
#Luis Diaz vs Vladimir Coufal
Luis Diaz has been among Liverpool’s best players so far this season, bagging two goals in five appearances. He has made the left wing spot his own, but after a tiring way back from international duty last week, the Colombian started on the bench against Wolves. He came on as a substitute at half time and changed the course of the game, helping the Reds to a 3-1 comeback win.
The Colombian will be expected to start against West Ham on Sunday. Standing in his way will likely be Vladimir Coufal, who has started the season as West Ham’s first-choice right-back. The 31-year-old forms part of a strong West Ham defence that endeavours to compact space in and around the box, with the Czech Republic international using his aggression, energy and experience in these situations to stifle attacks.
However, Diaz is in top form and will be confident of getting the better of Coufal in 1v1 situations. Liverpool are blessed with technicians and clinical forwards who have picked the lock of many stubborn teams this season, and they will back themselves to do so again here. So, there is every chance the wily Diaz could add to his campaign tally.
#Alexis Mac Allister vs James Ward-Prowse
Summer signing Alexis Mac Allister has enjoyed a solid, energetic start to life at Liverpool, starting all five league games. However, the Argentinean midfielder endured a torrid time at Wolves and was substituted at half-time. Perhaps, his early substitution was down to the physical and fitness levels, having only finished a game against Bolivia less than four days ago.
There are high chances of Mac Allister starting in Liverpool’s engine room against the Hammers. James Ward-Prowse has made an excellent start to life at West Ham, bagging two goals and three assists in only four games. He is slowly becoming the heartbeat of David Moyes’ side.
The Englishman’s work rate, energy and tenacity bolster West Ham’s defensive strength and could disrupt the build-up rhythm of Liverpool, while his progressive passing might force Mac Allister to work more in the opposite direction.
Thus, it will be an exciting battle to watch between two technically solid midfielders at Anfield.
#Michail Antonio vs Virgil van Dijk
Michail Antonio and Virgil van Dijk—both tenacious and determined competitors on the park who are not shy to mix it with the opposition in physical duels, this has the makings of a great one-on-one contest.
Van Dijk will be back on Sunday after serving a two-game suspension, replacing the young Jarell Quansah at the heart of Liverpool’s backline. He will have to be at the top of his game to thwart the advances of Antonio, who has bagged two league goals in five outings for the Hammers.
Given West Ham’s counter-attacking style of football, Antonio will wait for his moments to make runs between the Liverpool centre-backs and cause problems. This is something Van Dijk will be wary of and he will need to be defensively sound to deal with the Jamaican.