Liverpool vs. West Ham United Preview: Naby Keita key for Klopp

Liverpool go into the season as second favourites to win the 2018/19 Premier League title. If they are to make their supporters’ long standing dream a reality, they will need to be stronger at home. They may have gone unbeaten at Anfield for only the seventh time in their top flight history in 2017/18, but they also only won 12 times; the Reds only won fewer in nine of the preceding 25 Premier League seasons.

In fairness to Jürgen Klopp, five of their seven draws were against teams who finished in the top eight, and it looks unlikely West Ham will do that well this season. Or won’t they? After all, with four days to go in the transfer window, the Hammers were the second top net spenders behind Liverpool.

The east Londoners also have a new manager in the shape of Manuel Pellegrini, which makes it tricky to know how they’ll play at Anfield on Sunday. The Chilean has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation in five of their six pre-season matches, but the combination of Slaven Bilic and David Moyes only used that system five times in the league last season. The Hammers picked up just one point from those games, so hopefully their new signings perform better than the players they have replaced.

New players will be important for both Liverpool and West Ham

One such man is Jack Wilshere. While concerns about his fitness will never fade away entirely, on a points-per-minutes basis he performed better than every West Ham player last season.

Their big money signing has been Felipe Anderson from Lazio, at £33.5m, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in England. His goal contribution has dwindled since he broke through with 10 goals and seven assists in Serie A in 2014/15.

Liverpool’s most expensive signing has also joined from Italy: goalkeeper Alisson. Kopites will be praying that Brazil’s #1 can improve on the shot stopping capabilities of Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet, but the evidence suggests he may also make an important difference to the Reds’ attack. His distribution in his friendly debut against Napoli drew admiration from throughout the Liverpool fanbase, for starters.

Seven goalkeepers played over 800 minutes in the 2017/18 Champions League and, of those, Alisson amassed the most attacking points on the Twelve algorithm.

Of course, while some attacking input from Alisson would be nice, it’s Naby Keita who has come in and will be expected to provide more. He was Leipzig’s top performer in the Champions League in 2017/18, and only Coutinho, Sturridge and Salah from Klopp’s squad were better on a points-pre-minute basis.

No midfielder from either club bettered the Guinean’s defensive performance, and Jürgen Klopp will be licking his lips at the sight of all those ball recoveries high up the field (which are represented by the red octagons on the chart).

Keita has also linked up well with Sturridge in pre-season, and both will surely feature here. They have been Liverpool’s most creative pairing in their warm up games, with the former setting up the latter for four shots and two goals.

With the Reds front three all back on board then Sturridge will likely begin the game on the bench. However, with six pre-season goals under his belt, he’ll be the first change if Liverpool are chasing the game. As West Ham only picked up three points from trips to the top eight least season though, this should be a comfortable Sunday lunch time for the home side.

Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 West Ham United

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