Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for the day's late FA Cup
kickoff as Liverpool and West Ham United
face off for the third time this season in a repeat of the classic 2006 final. A place in the fifth round is up for grabs at Anfield today, so there is plenty to play for. Let's start with a look at the two teams...
LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Caulker, Lovren, Smith, Stewart, Allen, Brannagan, Ibe, Teixeira, Benteke
LIVERPOOL SUBS: Ward, Enrique, Ilori, Chirivella, Sinclair, Ojo, Randall
WEST HAM STARTING XI: Randolph, Tomkins, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Obiang, Song, Kouyate, Moses, Payet, Valencia
WEST HAM SUBS: Howes, O'Brien, Collins, Oxford, Cullen, Antonio, Jelavic
Before we take a more in-depth look at those two teams, let's focus first on the home side. Today is the end of a very busy January for Liverpool which has seen them play eight matches before this one, and victory here would ensure that they play at least seven more times in February too. It has been a gruelling schedule, and there is an argument to say that they haven't handled it particularly well.
Consistency has been the main problem for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp
so far, and the last two matches are perhaps the best indication of that so far. The Reds hit five past Norwich in their nine-goal thriller last weekend, continuing their recent improvement in front of goal but also seemingly completely forgetting how to defend at the other end of the pitch.
Just a few days later, it looked like a completely different Liverpool side that came up against Stoke in the semi-final of the League Cup. Suddenly they carried no threat whatsoever going forward, yet looked solid defensively. The only shot on target they conceded came from an offside position, which gave Stoke their goal, but at the other end of the pitch they didn't have a shot on target themselves until the first minute of extra time. Neither performance was exactly impressive, but the difference between both attack and defence in just three days will certainly be a head-scratcher for Klopp.
Liverpool ended up losing that match 1-0, although their first-leg victory by the same scoreline back at the Britannia Stadium meant that the tie went all the way to penalties. Mignolet proved to be the hero with a couple of good saves, allowing Joe Allen to plant the winning spot kick right into the top corner and book a trip to Wembley on February 28, where Liverpool will face Manchester City.
It will be a good chance for Klopp to claim a piece of silverware just four months into his Anfield reign, especially after Brendan Rodgers failed to pick up a single trophy during his time in charge, and it will not doubt whet the appetite to go far in this competition too. Liverpool have only lost one of their last nine FA Cup games, with that coming in last season's semi-final, although they have also only won one of their last four against fellow top-flight teams.
These cup competitions will gain greater importance the more than fluctuate in form in the league too. They are currently eight points off the top four which, with Spurs in good form at the moment and the three above them looking good bets for a Champions League spot, is a big ask to make up. The Europa League comes back into play next month too, which will be another thing for Klopp to worry about when it comes to keeping his squad fresh, and that competition may well be their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season now.
Klopp's progress in the cup competitions has not exactly been smooth sailing so far, but he has got the job done on each occasion. Liverpool needed a replay to get past League Two side Exeter City in the third round of this competition, drawing 2-2 at St James' park before cruising to a 3-0 victory back at Anfield. That latter result made it eight consecutive FA Cup home matches without defeat, while they haven't lost in normal time here since 2008. On top of that, they have kept clean sheets in their last four FA Cup outings at Anfield, with the last visiting player to score being Peter Crouch for Stoke in March 2012.
West Ham's first task will be to end that record, then, but Anfield will hold no fear for them anymore. The Hammers had been without a victory here since 1963 before this season, but their stunning 3-0 triumph back in August - Liverpool's first defeat of the season - ended that long hoodoo. They went on to complete the league double over the Reds for the first time in 52 years, so have the chance to make it three from three today.
They come into the match in decent form too. They have won four of their last six outings in all competitions and have lost just one of their last 11, although six of those games have ended as draws. You'd have to think that Slaven Bilic
would be content enough with a draw here today, though. It would, of course, add another fixture to their schedule, but taking the Reds to a replay back at Upton Park would be a decent result.
The big concern for West Ham at the moment will be their away form, which certainly didn't seem like it would be the case at the start of the season. Their opening three away games saw them take maximum points off Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, and still only three teams in the Premier League have picked up more points on the road this season. The Hammers also have a better away record than home record in the league this season.
However, their form on the road has taken a turn for the worse in recent months. Since that win at the Etihad, which capped off a remarkable trio of results, West Ham have won just two of 10 away games in all competitions, dropping points against the likes of Sunderland, Swansea, Aston Villa and Newcastle in that run. It is only one win in their last seven on the road, and they certainly don't seem to be the travelling force that they were on their last visit to Anfield.
That theme continues into the FA Cup too. Victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate in last season's fourth round is their only away FA Cup victory in seven years - a run that includes six defeats and only three goals scored in eight games. Home and away, they had only won one of their last nine FA Cup games inside 90 minutes before this season, and they haven't beaten a top-flight team in this competition since their run all the way to the final in 2006.
That 2006 final defeat to Liverpool, which I will talk about in more detail a little later, was the closest they have got to a trophy in some time, but many fans will believe that they have a real chance this year. They are certainly more than holding their own in the Premier League this season, sitting sixth in the table and just six points off the top four. They are two clear of Liverpool heading into this match and, while last season they drifted away in the second half of the season, the current crop certainly appears to have a little more staying power.
They come into this match off the back of a decent 2-2 draw against Manchester City, although Bilic may feel that it should have been even better for his side. They took the lead inside the very first minute at Upton Park, only to be quickly pegged back by Aguero. Valencia then added his second of the game 10 minutes into the second half, but once again they were unable to hang on to their lead as Aguero saved City for a second time, rescuing a point in the 81st minute.
Right, let's take a look at these teams, shall we? They were always likely to be interesting, with cup competitions inviting the chance to test the squad's fringe players but the opposition demanding a strong team. Both sides have gone for a bit of a mixture in that respect, with Liverpool bringing in the likes of Smith, Stewart, Brannagan and Teixeira into their starting lineup.
It is a completely different back four to the one that saw Liverpool through to the League Cup final, with Clyne, who missed that game with a knee injury, returning in place of Flanagan. Caulker is handed his full debut for the club at the back, having been mainly used as a makeshift striker so far, while Lovren also makes his return from injury. Smith makes up the back four, replacing Moreno in the side.
Just as in the last game against Exeter, Klopp has made 10 changes in all to his side for this evening's match. Mignolet is the only player to keep his place in the side once again following his penalty shootout heroics at Anfield on Tuesday night, but aside from that it is all change. There is more first-team experience than there was in either game against Exeter, but there are also some big players missing.
The changes does mean that Christian Benteke gets another chance to show Klopp what he can do, with the big striker having been unable to nail down a regular starting role under the German so far. Worse than that, Klopp appears to have settled on a preferred lineup that includes Firmino in a false nine role, so Benteke has some work to do to prove that he should lead the line in a first-choice side.
© Getty Images
As for the Hammers, Bilic has also made a number of changes, although it would be fair to say that his lineup bears a closer resemblance to what he would consider first choice than Liverpool's does. Randolph is given the gloves in goal ahead of Adrian, while in front of him Tomkins and Ogbonna come into the back four, while Reid and Cresswell retain their places.
In all, the visitors have made five changes to the side that drew with Man City last time out, with the other two of those coming in midfield. Song, Kouyate and the brilliant Payet retain their places in the side, but Noble and Michail Antonio, both of whom had question marks over the fitness for today, drop out. Obiang and Moses come in for them, with the latter facing his former club this evening.
Enner Valencia once again leads the line for the Hammers, and with the likes of Carroll and Sakho currently sidelined, Bilic will be delighted that Valencia has found form recently. He scored a brace against Man City to take his recent tally to four goals in his last three games for the club - that coming after a run of seven games without scoring.
Even with Valencia in that form, there is little doubting who West Ham's star turn is at the moment. Payet has been in magnificent form since his summer arrival, with £10m looking like being one of the bargains of the season. Bilic recently said that no money in the world would convince him to sell Payet this month, but you can be sure that a number of bigger clubs have been alerted to his form. His season was interrupted by a lengthy injury, but since then he has picked up exactly where he left off.
© Getty Images
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff at Anfield, which means that it is time for a prediction! This really is a tough one to call. West Ham have beaten Liverpool twice this season and should be fresher than the Reds, although Klopp's changes should nullifying that point to some extent. Klopp has generally got things done in the cup so far this season, though, so I'm going to go for a 2-1 home victory.
I have already mentioned West Ham's double over Liverpool this season, but it was the manner of those performances more than the result which were so impressive. The Hammers deserved both victories and were fairly comfortable on each occasion. It was a 3-0 win here at Anfield back in August courtesy of goals from Lanzini, Noble and Sakho, while earlier this month Antonio and Carroll gave Bilic's side a 2-0 victory.
That makes it three wins in the last four meetings between these two sides for West Ham, but it is a different story when it comes to this competition. Liverpool have not lost any of their previous six FA Cup meetings with the Hammers, winning four and drawing two of those.
The most recent - and most famous - of those FA Cup meeting came in the final 10 years ago. It was the last FA Cup final to be played at the Millennium Stadium, and both these sides ensured that it went out with a bang, putting on arguably the most entertaining final in recent years. Steven Gerrard was the star of the show, though, scoring twice, including a sensational last-minute equaliser in what he himself described as his greatest performance for the club. The game finished 3-3, and Liverpool went on to win on penalties.
© Getty Images
That was the seventh and last time that Liverpool won the FA Cup, while West Ham have not reached the final or come close to winning silverware since Gerrard snatched it from their grasp. The Hammers have won this trophy three times before, but the last of those was in 1980.
KICKOFF: Here we go, then! Liverpool get us underway as they look to book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and avoid a third defeat to West Ham this season.
Liverpool have made the brighter start to this match, playing at a decent tempo in the opening exchanges and putting West Ham under some early pressure.
Liverpool's youngsters are looking confident on the ball in the opening stages here, while also getting about the West Ham players when they do lose the ball. Klopp will be pleased with the opening five minutes.
West Ham win a corner from their first attack of the game, but it is dealt with by Liverpool and they immediately look to break. Obiang does well to stop that, but Liverpool come right back through Ibe before Brannagan fires one well over.
Lovely football from West Ham as they string a few quick, one-touch passes together inside the Liverpool having and into the area. However, Caulker sweeps up well to deal with the danger.
CLOSE! Put nothing past the scamp Payet. Everyone is expecting a cross from the deep free kick, but instead he tries to catch Mignolet out by going directly for goal. Mignolet looks like he has it covered as it skins the outside of the post, but he would have been worried initially there.
Another good move from West Ham as they work the ball out to the left, where Cresswell is in space. He should either shoot or cross first time, but he seems to change his mind at the last second and mis-controls the ball.
West Ham have settled into this match now, with Liverpool's tempo dropping after that bright start to the game. The visitors are seeing plenty of the ball now and looking pretty comfortable.
Valencia looks to continue his recent good form as Moses feeds a low ball into the striker, whose first touch keeps it away from the defender. He never looks fully in control, however, and the referee awards a handball against him after the ball popped up against his arm.
CHANCE! The first real chance of the match falls to the visitors and Valencia again. The cross arrived from Cresswell on the left and Valencia has plenty of space in the middle. However, he completely misjudges the flight of the ball and can only nod it back out to the wing. That is a very presentable chance that has gone begging.
Not much to shout about from a Liverpool perspective in the opening 20 minutes. The hosts started the game quickly enough, but Randolph has been so far untroubled in the Liverpool goal.
Liverpool try to play out from the back, knocking it between the defenders and Mignolet. West Ham close in, and Mignolet invites more pressure by putting a terrible pass straight out of play.
Much better from Liverpool as Ibe spark a quick break forward. He eventually plays a one-two with Teixeira before drilling a low cross into the box that is cleared behind for a corner.
OFF THE LINE! The resulting corner is met by the head of Benteke, who directs his effort towards the bottom corner. However, Cresswell is there on the post to hack it away.
CHANCE! Another set play causes West Ham problems here, this time from a free kick. Brannagan floats the ball towards the back post and Benteke does well to get anything on it, just nudging it into the arms of Randolph.
Very important piece of goalkeeping from Randolph, who is quick off his line to deny Benteke a clear chance. Teixeira threaded the ball through towards his striker, but Randolph got there first.
Half a chance at the other end now as a deep cross arrives from the left towards the back post, where Kouyate is waiting. He tries to nod it back into the middle and claims that the ball struck a Liverpool arm in the midst of it all. It is a half-hearted appeal, though, and on first viewing it didn't look like a penalty.
The ball was nodded back across goal towards Smith, and it does strike the defenders arm, but there was no distance between the players and he had his back to the ball too. Correct decision from Martin Atkinson to wave the claims away.
Liverpool have sparked into life again in the last five minutes or so, playing some nice football once again. Their latest bout of pressure comes to an end when Kouyate gets a free kick and a knock to the head when bravely defending a corner.
It's Tomkins's turn to take a blow to the head here, clashing with Allen in an aerial battle. It looks like a painful one for the West Ham defender, but he should be able to continue once the blood is all cleaned up.
Liverpool are enjoying the better of things right now, and they are playing against 10 men at the moment. Tomkins has headed down the tunnel, presumably to get that cut seen to.
SAVE! Brilliant save from Randolph to keep Brannagan out! It is good play from the Liverpool youngster as he carries the ball forward and lets fly with a powerful effort towards the corner, but Randolph manages to get a fingertip to it and turn it wide.
WEST HAM SUB: Tomkins is not going to be able to continue after all, and he is replaced by Joey O'Brien.
WEST HAM SUB: The visitors are now being forced into a second early change, with former Everton man Nikica Jelavic booed onto the field to replace Kouyate, who presumably has picked up an injury.
Neither side can really say that they've got going in an attacking sense so far here. Both have had chances, but only Randolph has been forced into stretching himself when he tipped Brannagan's effort wide.
Reid hauls Teixeira back on the edge of the box to hand Liverpool a free kick in a very promising position...
Brannagan goes for goal but slams his effort straight into the wall. He lifts it back into middle, and Randolph punches, before it is hoisted up high once again. Randolph is underneath it once more, but Allen knocks into him and West Ham win a free kick.
Interesting situation here as West Ham want a back-pass, with Smith knocking it back to Mignolet, who picks it up. The referee says no, but that certainly looked like one!
CLOSE! Almost the opener for West Ham, and it would have been some strike. A ball into the box is cleared, but goes up rather than out. It drops to Obiang on the edge of the box and he goes for a first-time volley, but fires he low strike narrowly wide.
We are into the second of three added minutes at the end of this first half, by the way.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 0-0 West Ham United
Martin Atkinson brings an end to the first half at Anfield, then, and we're still goalless between Liverpool and West Ham United. It hasn't been the best game so far, in truth, with neither side really able to get going in attack during that opening 45 minutes. The fifth round beckons for one of these sides, however, so there is likely to be plenty more to come in the next 45.
© Getty Images
Perhaps the closest we have come to goal came for Liverpool when Brannagan drilled a well-struck effort towards the corner that looked destined to nestle in the back of the net. Randolph did brilliantly to stretch out and tip it wide, though.
There haven't been many clear-cut chances for either side in truth, but Liverpool's best aside from Brannagan's effort all fell to Benteke. He flicked one half-chance on from a corner that was cleared off the line, although the ball was heading wide anyway and there were no Liverpool players waiting to knock it in. Moments later Benteke had another effort at the back post, but Ogbonna did just enough to prevent the striker getting enough on the ball.
West Ham's best chance of the match fell to Valencia when he was left unmarked in the middle from a Cresswell cross. However, the striker completely mis-timed his run, got too far ahead of the ball and could only nod it back from whence it came. For a striker who has scored four goals in his last three games it was a real chance, and he would have expected to do better having lost his marker.
The Hammers have also come close through Obiang's fine volley from the edge of the box. The ball dropped to him after Liverpool had half-cleared a cross into the box, and he did well to keep his effort down, but it flew just a yard or so past the post.
KICKOFF: West Ham get us back underway for the second half at Anfield as they look to make it three wins from three over Liverpool this season. No changes for either side at the break, but West Ham have already been forced into two subs through injuries.
Nothing to shout about in the opening exchanges of the second half here, with both sides settling into the game fairly quickly again.
CHANCE! Set pieces have been Liverpool's Achilles' heel under Klopp, and they are almost undone again here. Payet's delivery is a good one and Liverpool don't deal with it as the ball drops into a dangerous areas. There are plenty of players in there, but Liverpool scramble it clear.
SHOT! Clyne looks to open the scoring in spectacular fashion with a strike from range, but the ball swerves narrowly over the top.
West Ham come forward but Valencia dithers on the ball and is dispossessed on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, and the hosts quickly break. They get in behind West Ham's defence, but Stewart is eventually crowded out.
In that scramble a few minutes ago, the replays show that the ball actually hit the arm of Caulker in the midst of it all, and it could well have been a penalty. It may have been a little harsh, but had Martin Atkinson seen that they he would have had a decision to make.
YELLOW CARD! Lovren becomes the first name in the book, and he can have no complaints after clattering into Moses.
The resulting free kick catches the wind a little, which takes it away from the West Ham players in the middle and into the arms of Mignolet. Again Liverpool look to break, with Smith coming forward down the left, but his final pass is too heavy.
There simply has not been enough quality in the final third so far this evening. Payet is arguably the most creative player on the pitch at the moment, but he has been very quiet in open play.
CHANCE! Chance for Joe Allen, who has been in good scoring form recently. Clyne drove forward from the right before playing a pass across the edge of the box, which Allen walked on to in space. However, he leans back when going for goal and sends it well over the top.
Good hounding from Liverpool as they catch Payet in possession deep inside the West Ham half. They immediately feed the ball into the feet of Benteke, who has a bit of space. He in turn tries to give it to Allen, but the cross back into the middle is intercepted.
SAVE! Liverpool's threat is growing here! Benteke lifts the ball into the path of Smith, who in turn cuts it back to Teixeira. The ball sits up nicely for him and he catches his shot well, but Randolph is there to turn it behind.
Again Liverpool come forward with a good move that sees the ball clipped over to Clyne breaking into the box. He tries to knock it back across goal, but the cross is cut out. The ball eventually arrives back out to Smith, but he drills an ambitious long-range strike well off target.
CHANCE! Another chance for Liverpool and Benteke! The ball drops to Stewart outside the area and he volleys one towards goal that is bobbling wide. However, Benteke pops up at the back post to meet it, but he can't sort his feet out in time and a half-chance goes begging. It was a difficult opening, but he just wasn't sharp enough.
WEST HAM SUB: The visitors make their third and final change of the match as Michail Antonio replaces Moses.
CHANCE! Another chance for the home side here as first Allen appears to be obstructed when going for a bicycle kick in the area, while second later the ball is worked out to the left channel, where Teixeira has a sight of goal. However, Randolph has his angles right to deny Teixeira again at the near post.
SAVES! Oh my word, West Ham are holding on by the skin of their teeth here! Randolph makes a fine triple save to keep Liverpool at bay, denying Benteke twice and smothering an Allen effort. Benteke perhaps should have passed the ball to Teixeira, which would have been the better option, but not many strikers would have done that. Still, a golden chance goes begging.
Liverpool have certainly asked more of the questions in this second half, with West Ham barely threatening at all since that scramble in the opening stages. Still no goals, though, and as things stand it will be yet another replay for Liverpool.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Liverpool make their first change of the evening as Sheyi Ojo replaces Ibe.
Concern for Liverpool here as Teixeira is caught a little late by Song and needs treatment. It wasn't a foul from the West Ham man, but it looked to be a clash of knees and Teixeira felt it. He should be fine to carry on, though.
Almost a chance for West Ham from Antonio's long throw. Mignolet comes a long way to try to punch it, but he gets nowhere near enough on the ball and it drops into a dangerous area. There is a hint of a penalty shout as the ball is eventually scrambled away, but it is waved away.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Another change for the hosts as Brannagan is replaced by Jerome Sinclair.
Very important block from Caulker as West Ham break forward down the right after good work from O'Brien. The ball is played in to Antonio, who also does really well to keep hold of it, but his low strike is blocked by Caulker.
LIVERPOOL SUB: A third and final change for the hosts, and it is a defensive one as Teixeira is replaced by Jose Enrique.
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.
There is confusion here as Antonio sends a header against the post, but Martin Atkinson blows for a foul from the West Ham man. Initially it is unclear why Atkinson blew up, but he saw that as a foul from Antonio.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 0-0 West Ham United
It ends goalless at Anfield, then, as Liverpool add yet another match to their fixture schedule. They will return to the Boleyn Ground one last time for the replay next month, and victory in that game would ensure that they play at least eight times in February, having now played nine games this month. Neither side had enough cutting edge in truth, although Liverpool created the chances without being clinical enough in front of goal. Randolph made a number of key stops for the visitors, but Klopp will feel that his side should have won the game.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's later FA Cup kickoff, and it results in a replay as neither Liverpool nor West Ham could trouble the scorers. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction from both camps. There is also more FA Cup action live with us tomorrow, so check back in for that! From me, though, it is goodbye for now!