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Reds on alert as top four bid reaches crunch time

London (AFP) – Two victories from their final two matches will book Liverpool’s place in next season’s Champions League, but Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t be taking anything for granted when they face West Ham on Sunday.

Liverpool dropped two points as they were held 0-0 at home by Southampton last weekend, and can be grateful that their fate is still in their own hands thanks to Manchester United’s defeat at Arsenal.

The Reds have already struggled against West Ham this season, recovering from a half-time deficit to earn a 2-2 draw at Anfield in December.

At least they are playing better on their travels than at Anfield at the moment, having won their last three away matches, while their last three home games have yielded no victories and only two points.

Klopp is hopeful midfielder Lucas Leiva and forward Roberto Firmino may be able to overcome injury concerns to play some part in the game, even if they are not involved in the starting line-up at the London Stadium.

Both players have missed training this week because of muscle problems, although Lucas was set to rejoin the squad on Friday and Firmino on Saturday.

Perhaps the most significant bonus for Klopp, though, is the fact that Daniel Sturridge appears to be finally over the injury problems that have troubled him for the best part of three years.

The striker has not played a full 90 minutes for Liverpool all season, but impressed during a brief run-out as a substitute against Southampton and, having recovered from a hip problem, is likely to start at West Ham if Firmino is not risked.

“Daniel is ready. That is good. So far it’s been difficult because you can’t start a player then have to think after 40 minutes: So we have to change?” Klopp said.

“Daniel is a wonderful option to have but it is all about being fit or not. It is not the name we bring on the pitch, it is the player, the human being, in this specific shape. 

“When he was fit he was always a real option for us. And it is again now like this.”

– Banished –

West Ham enjoyed a 1-0 home win against Tottenham last week, a result that banished any lingering fears of being dragged back into a relegation fight.

Hammers manager Slaven Bilic was keen to replicate that energetic performance against Liverpool.

“We are preparing and planning to do something similar,” he said. 

“There are a lot of similarities between those two sides.

“We still have two games and we are very ambitious that we get six points and climb up the table.”

Bilic does not have a full-strength squad to choose from however as captain Mark Noble and fellow midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate both require surgery.

Noble has been playing through the pain barrier despite a hernia while Kouyate has been operating since January with a damaged wrist.

Michail Antonio, who has just signed a new, four-year deal, had already been ruled out, along with midfielder Pedro Obiang. 

Andy Carroll has not recovered from a groin problem in time to face his former team.

Carroll has been dogged by injury problems, many of which have sidelined him for months, since leaving Anfield.

“This has nothing to do with lifestyle or not being committed enough,” Bilic said. “He works really hard, it was bad luck and I will never give up on him.

“On the other hand it is no good having a player and you can’t rely on him.”

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