Liverpool’s attacking dynamism was evident as they ran out 4-0 winners over a tactically inept West Ham side in their first Premier League fixture of 2018/19 with goals from Salah, Sturridge and a brace for Sadio Mané.
Liverpool started in a typically fast manner, with much awaited new signing Naby Keita and old sage James Milner buzzing around the pitch and getting on the ball in dangerous positions.
Liverpool’s pressure told in the 19th minute when star man Mo Salah put a disappointing World Cup behind him to tap in a cross from Andrew Robertson, following a jinking run by Keita.
Fine saves by debutant Fabianski kept the Hammers in the game as Liverpool piled on the pressure. He first touched an Alexander-Arnold freekick around the post before stopping Salah from point-blank range. He could do nothing though as Sadio Mané doubled Liverpool’s lead on the stroke of half-time. The West Ham defenders stood statuesque as Andrew Robertson crossed to Milner who squared for the Senegalese to poke into an empty net.
Pellegrini made a change at half-time with Snodgrass replacing Rice, but this did little to stem the tide of Liverpool attacks. Antonio had half a chance at the back post for West Ham before Mané got his second goal of the game to make it 3-0. Firmino danced through a couple of half-hearted West Ham challenges before delicately slipping the ball through to Mané, who fired expertly into the corner of the net.
Daniel Sturridge put the icing on the cake in the 88th minute when he tapped in at the far post with his first touch after coming on as a late substitute.
There were some very strange tactics employed by Manuel Pellegrini in his first competitive game as West Ham boss. They held a consistently high line in an attempt to catch Liverpool’s flying front three offside, which didn’t work. With new defensive signings Balbuena and Fredericks included, the West Ham back-line has had very little chance to gel, and it showed. Anyone who watched Liverpool last season should have recognised that leaving space in behind for the pace of Mané and Salah to exploit, is exactly what not to do.
Declan Rice looked lost in the first half. A natural centre-back employed as a defensive midfielder, opponents Keita and Milner consistently found space in front of the West Ham’s defensive line and were able to feed Liverpool’s formidable front trio at will.
Colombian Carlos Sanchez was signed on deadline day for West Ham, and will slot in alongside Mark Noble in future games. Some added steel in that central midfield is a necessity if West Ham have any real hope of success this season.
Liverpool’s front six swarmed all over West Ham when they were in possession and the Irons failed to get their influential attacking players into the game. Arnautovic looked lost up front with little support and whilst new signings Felipe Anderson and Jack Wilshere had moments of joy, they failed to put any real pressure on Liverpool’s back four and £65 million goalkeeper Alisson, who went untested.
Liverpool have been touted by many as genuine title contenders alongside Manchester City. Fans will have been buoyed by this performance, with the familiar high-press of Jürgen Klopp employed to good effect and new signing Naby Keita looking as though he was made to wear the number 8 shirt.
Liverpool started this season as they finished the last, creating loads of chances and scoring a handful of them. The concern again will be whether they are able to maintain defensive stability while playing the aggressive, free-flowing, attacking football we have come to expect under Jürgen Klopp. Such was the lack of attacking threat from their opponents in this game, we are none the wiser.
Offside, but no VAR
The third Liverpool goal was the only real point of controversy in the game, with Sadio Mané clearly offside having been slipped in by Firmino on the edge of the box. A really poor decision by the linesman but one that ultimately didn’t affect the result.
There are still many critics of VAR, particularly following the penalty incident in the World Cup final, but the lack of a review system in the Premier League this season does make it seem like we are falling behind the times, with La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga all employing some sort of decision review process.
Calls for VAR will only intensify should poor decisions like the one seen at Anfield continue to materialise.
Man of the Match
James Milner put in a typically dogged performance, with no lack of quality against West Ham to earn him the Man of the match award. One of the most consistent Premier League performers of his generation, he is a player who in the past has been labelled as being functional rather than having true star quality. At the age of 32, under the stewardship of Jürgen Klopp, the Yorkshireman has produced the best football of his career in the past two seasons. His work rate, allied with his monopoly over possession makes him an ideal midfielder in Klopp’s high energy set-up.
With an embarrassment of riches in central midfield following the signings of Keita and Fabinho he may be reduced to appearances from the bench and starts in cup competitions as the season continues. He is however, one of those players that every manager would want in their squad. He can play in any position on the field with a minimum of fuss and will produce 7 or 8 out of 10 performances in almost every game he plays.
Against West Ham he popped up all over the field, sniffing out the space in which he could deliver a key pass or an incisive through-ball. A top class performance.
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