Undefeated in the league in 2014 and having won nine matches in a row, Liverpool head into their next biggest game of the season leading the league and in a confident mood. A narrow victory over West Ham may not have seen them hit the highs of recent matches against the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United, but in the end it achieved the only thing that really mattered—getting another three points.
"We're really high on confidence," was Jordan Henderson's take following the victory on Sunday afternoon at Boleyn Ground that kept Liverpool top of the table. "We have just got to keep working and training. We need to keep working hard and, as the cliche goes, then just take each game as it comes and keep doing what we are doing. We need to keep going out there and putting on good performances."
West Ham, perhaps unsurprisingly, turned out to be tough opposition, setting up to frustrate and forcing the visiting Reds out of their attacking rhythm. Still, when Steven Gerrard converted a penalty earned by Luis Suarez late in the first half, the lead was well deserved, and few would argue that the final 2-1 scoreline didn't represent the right result on the run of play.
"We have been working really, really well," Henderson added. "Luis did brilliantly for the first goal and for the second one, Lucas puts a great ball in for Flanagan. Overall we have to be delighted with the three points and our performance. We could have had a few more to be fair but, on the other hand, we dealt with the set-plays and the aerial threat really well throughout the game."
For captain Steven Gerrard, the introduction of Lucas Leiva in the second half as part of a tactical shift that saw Liverpool go from shading the game to dominating it for long stretches was particularly noteworthy. Having recently returned from injury, the defensive midfielder showed some attacking flair on the right side of a midfield diamond while occasionally covering for Steven Gerrard when the captain moved forward.
Bringing Lucas into the match helped Liverpool to overload the midfield and pin West Ham, who offered little threat in the wide areas and had a centre back on a yellow card, deep in their own end. It also helped to highlight the flexibility of many of Liverpool's players and the fluidity Brendan Rodgers is seeking while providing the base for the club's headlining attacking stars to shine.
"Lucas came on and deserves a special mention," said Gerrard. "I think there was a lot of pressure on him, the Brazil coach was there to watch him, he hasn't played much of late but he has worked his socks off to get fit. The ball he played for the second goal, people have been raving about Coutinho all year and the passes he has made, and for me that was right up there.
"I think it shows what we have got in this squad now. We have got a bit of everything, a bit of class and skill in Suarez, Sturridge, and Coutinho but we have got some steel, we have got some lads who want to roll their sleeves up and dig in."
With West Ham out of the way, Manchester City and a chance to become the only side with their title destiny in their own hands will give Henderson, Gerrard, and all the rest plenty to dig into this week—and Sunday can't come soon enough.
Correction: Initially, the final set of quotes were erroneously attributed to Jordan Henderson.