West Ham 3 Lanzini 3', Noble 29', Sakho 92'
Brendan Rodgers repeated his Arsenal selection against West Ham at Anfield, and added Mamadou Sakho as one of his bench options. The 4-3-3 plan had Lucas at it's midfield single pivot flanked by James Milner and Emre Can. Behind him things remained unchanged to start, and Roberto Firmino got his nod to again combine with Philippe Coutinho and Christian Benteke in attack.
And things started brightly for the Reds as an early spell of crisp possession looked like it had a goal in it for the Anfield crowd. That was until West Ham pounced on a poor Martin Skrtel headed clearance, gifting the Hammers a speculative ball into the right channel of the six yard box, right between Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez. The latter then kicked off his worst Reds performance by failing to connect on a clearance and presenting the chance for Argentinean loanee Manuel Lanzini to slot home.
Lanzini would combine with Dimitri Payet to look dangerous on well crafted counterattacks, the focus of which was often that Joe Gomez-Dejan Lovren left side. West Ham were well structured going both ways, and were even catching Lucas Leiva out of place with their transitional fluidity.
For their part, Liverpool spent the immediate aftermath of the first goal looking more or less on par with where they started. Nathaniel Clyne and Roberto Firmino providing the width to allow for Coutinho to drift inside in possession. The best that spell managed was Firmino taking on three defenders to shift a crack onto his left foot, spanking the upright and howling at the sky over the difference of inches. Soon after, the familiar sight of Liverpool's Dejan Lovren going walk about brought the game's decisive blow.
Gomez had continued his shaky start and spaces were appearing all around the Croatian. One such bit of space saw Liverpool's #6 dilly and then dally on the ball long enough to lose control in front of a West Ham press. The gifted possession led to Mark Noble's 12 yard finish to Mignolet's left. The symbiotic relationship Lovren has shared with Gomez had been disrupted by some fairly basic, if effective, attacking and pressing tactics, but Payet, Lanzini, and Diafra Sakho weren't complaining. No word yet on how Diafra's namesake felt about things, but it may be time for the French international to save Rodgers' defense, again.
A Dejan Lovren knock and four minutes of injury time drew a first half to a close that mercifully included no more gaffs defensively for Liverpool, but also had sucked out the spark and pace of Liverpool's passing game.
It was perhaps an effort to re-establish passing rhythm that brought Brendan Rodgers to make his first major in-game tactical shift of the year. Alberto Moreno came on for Emre Can, who was actually one of the only players switched on in defensive transition during the first half. The formational shift to 3-4-3 drew the throttle way back on the game, with Lucas and Milner looking comfortable in the middle, and the decidedly right footed Joe Gomez settled back into a right centerback role. In the end, though, the shift failed to provide the incision further forward that had eluded Liverpool all day.
The attack took another step back when Philippe Coutinho drew a second yellow card at 51' minutes. The reverse angle of the replay appeared to demonstrate a tackle that was more awkward than dangerous, but the Brazilian had been previously booked for dissent, and could do no more than respectfully announce his displeasure and bid Kevin Friend a good day.
Your mileage may vary on the importance of proceedings from that point on, as Liverpool brought Danny Ings on to play an expansive role behind the mum Christian Benteke. Roberto Firmino was arguably Liverpool's best performer on the day, but also appeared visibly leggy around the time Rodgers took him off.
A bit of hope appeared when Mark Noble got sent off for a pretty gnarly encounter with Danny Ings' shinbone. After the Coutinho red card, though, the air had been completely sucked out of the Anfield crowd. From that point on West Ham geared it down and were happy to play slow and pick their spots. The tall, lanky, and Joe Gomez-y Reece Oxford came on for happy camper Manuel Lanzini. Perhaps he's the sort of defensive midfield prospect Liverpool could look to sign with the remaining time left in the transfer window. You just can't get enough of those guys when you're relying on the attacking prowess of mostly defensive players to chase a two goal home deficit, while being a man down.
The pain wasn't over, though, as seven minutes of injury time gave Diafra Sakho more than enough time to find himself in possession at the heart of Liverpool's defense, and deliver a nicely slotted third ball into Simon Mignolet's net.
Hard to argue with the initial selection and plan considering the performance against Arsenal, but as they say in Brazil, quem nao faz leva. You have to finish the chances you make, even when you're not making many. Rodgers may want to reconsider a few things during this international break, though. Like how much longer you want to test the Joe Gomez: LB Experience and predictable form fluctuations that come with any 18 year old playing firmly out of position in his debut Premiership season. Or having Mamadou Sakho on the bench. Or how to balance out the effective right sided width that Clyne and Firmino flashed to good effect. Or paying Dejan Lovren millions to play football.