Liverpool 2: Lallana 5’, Origi 48’
West Ham 2: Payet 27’, Antonio 39’
West Ham United have developed a recent and rather nasty habit (from the perspective of Liverpool supporters, anyway) of taking points from the red half of Merseyside, whether they’re at Anfield or in London. Slaven Bilić’s side had a perfect record against Liverpool in the league last season, and also managed to eliminate Jürgen Klopp’s squad from the FA Cup for good measure.
The London club were tipped to do great things in 2016-17, but things haven’t quite worked out according to plan. Instead of challenging for a place in Europe, West Ham have been mired in a debilitating struggle to claw their way out of the relegation spots. Their back four has done a fair impression of a sieve, and some of their leading lights from the prior year have labored to reproduce the form that saw West Ham finish 7th (ahead of Liverpool, in case anyone forgot).
Jürgen Klopp almost certainly did not forget, and the manager went to great pains to remind everyone prior to this match that whenever things decide to click for West Ham, they are capable of some very dangerous football. With the sting of the Bournemouth defeat still fresh, Liverpool started this contest with everything dialed up to eleven, determined to put the result beyond doubt before West Ham rediscovered even a glimmer of the confidence that the visitors were able to call upon.
And start well they did. Within five minutes, the effervescent trio of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Divock Origi had danced their way past a static West Ham rearguard before finding Adam Lallana in the box. With defenders around him, the mercurial midfielder shaped to shoot instantly and directed ball past a helpless Darren Randolph.
It was a perfect start for the hosts, who showed no sign of letting up. The goalscorer Lallana, only recently returned from injury, added an element that had clearly been missing for Liverpool, acting as a constantly moving focal point for Liverpool’s attacks. The Anfield crowd, sensing the mood of the players on the pitch, was in full voice, and the men in red stormed forward at every opportunity.
There was an early sign that West Ham had crafted a plan to exploit Liverpool’s vulnerabilities. Just minutes after the opening goal, a ball lumped forward from deep in the visitor’s half found Michail Antonio with just Dejan Lovren in the vicinity. Antonio’s shot was parried, and nothing came from the ensuing corner, but the move put Liverpool supporters on notice that this wouldn’t be quite a stroll in the park.
Back and forth things went. Jordan Henderson’s ability to find and release James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne quickly meant West Ham remained on the back foot for the opening phases, yet one sensed that Antonio and Payet might trouble Liverpool’s defence once fatigue became more of a factor. In the end, West Ham didn’t have to wait that long at all.
The equalizer can in the 26th minute. Lallana gave away a free kick in a position that was tailor made for Payet to do his thing, and the French international obliged. Questions will have been asked of Loris Karius’ positioning on the free kick, but despite guessing Payet’s intent correctly, the German keeper was unable to get to the shot. From the stands, former keepers Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelaar tried hard not to wince, but it was about to get worse for Karius and for the hosts.
Just over ten minutes after equalizing, a fortuitous deflection saw the ball careen high into the air towards a racing Antonio. Joël Matip, who otherwise did everything you would want out of a central defender on this day, misjudged the bounce, and Antonio was free against an onrushing Karius. Probably the wrong decision on the part of the keeper, as it turned out. Karius was caught in no man’s land, and Antonio had an unfussy finish to give West Ham the lead, eliciting a wry smile from Klopp.
To their credit, and perhaps sensing the elevated temperatures emanating from their manager, Liverpool poured forward yet again in search of an equalizer. There were shouts for a penalty after some argy-bargy between Lallana and Payet in the box, but despite piling on the pressure, Klopp’s side went into the tunnel a goal down at halftime.
When they re-emerged, Ragnar Klavan was called upon to replace Dejan Lovren, the latter apparently having sustained a minor knock. Liverpool started the second half much as they finished the first, and within three minutes of the restart, found themselves on level terms. This time, it was West Ham’s keeper with a dreadful mistake: Randolph made a mess of a simple cross, and the ball fell to the feet of Divock Origi, who gratefully accepted the gift.
The contest suddenly went from an angry simmer into a full boil. Shortly after the equalizer, Wijnaldum and Origi again came close to reclaiming the lead for Liverpool, with Mané, Firmino, and Lallana again working tirelessly to deny West Ham any breathing room. Even when the hosts understandably slowed down to catch their collective breaths, West Ham were unable to maintain any meaningful possession, opting instead to lump the ball in the general direction of Matip and Klavan, who comfortably dealt with everything thrown their way.
The indefatigable Milner was an immense weapon in Liverpool’s toolkit today. The veteran spent almost the entire match at full speed, racing to find space, racing to deny space, time and time again acting as an outlet for Henderson but also finding teammates in good positions. The only thing missing was a telling final ball: despite more hard running from Origi, Mané, and Wijnaldum, some poor decision-making in the final third let West Ham off the hook.
The visitors brought on Andy Carroll to give Liverpool a different element to worry about, but despite the stadium’s polite applause, the substitution did little to change the tenor of the match. West Ham were still very much pinned back, but holding firm against a Liverpool side running out of ideas. There was time for Henderson to attempt a carbon copy reproduction of his thunderbolt against Chelsea, but this time Randolph was up to the task, denying the captain with a great save.
With energy levels running low, Liverpool were reduced to crosses from Milner and Clyne on the left and right flanks respectively, but West Ham’s defenders and Randolph were first to every ball. The hosts, despite continuing to produce some tantalizingly fluid football in the final phases of the match, were perhaps guilty of trying to be too cute at the wrong moments, and not attacking crossed balls aggressively enough in others.
Some neat interplay allowed an ever-willing and industrious Clyne to have sight of the goal, but his shot was well over. The visitors rode out a furious flurry of final attacks from Liverpool, and Mark Clattenburg signaled the end of proceedings. Next up for Liverpool is a visit to Middlesborough, currently West Ham’s neighbors in the table. Liverpool supporters will hope to avoid dropping more points as the holiday fixture crunch kicks into high gear.