West Ham 0
Liverpool 4 Sturridge 35’, Coutinho 57’, 61’, Origi 76’
Liverpool supporters are one immense step closer towards seeing what Jürgen Klopp can do in the Champions League next season, after the Reds put four past West Ham in the penultimate match of this campaign. All that remains is a visit from already-relegated Middlesbrough next weekend, and if Liverpool can hold serve at home with a victory, they will guarantee themselves no worse than fourth in the Premier League - which must be regarded as a significant achievement despite the club’s Jekyll and Hyde form this year.
Before kickoff, this fixture bore all the telltale signs of a disappointing result for Liverpool. Unfancied opposition from the lower half of the table? Check. Wily manager who seems to have Liverpool in his pocket? Check. Key player ruled out just before the match? Check. Unfamiliar formation aimed at shaking things up? Check. And the most ominous sign of all - the notorious Toxic Thunder outfits.
Things did not start off particularly well for Liverpool from the whistle, perhaps a result of the visitors acclimating themselves to the diamond formation in which Klopp had set things up. West Ham, no doubt buoyed by their victory over Tottenham the week before, sensed an opportunity to sow more doubt and disappointment among others with more to play for. Within minutes, a lurking Manuel Lanzini had conspired with Jonathan Calleri to set up Sam Byram in a good position, but the young fullback could not find the target.
Liverpool soon started to find their rhythm, with Adam Lallana showing once again the quickness of movement that was so sorely missed during his injury layoff. Just after ten minutes, a corner off a deflected Lallana shot found Joël Matip free enough to rise above the crowd and direct a header forcefully downwards - so forcefully, in fact, that the attempt somehow bounded off the ground and promptly found the crossbar. It would not be the only time Matip was afforded space to put himself about during a corner.
The increasing fluidity of Liverpool’s play - thanks in no small part to an effervescent Daniel Sturridge, conjuring memories of that season - saw a converse reduction in the level of West Ham’s enterprise. The crucial breakthrough came in the 35th minute, when Coutinho, picking the ball up from deep, spotted Sturridge about to break forward. The two were unwittingly aided by José Fonte, who played Sturridge onside. Racing past the West Ham back line, the Liverpool striker coolly rounded the keeper before slotting home to give the visitors a precious lead.
Liverpool supporters knew better than to relax. The squad’s defenders, without having a disastrous season, have been prone to conceding at the worst possible junctures. They almost did so again here. After Nathaniel Clyne conceded a corner, the ball eluded every single Liverpool defender (as it tends to do) and ended up at the feet of André Ayew, who could only direct his effort off the post from a yard out. Amazingly, the rebound came right back to Ayew, who somehow shuffled the ball past Simon Mignolet but off the post again, allowing the Liverpool keeper to eventually collect.
This was the last action of note during the first half, and proved to be a turning point in the match. From the restart, Liverpool were on the front foot, with Sturridge, Lallana, and Origi combining to test keeper Adrian. West Ham were stuck in a lower gear. Sensing a flood, Slaven Bilić summoned Feghouli and Fletcher on in place of Calleri and Fonte. While Feghouli in particular briefly posed a new threat to Liverpool, the visitors soon doubled their advantage.
The sequence began with Gini Wijnaldum pulverizing the ball with a volleyed effort from well outside the box. It was certainly worthy of a goal, and had it gone in, would be highlight reel material, but Wijnaldum was frustrated by the crossbar. Possession was immediately ceded to Coutinho in his favorite position, and the Brazilian slalomed past a number of defenders before unleashing a cross-body shot into the corner of the net. Liverpool have capitulated from this position in the past, but one sensed that Coutinho’s goal effectively ended this contest.
Liverpool were not done. Minutes later, there was a collision, and perhaps an inadvertent handball from Wijnaldum, who put on his best poker face. While West Ham protested, the visitors rolled upfield in numbers. Coutinho found himself in a central position yet again, but with just the keeper and a defender on the line to beat. He did not disappoint. Three goals to the good, Liverpool played now without inhibition, sensing the chance for a rout.
Fifteen minutes from time, excellent work once again from Sturridge on the right side allowed the striker to pull the ball back for Lallana in the middle. Adrian, aware of the danger, rushed out to neutralize the England midfielder, but the ball bounced to Wijnaldum, whose miskick fell kindly for Divock Origi. Despite yet another none-too-great performance, the Belgian showed good reflexes to redirect the ball home for Liverpool’s fourth. The Reds are now on the cusp of something big, and as their manager said after the match: “one more time, one more game.”