West Ham 1 - 1 Liverpool
West Ham: Antonio 28’
Liverpool: Mané 22’
With Manchester City dismantling Arsenal on Sunday, the pressure was on Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool to get a result away at West Ham, but — as against Leicester in midweek — the Reds were unable to get out of first gear, looking off the pace and dropping another two points in the ever tightening title race.
A return to fullback duty for James Milner and a surprise start for Adam Lallana — his fourth in the league since the start of last season — raised a few eyebrows, as did the absence of Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson from the matchday squad, but Klopp’s side contained enough firepower that Mauricio Pellegrini’s West Ham should be a surmountable obstacle.
The Hammers had clearly watched their visitors’ previous outing, however, and took a page from Leicester City, harrying their opposition at every opportunity and looking to create chances on the break. In the third minute, Chicharito latched onto a Mark Noble pass in the box at the end of a quick break, but the Mexican’s effort slipped just past Alisson’s far post.
The Reds poured forward and looked in the ascendancy, but the pressure never amounted to anything of note, and in the tenth minute, another warning shot was loosed, this time through a long-range Aaron Cresswell effort that missed the target by inches. Chicharito struck from range once more five minutes later, this time forcing Alisson into a save, before a deflected pass from Keïta at the other end fell to Roberto Firmino, but the Brazilian’s tame effort was easily collected by an untroubled Lukasz Fabianski.
Halfway through the frame, the Reds took the lead through a slice of horrific refereeing. Lallana looked to have left it too late as he dribbled down the flank and belatedly released the ball to Milner, but the linesman failed to take note of the former City man’s offside position and Milner picked out Sadio Mane in the area. The Senegalese attacker turned on a dime and swung his left leg at the ball, burying it in the far corner with his third goal in three games.
A sweeping attacking move minutes later nearly saw the Reds break through again, as Mané and Mohamed Salah combined, finding Keïta with a cutback, who in turn backheeled the ball to a streaking Andrew Robertson, but the Scot’s cross was cut out at the last second.
Some sloppy possession play saw the Reds give up a soft free kick outside their own box around the half hour mark, and a clever pass down the channel found Michail Antonio, who equalised with a neat finish in off the far post.
The rest of the half was a frustrating one for the Reds, as they failed to create clear cut openings, while their hosts tormented them with well-prepared set pieces that made the high Liverpool line look extremely perilous. Declan Rice should have put the Hammers in front two minutes from time, but somehow put his point blank header over the bar.
The Reds offered up a rare set piece threat of their own at the death, but Mané’s header was straight at Fabianski.
Just like against Leicester in midweek, the expectation was that Liverpool would come flying out of the gates in the second half, and just like against Leicester, they sputtered. Mohamed Salah created a few opening for himself, but both shots were sent straight at the waiting Fabianski, and despite their copious possession, the visitors were unable to generate quality chances.
Mark Noble nearly put the hosts in front fifteen minutes from time, as he collected the ball from a Felipe Anderson handball in the Reds box, but the West Ham captain blazed the effort over the bar.
Despite struggling for the entirety of the half, the visitors nearly won it at the death through another linesman mistake, as Naby Keïta drove forward and chipped the ball to an offsides Divock Origi, but the ball wouldn’t sit up for the Belgian, and his mis-hit effort was no challenge for the goalkeeper.
Six games into 2019, Liverpool have only managed two wins — both by one goal to bottom-half sides — and have seen their lead at the top of the table cut to three points. The attack — Sadio Mané notwithstanding — is sputtering, while the historic defensive record has begun to crack as second- and third-string solutions have been introduced.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth are next, coming off their 4-0 thumping of Chelsea, and if Liverpool are to avoid ramping up the pressure on themselves, a convincing win before the Champions League knockouts begin is sorely needed.