For as relentlessly energetic as Liverpool were tonight, it largely felt like cruise control for the majority of the match, as David Moyes’ West Ham was swept aside by the points-gathering machine from Merseyside. The Reds have taken 97 points from the last 99 on offer and sit 19 points clear of their nearest competitor in the table.
Here, we’ll dive into winners, losers and some tactical tidbits from the Anfield outfit’s latest three-pointer.
Resounding Team Performances: Alisson Becker is the world’s best goalkeeper and made some very good saves on some very good shots from pretty unremarkable positions tonight, but overall, this win was mostly just a solid team effort. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez locked down the defense, Andy Robertson marauded his Scottish little heart out on the left flank, Jordan Henderson captained, Georginio Wijnaldum controlled, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pressed and harried, and Roberto Firmino magicked, while Mohamed Salah’s sheer quality was enough to decide the game in a few moments.
All the while, one had the feeling that if they had to, this team could simply shift gears and run over their opponents on the night. It is supremely impressive stuff, of the sort that we should make sure we enjoy as much as possible while it lasts.
A Week’s Rest: It’s tricky finding the right balance between playing often enough to stay in rhythm, but not so often that players fall victim to either injury or fatigue. Jürgen Klopp’s Reds typically thrive on a relatively high match frequency, and can look lethargic when coming back from time off, but their injury record this season, paired with a tendency in recent weeks to slow down dramatically in the final 20 minutes or so indicates that it’s probably not a sustainable approach for a full season.
With the entirety of tonight’s starting XI sitting out the weekend’s FA Cup clash with Shrewsbury, however, it seemed as though the balance had been found, for this week, at least, with the Reds looking ravenous, relentlessly chasing down their opponents at every opportunity, and maintaining total control for the full 90 minutes.
Neutral Fans: Despite the professional soundbites coming out of the Reds camp about taking it one game at a time and the league isn’t won until it’s over, and despite Jürgen Klopp spending all his energy ensuring that is exactly what his players believe, the rest of us know that barring some cataclysmic acceleration of climate change, the 2019/20 Premier League trophy is going to have Liverpool engraved on it.
That’s still nearly four months away, which means we can talk about it for four months ahead of time. All of which is to say, anybody who finds Liverpool supporters unbearable in their enjoyment of this — thus far — historic season is in for a long spring.
Fabinho’s Match Fitness: Nothing much to say here. He’ll be back to being the premier defensive midfielder on the planet at some point, but right now Fabinho is so off the pace it’s painful to watch.
As Liverpool’s win streak and incredible points harvest keeps going, the task of figuring out a way to stop the red juggernaut continues unabated. Most teams have figured out that due to the Reds’ reliance on their fullbacks to create, a back five is a useful tool — most recently adopted by Sheffield United, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers — ensuring that a defender is always goalside of their opposite number, rather than a winger tracking back, and ensuring that the centre-backs aren’t outnumbered in their own box by Liverpool’s deadly front line.
Many sides attempted to combine the back five with a high line, in order to congest the middle of the park as well, but the number of gifted long passers in the Liverpool side has made quick work of that strategy in recent weeks, supplying accurate early balls over the top and punishing enthusiastic backlines.
David Moyes’ defensive wrinkle on Wednesday night was to play an extra fullback, with Arthur Masuaku sitting outside Aaron Cresswell and essentially man-marking Trent Alexander-Arnold, pushing up on the 21-year old whenever and wherever he received the ball. It worked, in that the young defender often found himself with precious little time on the ball, and was limited to only a single key pass into the West Ham box.
However, with the flanks well-defended, Jürgen Klopp’s Reds simply adapted, and after a slow half hour that produced only two shots, began to discover the spaces in front of the West Ham defense, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mohamed Salah, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino causing havoc with their movement in the middle, pulling defenders out of position, and ensuring that 78% of the team’s key passes were delivered from the middle third of the pitch.
The hunt for a way to deny the Reds carries on, but whatever the key turns out to be, it appears it will come too late to generate any sort of excitement in the title race this season.
What Happens Next
It’s just a couple of days until Ralph Hassenhüttl’s resurgent Southampton side visit on Saturday, bringing along an in-form Danny Ings ready to put his former employer to the sort, before the much-discussed winter break is interrupted by Shrewsbury Town coming to Anfield to do battle with the Liverpool Under-12s on Tuesday. After that, you’re going to have to wait a full 11 days for your next hit of red magic.
You better find something to do with your time, si what we’re saying. Perhaps it is time to belatedly put on a Christmas classic.