Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Maxi Kuyt Benayoun
Green (og) 59’
Three-nil and Liverpool rarely left neutral, let alone first gear. Yeah, it was a little worrisome when the team looked lackadaisical until the opener, with Liverpool limited to an early shot by Maxi easily saved by Green. But 19 minutes in, Liverpool struck from a free kick thanks to Gerrard’s delivery and Benayoun’s cleverness, then tallied the necessary second ten minutes later. After that, the reserved display didn’t seem so unpleasant, with minds almost assuredly on the Europa League.
As often this season, I could have drawn the formation differently, with Liverpool sometimes 4-4-2. But Kuyt dropped off Ngog and both Gerrard and Lucas sat deeper than the wingers, with Lucas further forward than Gerrard at first (which switched after the opener). And it initially led to a gap between midfield and attack that West Ham were unable to exploit thanks to Liverpool’s strength in the center.
The team looked most dangerous from set plays, partly due to Gerrard’s dangerous deliveries and partly West Ham’s defense. It led to the first goal (brilliantly chested in by Benayoun avoiding contact with his arm after beating the offside trap), should have led to Liverpool’s second (Kyrgiakos missing a sitter from the captain’s outswinging corner), and did lead to the third, with the aforementioned defender bundling a free kick onto the post that bounced in off Robert Green’s ankle. Meanwhile, West Ham had two shots in the first half, both from Cole. One was an easy save (but excellent catch) by Reina, the other screwed well wide from outside the box.
A great second goal epitomized Liverpool’s willingness to patiently build from defense and West Ham’s willingness to sit back and allow Liverpool to stroll about, hoping to pack the rearguard. Gerrard to Agger to Benayoun, running infield and spreading wide for Maxi, who quickly crossed for Ngog. The striker’s flash to the near post beat England’s Matty Upson and his finish prompted a comparison to Torres from the commentators, with Green getting in front but unable to keep the strong strike out.
From there, Liverpool were home and dry and played like it. And West Ham played like a beaten side ready for a bus ride back to London. Liverpool could have had four penalties, but all were marginal and Walton wasn’t giving anything unless it was stonewall. Kuyt’s 38th minute flick-on bounced off Stanislaus' arm while he was covering Gerrard. Ngog was brought down in the area five minutes later. And Liverpool had two more handball shouts in the 50th and 63rd.
It made little difference, especially after Kyrgiakos forced Green into an own goal less than 15 minutes after the restart. The last half-hour was a formality, for a change, with Mascherano, Degen, and Babel replacing Gerrard, Benayoun, and Ngog.
Even though Liverpool were ineffective for large stretches (although, to be fair, they didn’t have to be on top form), the difference was goals from infrequent scorers. It was the first league goal for either Benayoun or Ngog since December (the first in all competitions for Yossi), while the third came thanks to a center back.
At the same time, Liverpool were excellent on set plays, although we can give some credit to West Ham’s "defending." Two goals, a sitter missed, and two that could have led to penalties. Four of those five deliveries came from the captain. And thanks to the clean sheet, Reina’s back in the lead for the Golden Gloves.
At this stage of the season, especially this season, all you can ask for is three points. Liverpool finally looks to be breaking that Monday hoodoo and actually won a game comfortably. Not a bad way to set up a trip to Madrid for a European semi-final, even if it’s not the preferred competition. It’s still a chance for a trophy.