Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Gerrard 2’ 38’
Like the last match against Newcastle, it’s a 3-0 win without ever really hitting top stride. Unlike Newcastle, West Ham battled every step of the way, and are probably unlucky to lose by three goals. It’s a sign of Liverpool's form that they’re dispatching sides with relative ease even when not playing the best.
The difference between today and the draw at Anfield in December was the early goal. That difference was made by Torres and Gerrard, starting together for only the 12th time in the league. I imagine it’s not surprising that they didn’t play in tandem in that draw in the reverse fixture.
This time it was Torres turned creator as the Spaniard carved open the Hammers’ defense with a throughball within 90 seconds. Gerrard, played onside by Kovac, rounded the keeper, slotted into the net, and made it look ever so easy in the process.
Credit to West Ham that they didn’t fold. Liverpool continued to look dangerous with balls over the top, as Torres threatened to torch the backline of Tomkins and Upson, but West Ham increasingly grew into the game, led by Mark Noble.
Noble is proof of what bedding a player into the side can accomplish – a supporter as a child to the club’s most important player. He’s gotten better every year, and was the key to West Ham’s pressing performance. Giving Liverpool little time in their own half meant West Ham were able to reclaim possession after someone like Mascherano or Kuyt won it for Liverpool.
However, West Ham weren’t able to change possession into chances, and in the 37th minute, Torres and Gerrard combined for a second. The Spaniard was hauled down in the box by Boa Morte (who was furious not to have won a foul moments earlier), and Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty. Green got down for the save, but the captain was first to the rebound.
West Ham almost got one back in the 43rd, making me thankful for that second goal. Carra slipped, Di Michele was through, but the Italian stumbled as he tried to round Reina, flung himself to the ground, and earned a yellow for his troubles. And two minutes later, Liverpool nearly got a third when Torres somehow got on the end of a long ball and looped a header toward goal, only to see it fly just wide.
The second half was more of the same, even if Liverpool were marginally more on top. West Ham struggled to get through, Liverpool were happy to play patiently and hope to spring the counter, and it led to a fairly tame affair. Liverpool finally got the third, on the break and again in the last 10 minutes, as Babel got a second chance after Green saved his initial header following Kuyt’s cross.
Gerrard and Torres, unsurprisingly, were the simple difference. An early goal is often crucial for Liverpool, and although I don’t know the stats, it seems as if the side rarely draws after going in front. Torres threatened the backline for 72 minutes before being replaced by Babel, while Gerrard rampaged around the field as usual, getting a brace and probably the man of the match award for his troubles.
Even though it’s uncouth to complain following three points, Liverpool missed Alonso today. Without Xabi, West Ham won back possession far easier, and Liverpool rarely looked comfortable on the ball in midfield. Neither Mascherano nor Lucas played poorly – Masch was everywhere breaking up play and Lucas was in his usual pass-and-move pivot style of play – but neither has the passing range or brain of Alonso, and it showed today.
I also found it interesting that Aurelio was withdrawn for Insua before an hour was off the clock. Yes, it was mainly caution, as Aurelio was on a yellow, but Boa Morte had given the Brazilian problems and Benayoun wasn’t a huge help in defense. But West Ham threatened that flank far less frequently after Insua came on.
Another tough game where Liverpool came away with all three points. No matter how it finishes, you can’t help but be proud of how this team’s closed the season. Two more games, two wins needed.