Johnson Skrtel Carragher Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Diamanti 29’ (pen)
Phew. Jamie Carragher and the rest of Liverpool’s defense should buy Fernando Torres a steak dinner. Thank you, Nando.
The warning signs went flashing in the second minute, when Carragher dwelling on the ball allowed Hines to nip in. Thankfully, the young winger could only thump a shot off the post. It wouldn’t be the last time his pace exposed the backline.
It was one of those games neutrals describe as eminently watchable. As guessed, West Ham wasn’t content to sit back. The aforementioned Hines, Carlton Cole, and Diamanti all caused problems, as both Carragher and Skrtel were shaky throughout the first half. But Liverpool still saw the majority of possession, and opened the scoring in the 20th thanks to some Torres magic.
Insua nipped in to stop a West Ham break and found Torres down the inside left channel. One-on-one with Tomkins, Torres beat the defender like a rug, getting behind and beautifully toe-poking above Robert Green from three yards out. Unfortunately, like against Spurs, Villa, and Bolton, it didn’t take long for Liverpool to give it back.
Once again, Hines’ pace got him by Carragher, and Carra tried to muscle him off with an arm. Not the first time Carra’s shouldered an attacker off the ball, but Hines went down easily and Marriner gave the soft penalty (look, I’ll concede it’s giveable, but it happens all the time). Diamanti stepped up, and a la John Terry, slipped when taking it. Somehow, it still went in. And it should have been disallowed, as he kicked it onto his standing foot. That’s two touches. Maybe the extra official used in the Europa League would have seen it, because Andre Marriner unsurprisingly missed it.
Liverpool reasserted superiority in possession and went back in front 12 minutes later. And from a corner no less. Gerrard rose highest to meet Benayoun’s ball in, and Kuyt got a slight touch to redirect it past Green. Yet another example of why Gerrard shouldn’t take corners; he’s as dangerous in the air as anyone in the team.
But again, four minutes later, on the stroke of halftime, another equalizer from another set play. Sigh. It started with a Skrtel slip-up, followed by him fouling Hines. It ended with an easy header for Carlton Cole after the free kick went out for a corner – Cole rose highest over Carra and Torres. It’s not zonal marking. It’s defenders (Carra) not attacking the ball quick enough.
The second half was nowhere near as open as the first, and thankfully, Liverpool’s defense was far better. Back and forth for the first 15 minutes, Liverpool started to overrun West Ham around the hour mark as the home side tired. As the Hammers had to make two substitutions for injury in the first half (Gabbidon for Upson and Kovac for Behrami), there was little Zola could do about it.
Benitez surprisingly brought Babel on for Kuyt in the 60th, and his pace, along with the Benayoun and Gerrard’s running, swung the game in Liverpool’s favor. Babel again showed a willingness to get at defenders. Sometimes he chose the wrong option, as he’s prone to. But he still gave West Ham something to worry about, and that he provided the assist for Torres’ winner was deserved. In the 75th, the ball rebounded to the Dutchman outside the area after Johnson’s shot was blocked, and he drove to the byline, floating a cross into the area. Torres out-jumped both Tomkins and Faubert to knock it low past Green.
West Ham spent the final 15 minutes camped in Liverpool’s half, but thankfully, the defense of old returned. The Hammers’ lone chance came soon after Liverpool’s goal, with Reina getting fingertips to Kovac’s header after Cole won the flick-on in the 77th. But Skrtel and Carragher kept their cool, Mascherano tore around the pitch, and Johnson did excellently sticking to Hines. The right back stayed at home to good effect, negating Hines’ pace. So much for him not being able to defend.
Obviously, this game did little to ease the defensive worries. Two more goals from set plays (if we’re counting penalties); none of the nine goals conceded have come from open play. Carragher looked out of sorts for the entire first half – somehow, Carlton Cole morphed into Drogba – and Skrtel wasn’t any great shakes either. Yes, I miss Danny Agger too.
But Torres saved the day. A Sunday league defense, but an attack that can threaten any team, led by the best striker in the world. Four wins in a row. That’ll do.
Leeds in the Carling Cup on Tuesday.