07 December 2013

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Demel OG 42'
Sakho 47'
Skrtel OG 67'
Suarez 81'
O'Brien OG 84'

Well that was one of the strangest 4-1s I've seen in a long time.

For 42 minutes, it was typical Liverpool v West Ham. Few chances thanks to West Ham's resilient defense, all wasted, with Collins continuing to mark Suarez as well as any defender in the league. It was a better team performance than Wednesday, even though the only change was Sakho for Agger due to the latter's illness, but without the single-minded single-handed brilliance which won Liverpool that match. And West Ham arguably had the two best chances until the the last five minutes of the half, as Maiga narrowly missed contact with Diame's 10th-minute throughball and Mignolet brilliantly denied the same striker's 22nd-minute header, what would have been a carbon copy of Norwich's consolation on Wednesday.

Then own goal happened. The impressive Joe Allen pressed Nolan into a mistake, Johnson and Suarez combined to create a shot for the Uruguayan, parried by Jaaskelainen directly into Demel and unluckily bundled into West Ham's net. Yes, yes, better to be lucky than good, but Allen, Johnson, and Suarez's good work directly contributed to that luck.

Going into halftime with the lead was utterly crucial. Liverpool's second half scoring struggles are widely known, Liverpool hadn't lost a match this season when leading after 45 minutes.

Liverpool could have been up by two going into the break, but somehow Suarez contrived to shoot wildly wide when released by Sterling on the break, when he seemingly had the time to take a touch and round Jaaskelainen. Quickly followed by West Ham demonstrating the perpetual threat that any Liverpool opponent provides with a set play clusterfuck just before intermission. Still, thankfully, we weren't made to wait long for a second, Gerrard's free kick scrambled in by Sakho at the back post, nearly another own goal rather than the Frenchman's first for the club.

From there, it seemed cruise control. Liverpool dominated – absolutely, completely, totally, wholly dominated – for a 15 minute spell, penning West Ham in its own half without a moment's reprieve. Gerrard's 56th minute injury, seemingly precautionary with a slight hamstring problem, didn't knock Liverpool off its stride at all; if anything, they were more threatening, rotating play at speed, refusing to let West Ham take a breath. Coutinho and Sakho could have scored, Sterling should have scored twice: the first skied, the second wonderfully saved. As against Norwich, West Brom, Fulham. It seemed a matter of how many.

And it was a matter of time, but for the wrong side, as Liverpool proceeded to shoot itself in the foot. Again. Specifically, sadly, the substitute Lucas, who mis-controlled and dallied in midfield, conceding possession with Liverpool completely out of its defensive shape. Liverpool wouldn't touch the ball again until Skrtel unfortunately redirected into his own net after Jarvis won a back-post header over Johnson from Nolan's right-wing cross, after 30 seconds of West Ham possession in Liverpool's defensive third.

From 2-0 up, comfortably strolling towards victory, to 2-1 with clenched butt cheeks and 15 minutes of West Ham possession. More set play disarray, with Maiga fortunately poking wide at the back post, then Diame given time and space to shoot from distance, thankfully well wide.

But then that man, finally scoring his first goal in 261 minutes against West Ham, by far his longest drought against any club he's faced. Liverpool's first sustained possession since conceding, coincidentally coming just after Kelly replaced Flanagan, Coutinho opening up West Ham's defense by spreading play wide to an open Johnson, a perfect cross from the full-back to Suarez at the far post, finally eluding Collins' constant surveillance and an unstoppable point-blank header past Jaaskelainen.

Finally, sweet relief, the coffin further nailed down by Nolan's immensely frustrated red card for studs into the back of Henderson's calf a minute later and the third own goal of the match two minutes after that. The dubious goals committee would do well to give it to Suarez, twisting and turning Noble out of his shoes and socks before a shot that appeared on target was heavily deflected by Joey O'Brien. More luck, but again deserved, deserved luck.

It really was a better team performance than on Wednesday, despite how much more terror the match inspired. Joe Allen was at the heart of it, by far Liverpool's most impressive performer, winning possession in midfield, passing crisply and accurately, playing a handful of through-balls that would have inspired fevered praise and a fair few erections had they come from Coutinho or Suarez. That's the Joe Allen we saw at the start of last season, the Joe Allen which cost £15m. And it comes at the best possible time if Gerrard's out for any length of time.

Sakho was the other standout: a handful of crucial interceptions, tackles, and blocks; winning six of his 12 aerial duels; scoring the very, very crucial, eventually game-winning second. But those two, combined with Mignolet's immaculate save and relatively decent distribution, Sterling's vast improvement with increased playing time, Suarez finally rising above the fray in the final ten minutes, and little to complain about from any Liverpool player, were a needed demonstration that Liverpool can do it as a team rather than relying on one or two stars. Especially when against a side and manager that's frequently frustrated Liverpool over the last few years.

Now, with trips to Tottenham, City, and Chelsea in the next three weeks, Liverpool will have to replicate that against even tougher opposition.

1 comment :

Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

No love for Mignolet's Cruyff turn? And who said he was bad with the ball at his feet?