That could have been worse, that should have been better. But that’s Liverpool.
At least Liverpool didn’t do anything stupid. At least Liverpool didn’t concede against the run of play. At least Liverpool didn’t concede from a set play. At least Liverpool didn't concede from the first, and only, shot on-target that Liverpool faced. Those things have happened all too often, lately and over the last 18 months, even when Liverpool have been “the better side.”
So it could have been worse.
And Liverpool were the better side today, despite basically the same side as against Exeter ten days ago. Three new faces in defense – Clyne and Lovren returned from injury, Caulker made his full debut – but otherwise, eight of the same XI that beat Exeter 3-0 at Anfield. West Ham started seven first-team regulars: Payet, Valencia, Song, Kouyate, Tomkins, Reid, and Cresswell; every player, even the back-up keeper, had made at least three Premier League starts this season.
Liverpool controlled the game, and Liverpool controlled the midfield, whether facing West Ham's 4-3-3 or West Ham's 4-4-2. Liverpool pressed quite well. Liverpool were – despite a couple of set play scares, because of course – reasonably secure at the back.
Liverpool rarely looked like scoring.
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Liverpool had some good chances to score, and, unsurprisingly, a couple were either mis-hit or wildly off-target. But Liverpool also put six good shots on goal: Brannagan’s wonderful effort from distance, two wide-box near-post shots by Teixeira, and three in quick succession in the 75th: Benteke through on goal but saved, Allen’s rebound saved, Benteke’s rebound saved. All except Brannagan’s could have been better taken, but they weren’t badly taken either.
That said, Benteke disappointed again, failing to seize another chance to find form. Ibe disappointed, his throughball to Benteke in the 75th the only moment of note before Ojo replaced him in the 80th. Liverpool created enough to win, but Liverpool still need to create even more than that to win.
So it should have been better.
Meanwhile, West Ham’s chances were limited to a couple of shots from distance and a set play scramble in the 50th minute, where Caulker could have been penalized for handball and Reid’s point-blank shot was saved and smuggled away. And that’s about it.
When Liverpool save the first shot on-target, Liverpool keep a clean sheet: as against Exeter (h), Stoke (a), Sunderland, Leicester, etc. It’s when they don’t that Liverpool have problems.
It wasn’t as strong a West Ham side as those Liverpool lost to in the league, but it was an even weaker Liverpool side. And this was the best that Liverpool have played against West Ham this season, by some distance.
Liverpool have now played 270 minutes against West Ham this season. They’ve taken 54 shots. They’ve put just nine on-target – six of them today – for just 16.7% accuracy. They’ve yet to score.
That’s bad. And it’s not for the first time, with Liverpool failing to score in seven of the last 15 matches. At least we know where Liverpool most need to improve. Not that we didn’t already.
As said after the first match against Exeter, Liverpool really don’t need any more matches, the fixture list already far too full. We’ll do this one again on February 9th, sandwiched between league matches against Sunderland and at Aston Villa. Liverpool will have at least seven matches in February, eight if Liverpool win the replay. Either seven or eight in 28 days. Liverpool haven’t had a week between games since 2015, with six whole days between the December 20 loss at Watford and December 26 win over Leicester.
But if it’s this XI again, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Rested players often play better than tired ones, and you can see the progression these players have made: from the first match at Exeter, then at home against Exeter, and now against a reasonably strong West Ham. Brannagan, Teixeira, Smith, and Stewart were some of Liverpool’s best today, along with Clyne and Allen. This has been valuable experience for them, and another match – this time at Upton Park – should be as well.
Still, I’d rather a reasonably competent Liverpool side which had multiple chances to finish the job today had actually done so.