Coutinho 57' 61'
I had honestly forgotten what Liverpool running riot looked like. What Liverpool running riot felt like.
It's not bad.
This is the first time Liverpool have scored four goals in a match in 2017. It's the first time Liverpool have won by four or more goals since November, and the first time they've done so away from home since February 2016.
Liverpool had scored three goals, combined, in their last four games. West Ham had conceded none in their last three.
Liverpool scored four, hit the crossbar three times, and could have had a couple goals more with a smarter final pass or a little more luck. And Liverpool conceded none, for the third consecutive away match and the fourth time in the last five matches.
And it all happened when Liverpool simply had no choice but to win.
It is very, very tempting to completely credit Liverpool's change in personnel and formation. After the staid monotony of the last month, Sturridge finally starts, with Coutinho dropping into midfield and Liverpool switching to a 4-4-2 diamond. And Sturridge scores Liverpool's crucial first-half opener. And it's set up by Coutinho, who also gets Liverpool's game-killing second and third.
Both, obviously, played very well. Liverpool's system worked very well, surprisingly well given how a narrow 4-4-2 diamond often struggles against three-at-the-back, play often congested in the opposition's half and lots of space for opposition wing-backs on the counter, both traits that Liverpool are prone to in most matches.
But even in 4-0 wins, it remains amusing and amazing how things might have been had just a couple of moments gone differently.
When Liverpool were actually exposed on the counter in just the seventh minute, the first chance for either side in the game. Cresswell to Lanzini to Calleri to a couldn't-have-been-more-open Byram, but his shot fortunately pulled wide.
When Jose Fonte lost his mind in the 35th, a yard behind the two other defenders holding the offside line, allowing Sturridge a clear run onto Coutinho's wonderful through ball, jinking around Adrian to slot in, a warm reminder of the heights hit in 2013-14. Liverpool had looked a more potent attacking force in the 34 previous minutes, but Liverpool hadn't scored and Liverpool had hit the bar, and frustrated felt a lot closer than it should have because that's what we've become used to.
When Liverpool once again shot itself in both feet defending a corner in the 44th minute. Liverpool are in control, and it's West Ham's first notable foray forward since that Byram chance nearly 40 minutes earlier. And Lanzini's cross in ricochets off Lovren and falls perfectly for Ayew sitting on the goal line. He's open, at the back post, literally two feet from goal. And he hits the post. Not once but twice.
When Gini Wijnaldum gets away with both an accidental handball and accidental elbow as Liverpool are defending another West Ham corner, and Liverpool break down the field despite Winston Reid holding his head in Liverpool's box, the move ending with Coutinho's second goal and Liverpool's game-killing third as West Ham are unable to scramble back into position with their sweeper lying prone 80 yards away. Sure, Liverpool are 2-0 up by this point thanks to Coutinho picking up the rebound from Wijnaldum's unbelievable volley off the crossbar, strolling around two West Ham defenders before slotting in from the top of the box. And Liverpool had started the second half on fire, with earlier efforts from Origi, Sturridge, Lallana, and Wijnaldum denied. But 2-0 turning into 2-1 away from home with 30 minutes to play? Yikes.
But at 3-0? Game over. Thankfully, relievedly over, with West Ham throughly beaten and barely trying, and Origi adding a scrambled fourth, hitting the crossbar from 30 yards out, and completely ignoring Sturridge when released on the break, choosing to tamely shoot at Adrian instead.
So, yes, be pleased with how the changes worked out, especially in attack, and very, very pleased with the result. Be thrilled that Liverpool delivered under this pressure, after last week's let-down and Arsenal's riot yesterday. Be impressed that Liverpool had four clear-cut chances for the first time since February and registered their highest shot total since November. Be encouraged by Sturridge's return on his first league start since October, and how his movement and ability to create shots by himself made Liverpool that much more potent. Be optimistic about how Coutinho's future in midfield; it's the first time he's been involved in three Liverpool goals in one game since joining the club and it's not coincidence that today saw the most through balls that Liverpool have played in a match this season. Make sure to recognize Can's performance when returned to the base of midfield, Wijnaldum's two assists to take him up to 10 for the season, Origi's improvement when playing with a strike partner, and Mignolet's few but necessary saves, claims, and punches.
But also remember how different things might have been. How fine the margins have been throughout 2017, whether winning 4-0 or 1-0, or drawing 0-0, or losing 1-2.
And remember that nothing's accomplished yet, with one more all-important game left to win.