12 August 2018

Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

Salah 19'
Mané 45+2' 53'
Sturridge 88'

Well that's not going to do anything to dampen our optimism.

Comprehensive, comfortable, never in doubt, etc. Picking up where Liverpool left off last season.

Liverpool go at West Ham immediately. Keïta, Wijnaldum, and Milner routinely win possession, the fullbacks are the outlets, the front three look to go. Gomez and van Dijk smother what little long-ball exits West Ham attempt to conjure.

Liverpool go at West Ham again and again. Salah scores, Mané scores, Mané scores again. Once Salah opened the gates, the flood came. Alexander-Arnold long to Keïta in space, a run at West Ham's retreating back line with Mark Noble puffing in his wake, holding long enough to release Robertson at the exact right time, centered to the world's best goal-scorer for a tap-in.

Exactly how Liverpool drew it up.

There's a slight fright, the only fright, a few minutes later. A hoof over the top finds Arnautovic behind Gomez, for the only time in the match. The subsequent corner finds Balbuena, who could only head straight at Alisson.

Those are the hazards of a one-goal lead. Good thing this Liverpool are built for more than one goal.

Seconds before halftime, with West Ham not entirely in position following a cleared West Ham corner. Liverpool drag defenders around, Salah's cross is blocked, Robertson's isn't, absolutely destroying West Ham's attempted offside line. Milner at the back post, just inside the byline. Mané for the tap-in. A third Mané goal in the last three opening day fixtures.

Two first-half goals, each scored from no more than three yards from the goal line because of Liverpool's movement, Liverpool's awareness, and that front three.

And we're basically done here. We're definitely done here when Mané gets the third from a very offside position, Keïta to Gomez to Milner on the run, into Firmino, tapped into Mané, West Ham defenders surrounding but somehow not close to either of those forwards. To be fair, offsides. To be fair, I don't care.

And now it's play time. Henderson replaces Firmino; the substitute proceeds to try to run 90 minutes worth in 20 minutes. Keïta surprisingly spends the rest of the match on the left, either to see if he's capable of providing more depth at that position or to get him closer to goal in the hope that we'll see another Liverpool debutant scoring in their first league match. Shaqiri replaces Mané, and is near through on goal by Robertson on Liverpool's next attack. A kid runs onto the pitch to hug Salah. Sturridge comes on for Salah with seconds left and scores with his first touch, slamming in a corner from inches out after a West Ham flick-on, which, I mean, I didn't need, I'm already probably too hyped here.

So we end with one of those games where it's hard to tell how good Liverpool are versus how bad West Ham were. My suspicion is that it's a bit of both.

I doubt it needs reiterating, but this Liverpool is good. That front three may not score quite as much as last season – may in both quotations marks and italics – but they ain't forgetting how to do the football either. Virgil van Dijk is an absolute monster. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are Liverpool's best full-back pairing in decades, aged 24 and 19 respectively. Wijnaldum and Milner will do all the little things needed in these matches – movement, ball control, pressing – even if neither conjure the big things often enough.

It's impossible to judge Alisson on this – all of two terrible shots on-target from West Ham, no real press when trying to pass from the back – but Naby Keïta sure impressed. Everywhere in midfield, whether on or off the ball, an absolute terror both in possession or out. From the opening minute, for all 90 minutes. That run and pass to Robertson for the first goal, a few more similar situations that could have been converted. There will be fawning, lots of it.

Meanwhile, this West Ham played like a team with a new manager and five new signings in the starting XI. There was little cohesion. Poor Marko Arnautovic was often the only West Ham player in Liverpool's half. A midfield of "he's only 31 years old" Mark Noble, converted-center-back-and-taken-off-at-halftime Declan Rice, and Jack "insert multiple jokes here" Wilshere probably wasn't the best idea either. Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio can be threats on the counter, but Liverpool didn't let them. West Ham couldn't control, West Ham couldn't counter, and West Ham didn't press, and you really don't want to do those things against Liverpool.

This West Ham played like they played in the previous three meetings against Liverpool. Where Liverpool also scored four goals.

I suspect West Ham will be better than this. This was probably as tough an ask as you could have made for this type of side in this situation on opening day.

That Liverpool made it such an impossible ask bodes incredibly well.


Fan Futbol said...

Naby Keita was incredibly good. Strong, tidy, energetic. A perfect player for us.

A G said...

Complete control and a great start to the season, a perfect time to play West Ham. Salah and Mane getting off the mark nicely. Sturridge able to contribute from the bench is going to be great weapon in getting us late goals. Naby will be worth the wait.

Mane smiling, Sturridge dancing, Jurgen celebrating.. yes, more please!