Liverpool took all three points from their trip to the London Stadium on Wednesday, where they took on West Ham in a rather exciting Premier League clash. The home side took the lead through Lucas Paqueta in the 12th minute, and Cody Gakpo equalized in the 18th. In the end, it was Joel Matip who settled the contest in the 67th.
Both teams need as many points they can get between now and the end of the season, but Liverpool’s need is arguably greater at this point as they fight to qualify at least for the Europa League, if they must miss out on the top four.
It was completely to be expected that the Reds take charge of the proceedings and take charge they did, ending the contest with the ball at their feet for 72% of the time and a total of 11 shots, four on target, while West Ham took six, two on target. Liverpool also had seven shots blocked; West Ham one. Liverpool attempted 872 passes with 87% of them finding the intended target, West Ham tried 344, with the accuracy of 67%.
Nonetheless, the Hammers were nicely organized at the back and very dangerous in transition, which Paqueta displayed perfectly in the 11th minute as he burst forward down the left, combined beautifully with Antonio twice before letting one fly from around 20 yards. The shot picked up a slight deflection off Virgil van Dijk and hit the back of the net.
Having threatened a number of times in a similar manner, the Hammers did put the ball in the opposition net once more. It was Jarrod Bowen, once a Liverpool target in the transfer market, who broke down the right side and took advantage of the Liverpool back line believing he was offside to enter the box, get the better of Van Dijk in a split second before finding the far bottom corner. But unfortunately for the 26-year-old and his teammates, the Liverpool defenders were right in their reckoning and the VAR disallowed the goal for offside.
Bowen threatened again in a similar manner afterwards, but on that occasion his shot was too tame to give Alisson Becker any problems.
West Ham were equally dangerous on the other flank, where Said Benrahma frequently showed his skill on the ball and gave Alexander-Arnold, Matip and Henderson plenty of trouble with his quick feet. In the 41st minute, Benrahma benefited from some great work by Paqueta and Bowen to break into the box, and though he had Henderson and Matip in front, he threaded a low pass between them for Antonio to tap in at the right post, but Van Dijk was there with his usual sublime composure to poke it out the striker’s way.
But it has to be said that Liverpool looked more dangerous and created chances at least equally dangerous at the other end. Diogo Jota, who scored four goals in his last two games, wasted two great opportunities. Salah, though he didn’t score, looked like he might do so at any moment, and Gakpo showed real progress in the ‘false nine’ role, proving that he was probably the right choice in the January transfer market to come in as a long-term successor for Roberto Firmino.
The Netherlands international frequently dropped deeper to pick the ball up between the opposition lines and turn, before releasing a teammate with a smart pass in behind. And yet, he took the one moment when the West Ham defence expected him to do that to shoot from around 25 yards, and it was an inch-perfect bouncing strike that ended up beating Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal in the 18th minute.
Curtis Jones, who worked relentlessly in the middle of the park from the first whistle to the 84th minute when he made way for veteran James Milner, also had a couple of promising moments inside the opposition box, but he wasn’t quite decisive enough to get his name on the scoresheet.
Overall, this Liverpool performance was much closer to those their supporters were accustomed to seeing over the last few years, compared to many previous ones this term. The Merseysiders were confident on the ball, and even though West Ham often had nine players behind the ball, they somehow managed to get though and create dangerous moments.
The VAR was called into action on three occasions in this game. Firstly for the disallowed goal by Bowen, then there was a moment when a potential penalty to Liverpool was considered as the ball appeared to hit Aaron Creswell’s arm.
But the only moment that caused some real controversy happened in the Liverpool box, when substitute Thiago Alcantara put his hand on the ground to support his weight, and it definitely touched the ball. Nothing was given in the end, and it prodded Moyes into an angry outburst. The West Ham manager even approached referee Chris Kavanagh after the final whistle to demand an explanation.
However, it should be said that the rules are very clear about these situations, and that the ball hitting an arm supporting the weight of a player on the ground isn’t considered a handball, just as Cresswell’s moment at the other end wasn’t a penalty because the West Ham left-back couldn’t have moved his arm out of the way. We’ve seen plenty of shambolic refereeing decisions in the Premier League down the years and this season is no exception, but on this occasion, every significant call was made correctly and giving a penalty in either of these situations would’ve been way too harsh.
The West Ham quality
Moyes has certainly done a great job since taking the West Ham job. Their squad is absolutely brimming with quality in each department; each position is covered with several excellent options.
Fabianski has Alphonse Areola pushing him for the spot between the posts. Centre-backs Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd are backed up by the likes of Thilo Kehrer and Angelo Ogbonna. Aaron Cresswell has Emerson Palmieri behind him, while young Ben Johnson is breathing down the neck of Vladimir Coufal in the pecking order.
Captain Declan Rice is so good that interest in his services from the biggest clubs out there is an ever-present factor, and his midfield partner Tomas Soucek has proven his value to the Hammers over and over again. On the other hand, central midfield is perhaps the one area where this formidable squad needs more depth, with Flynn Downes, who arrived from Swansea last year, the only remaining option. It stands to reason to expect the club to sign two or three players there if Rice ends up leaving; his price should easily cover that expense.
Attacking midfielders/wingers are something West Ham have in abundance. In this match, the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Maxwell Cornet were left on the bench to make way for Paqueta, Bowen and Benrahma to start. Upfront, Antonio has former Liverpool man Danny Ings and Gianluca Scamacca as backups.
It’s clear that Moyes, second only to Crystal Palace interim boss Roy Hodgson in the list of oldest Premier League managers, has plenty of tools at his disposal to conduct successful campaigns.
However, all that only brings to the mind West Ham’s table position more urgently. After this match, they are 13th with 34 points, just five more than Leicester City in the relegation zone. The Hammers also have a game in hand on the Foxes as well as the fact that three teams between them, and it’s not as if they’re in any immediate danger of going down, but more was certainly expected from Moyes and his men. A team this good should at least be in the top half of the table, fighting for a top-six finish.
On the other hand, the Hammers have reached the semifinals of the Europa Conference League and facing AZ Alkmaar there, they’re widely considered as the best team remaining in the competition as the other semifinal pair consists of Fiorentina and Basel. Their path to playing in Europe again next term is plain before them.
Meanwhile, even with this making three wins in a row for Liverpool, their chances of finishing in the top four aren’t much better than they were – extremely slim, to put it mildly. With 53 points, the Merseysiders have overtaken Tottenham Hotspur and are sixth for the time being. They are six points behind Manchester United in fourth and Newcastle in third, while the former have two games in hand, and the latter, one.
Obviously everything depends on those two teams, but also on Aston Villa in fifth and Brighton in eighth – the Seagulls have four points less but two games in hand, but it’s also imperative for Jurgen Klopp’s men to keep this momentum going, lest an opportunity comes and they miss it.
For West Ham, it’s Crystal Palace away next, followed by a pair of games against the teams from Manchester, City away, United at home. For Liverpool, it’s three games at home in a row – Spurs, Brentford and Fulham.
Interestingly enough, no team has ever pulled a season’s league double over Liverpool since Klopp became their manager in October, 2015, but Brentford still have a chance this term.
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