Tuesday, May 21, 2024

West Ham 2-2 Liverpool: Talking points as Hammers make sure Reds fail again

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West Ham and Liverpool shared the spoils in the Premier League match played at the London Stadium on Saturday. Jarrod Bowen, linked many times with Liverpool, put the Hammers ahead in the 43rd minute. Andy Robertson equalized for the Reds in the 48th, and a shot from Cody Gakpo, deflected off Angelo Ogbonna, found its way into the net and was eventually given as an own-goal by West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. But Liverpool’s hopes of taking all three points fell off in the 77th, when Michail Antonio set the final score at 2-2.

The team

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp made several notable changes to his team from the Merseyside Derby fiasco. Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Dominik Szoboszlai, Curtis Jones and Ibrahima Konate were all left on the bench from the start, with Harvey Elliott, Cody Gakpo, Ryan Gravenberch, Wataru Endo and Jarell Quansah stepping in. Alisson Becker in goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the defensive flanks, Virgil van Dijk at the back, Alexis Mac Allister in the middle of the park and Luis Diaz on the left flank, all kept their places.

Meanwhile, David Moyes in the home dugout sent a very strong lineup into the clash, with Alphonse Areola in goal, Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma in the heart of defence, flanked by Emerson and Vladimir Coufal, Edson Alvarez partnered by Tomas Soucek in midfield, and the trio of Jarred Bowen, Lucas Paqueta and Mohamed Kudus supporting Michail Antonio upfront.

The first half

Liverpool expectedly took possession of the ball early on an mostly kept the play in the West Ham half. They didn’t create too much, though referee Anthony Taylor can be said to have shown leniency to the Hammers twice within the opening 10 minutes, first when Paqueta stamped on Mac Allister’s ankle and received no card, and then when their defenders brought Diaz down inside the box. The first proper chance for Liverpool came in the 11th minute, but Elliott couldn’t make the most of it.

West Ham based their approach on defending in numbers at relying on the pace of Bowen and Kudus to try and hurt their opponents suddenly, and the two wingers combined for the first sign of threat for Alisson. It was followed by a brief attacking momentum during which Bowen fired straight into the Liverpool ‘keeper and Moyes’ men flung the ball into the box several times more to test their opponents.

Liverpool soon re-established control and threatened mostly down the left, with Diaz and Gravenberch in the main roles. In the 20th minute, Kudus unwisely fouled Gakpo just outside the box, setting a perfect opportunity for Alexander-Arnold to repeat his brilliant goal against Fulham a week before, but the Liverpool right-back whipped the free-kick over the bar this time. West Ham responded through a quick counter devised by Antonio and Paqueta, but Quansah defender well after the referee played advantage when Van Dijk brought Antonio down.

In the 27th minute, Liverpool had two causes to appeal for a penalty within a few seconds, but Diaz being offside preceded both situations. The offside of the Colombian was rather obvious, and the time the VAR took to review the linesman’s call (over two minutes) is becoming an embarrassing norm for the Premier League.

West Ham had a very good chance in the 31st minute when Paqueta headed the ball down for Bowen, right after Alexander-Arnold burned Areola’s palms from distance at the other end. Though the Liverpool defence prevented Bowen from shooting, Coufal eventually smacked an awkwardly deflected one from the edge of the box, forcing an excellent save from Alisson. Two minutes later, Liverpool worked up a good opportunity for Elliott but the shot went straight into Areola. Gakpo was the next to threaten the West Ham ‘keeper, firing over the bar in the 39th minute. Then it was Diaz’s turn as he danced into the box from the left and shot past both Soucek and Coufal, only to hit the post.

The Hammers came close again twice withing the next three minutes, both with Bowen in the main role, before the winger finally put his team ahead. How the 5’9” Bowen could reach Kudus’ cross to put his close-range header into the net, with Gakpo (6’4”), Gravenberch (6’3”) and Endo (5’10”) all standing close is hard to understand from Liverpool’s point of view.

For the remainder of the first half, the Liverpool defence looked completely disorganized, demotivated and fragile, and it seemed the only reason West Ham didn’t score more before the break was because they didn’t feel they needed to. All in all, the home team went to the break with a deserved lead.

The second half

Neither manager made any changes ahead of the second half, which came as a bit of a surprise when Liverpool are concerned. However, the visitors were the ones to threaten first and very seriously, as Diaz set Gravenberch up on the edge of the box and the Dutchman fired a rocket just over the bar.

It soon became clear that Gravenberch’s presence closer up the pitch was not coincidental. He organized another attack from an advanced position position soon after, and Liverpool finally got their equalizer through Andy Robertson in the 49th minute. The left-back suddenly found himself inside the box and got a shot off, and Areola was beaten by what he probably should’ve saved.

Liverpool put strong pressure on their opponents from that point on. In the 51st minute, Gravenberch was again in the thick of things as Gakpo’s cross found him some seven yards from the goal, but his casually attempted flick failed to find the target. Still, the impact of the two Netherlands internationals upfront became steadily more notable as the Merseysider tightened the ring around Areola’s goal.

And in the 65th minute, it finally bore fruit as Gakpo took advantage of a scramble on the edge of six yards to shoot, hitting Ogbonna in the chest before the ball cheated Areola and went into the net for Liverpool to turn the game around.

Obviously, West Ham now had nothing to lose and were forced to show more attacking intent. They were spending far more time in the Liverpool half than before, but the first result of that was more space for Liverpool at the other end. In the 70th minute, they threatened twice through Diaz and Mac Allister. In the 73rd, Diaz forced a particularly fine save from Areola.

A minute later, Moyes made his first change, introducing James Ward-Prowse instead of Soucek, but Robertson came close to scoring his second for Liverpool mere seconds later.

West Ham finally came closer in the 77th minute when Alisson denied a rocket from Emerson, but there was nothing the Brazilian goalkeeper could to in the very next attack when Antonio escaped Quansah to get on the end of a fine cross by **** and hit a header into the top corner to equalize.

It was Klopp’s time to react now, and Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Joe Gomez came on for Diaz, Endo and Alexander-Arnold. Elliott moved into the midfield to make way for Salah on the right wing.

In the 86th minute, however, they had a good chance as first Gakpo and then Gravenberch tried their luck following a well-taken corner, but the ball finished in Areola’s arms and a highly controversial moment followed. And it was the last moment of the game worth discussing.

The controversy

There was contact between Areola and Gakpo in that situation in the 86th minute, arguably a foul by the Liverpool attacker on the West Ham goalkeeper. But as Areola went down holding the ball firmly, the referee decided to play advantage. Areola stood up and placed the ball on the ground, throwing it gently some four of five yards ahead, and while he bent over to adjust his socks, Gakpo went for it. With the play going, the Dutch forward had every right to do so, but Taylor didn’t allow it. He blew the whistle before Gakpo could reach the ball and stopped the play for no apparent reason. But as soon as Taylor got there, Areola went down acting injured, giving the referee an excuse for stopping the play.

The referee obviously has the right to stop the game if a player, particularly a goalkeeper, is injured, but why exactly Taylor did so in this situation will never be satisfactorily explained. Areola did not signal being injured before the whistle went, and he was utterly reckless when he rolled the ball out and bent over, losing sight of it, as well as the sight of Gakpo’s movements. The West Ham goalkeeper made a huge blunder there, but arguably an even bigger one by Taylor saved his skin.

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The official explanation for the decision was that Taylor had judged the advantage wasn’t materialized so he stopped the play, giving the foul. But if so, it doesn’t explain why he restarted it with a ball drop instead of a West Ham free-kick.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the officiating is by far the worst aspect of Premier League football, and the sooner it’s addressed the better. However, there is no sign of either the PGMOL or the league itself recognizing the severity of the problem, as the darkness clouding Everton’s recent triumph over Nottingham Forest shows clearly.

Some have said that the only thing about Jurgen Klopp the Premier League will not miss when he leaves is his attitude towards officials. And as long as that attitude is seen as the main problem, and not the many perfectly valid reasons for it, the situation will not improve.

The end of Mo Salah at Liverpool?

Salah has been playing at a disappointing level for a while now. It almost feels unreal to say, but his presence on the pitch hasn’t brought anything positive to Liverpool since the penalty he took against Manchester United on April 7th.

Klopp obviously had his reasons for leaving the Egyptian out of the starting XI at the London Stadium, but as Salah prepared to come on and stood on the touchline, Antonio scored for West Ham, and there was an angry outburst from Salah towards Klopp. The German tactician replied at first but then he turned away, leaving his once most important player to continue his rant into thin air. Walking through the mixed zone after the match, Salah declined all interview requests from the members of the press and only said, “if I speak today, there will be fire.”

It’s not very usual to see Salah, considered widely as a top professional, acting in such a manner. It seems his own poor form and the underwhelming performances of the whole team in recent matches have finally gotten to him. However, speaking to the press after the match, Klopp said he had spoken with Salah in the dressing room and considered the matter closed.

There have been reports of the strong Saudi interest in Salah from last summer being reignited this year, and after this game, the feeling is that he has never been this close to leaving Liverpool. If the reports are true and Al-Ittihad are prepared to pay more than €70 million for a player of 32 in the final year of contract, it’s hard to see Liverpool turning the offer down.

As the era of Klopp draws to its end at Liverpool, so does the era of Salah, and it will certainly be interesting to see to what extent the team changes under Arne Slot, the current Feyenoord head coach who is reportedly set to take over in the Anfield dugout in the summer.

The aftermath

Leaving Taylor and the vast incompetence he displayed aside, as well as Salah and his frustrations, West Ham certainly deserved their point and Liverpool deserved no more than that. It was a fair result between two relatively equal team performances.

After the matches played on Saturday, the Hammers sit in eight place, four points behind Newcastle in seventh and two more than Chelsea in ninth, but Chelsea now have three games in hand on them and their chances of qualifying for a European competition next season don’t look good with three matches left for Moyes’ side to play.

As for Liverpool, their chances of winning the Premier League title probably vanished after the defeat in the Merseyside Derby earlier in the week, and this failure to win at the London Stadium will only serve as further confirmation of that. Arsenal top the table with 77 points and a game in hand, Manchester City are second with 76 and two games in hand, and Liverpool are third with 75. Champions League qualification shouldn’t come into question though, as fourth-place Aston Villa have 66 and a game in hand, and Tottenham Hotspur in fifth, ahead of the North London Derby against Arsenal on Sunday, have 60, with three games in hand.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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