Saturday, December 4, 2021

West Ham 3-2 Liverpool: Three things as Hammers end Reds unbeaten run to strengthen top-four hold

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Liverpool’s win over Atletico Madrid last week was the team’s 25th match in all competitions in a row without defeat, equaling the club record set under the legendary Bob Paisley. However, the run was brought to a halt on Sunday at the London Stadium as West Ham emerged victorious from an extremely exciting contest with the Merseysiders.

An own-goal by Alisson Becker gave the Hammers the lead in the fourth minute, and Trent Alexander-Arnold equalized with a superbly taken free-kick in the 41st. Pablo Fornals restored the Hammers’ lead in the 67th and Kurt Zouma extended it in the 74, and Divock Origi eventually pulled one back for the visitors with seven minutes of the 90 left.

Controversies again

It’s fair to say that the general standard of the officiating in the Premier League has dropped so low that people are frequently left discussing the refereeing decisions after matches, rather than the football they were supposed to be enjoying. This was, unfortunately, another such occasion as Craig Pawson, along with Stuart Attwell in the VAR room, allowed themselves two arguably wrong, game-changing decisions within the opening 10 minutes.

The first one was obviously West Ham’s opening goal. Pablo Fornals had swung a corner into the six yards, and at the first glance it seemed that Alisson and West Ham defender Angelo Ogbonna both missed the ball they contended for and it ended up flying into the net. However, a first closer look revealed that the ball actually hit the arm of the Liverpool goalkeeper and changed direction before going in, which led to the goal being put on Alisson’s account.

But another closer look clearly showed West Ham striker Antonio pushing Alisson from behind and Ogbonna actually elbowing the Brazilian ‘keeper in an attempt to disrupt him. And then, as Pawson gave the goal, Attwell in the VAR room decided to check it. But not for a foul on the Liverpool goalkeeper – for potential handball by Ogbonna, which clearly wasn’t the case and the goal was allowed to stand. It was a mistake similar to the one the officials made when Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford injured Virgil van Dijk last season, and the VAR decided the Dutch centre-back had been offside and ruled that there should be no penalty. No penalty was obviously the right call, but as Michael Oliver, the referee at that match, later admitted, Pickford should still have been sent off for serious foul play.

Three minutes after West Ham took the lead, defender Aaron Cresswell make a tackle on Jordan Henderson just outside the West Ham box, taking the Liverpool captain out. Cresswell went in with his left leg outstretched, catching the ball but also lifting his studs into Henderson’s right shin, just beneath the knee. And as if that wasn’t enough, he swung his right leg and hit Henderson’s left into the side of the knee. Incredibly enough, Cresswell was allowed to stay on the pitch despite the situation being ‘checked’ by Attwell in the VAR room as well.

It’s hard to say just how much influence these moments had on the game as a whole, but there can be very little doubt about the calls impacting the nerves and concentration of the visiting players. The low officiating standards shown on this occasion also undermine what should have otherwise been only perceived as a great victory for West Ham.

The real-deal Hammers

Naturally, those who refuse to have their enjoyment of the game ruined by those moments will surely have a lot of praise for West Ham. Having had a fantastic last season in which only the late Liverpool resurgence robbed them of a Champions League spot in the end, they’re once again in that conversation, and it’s definitely no coincidence. Counting both the Premier League and the Carabao Cup, David Moyes’s team have triumphed this season over Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, and now Liverpool. Some would probably include the likes of Leicester City and Everton in that list.

As for this particular match, they took all the advantage the Liverpool nervousness put out for them to take. Having taken the early lead, they were content with dropping back and defending in numbers. Even after the equalizer, they didn’t feel any pressure to change their approach. They rather relied on counterattacking opportunities and set-pieces to try and hurt the visitors again, and it paid off big-time. Antonio, Fornals and Said Benrahma caused a lot of problems for Liverpool’s back line with their blitzkrieg approach, and had it not been for Van Dijk, the scoreline would probably have looked even better for the home side.

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The win has lifted them above Liverpool in the Premier League table – they are now in third place with 23 points, the same tally as Manchester City in second, and just three less than Chelsea in the lead. Alongside the defending champions, they are the clear winners of this round when it comes to the top-end of the table.

Liverpool vulnerable (again)

Liverpool started playing attractive football under Jurgen Klopp practically as soon as the German took over in 2015, but their inability to defend proved costly countless times in the beginning. Not until the signings of Van Dijk, Robertson, and later Fabinho and Alisson, did their defence look particularly strong, but with those four players forming a stout wall in front of their goal along with Alexander-Arnold and Joel Matip (mostly), the trophies started marching in.

However, there is obviously something wrong in that department again. Last season, their troubles were mostly down to the absence of Van Dijk, Matip and Gomez, but this time they had their preferred centre-back partnership playing behind the designated defensive midfielder and ahead of one of the world’s best goalkeepers. And yet, they failed to defend counterattacks or set-pieces.

The opening goal can, perhaps, be put down to a foul and a refereeing mistake, but nothing can justify the way they conceded the other two. It was far too easy for Antonio and Fornals to create the situation leading to West Ham’s second, and as for the goal scored by Zouma, the former Chelsea man was completely unchecked and unchallenged as he ran to the far post to head in from close range. Alisson should also have done better.

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Klopp was obviously furious with the officials after the game, but he surely won’t be too happy with some of his team’s defending either.

Looking at the whole contest, from the first to the final whistle, Liverpool didn’t deserve anything from this game. It was a major setback for their hopes of bringing the title back to Anfield at the end of the season, and they’ll certainly be looking to draw lessons as they analyze what went wrong over the international break.

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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