Starting the round 28 of the 2017/18 Premier League season in 3rd place, Liverpool had a good chance to move up to 2nd as Manchester United welcome Chelsea on Sunday. But in order to do that, David Moyes’ West Ham had to be beaten at Anfield.
Although Nathaniel Clyne has returned to training, he was still unavailable for selection, and Jurgen Klopp chose this squad to take on the Hammers:
🚨 TEAM NEWS 🚨
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 24, 2018
West Ham came to Anfield to try and continue their resurgence since the former Everton and Manchester United boss David Moyes replaced Slaven Bilić, and this was the team that was delegated the job:
Evra makes his debut and Manu starts on his return from injury 👊 pic.twitter.com/tDoLiaLPDQ
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) February 24, 2018
The First Half
It took the Reds only three minutes to create a fantastic chance. Firmino made a diagonal run to the left where he received the ball off Andy Robertson. He then pulled it back for Salah, who beat his marker and shot low, hitting the far post. Firmino wasn’t quick enough to capitalize on the rebound.
But the moment did set the pace for most of the game, with Liverpool attacking and creating a lot, while West Ham were mostly happy to defend. The Hammers would occasionally push forward and trouble the Reds though.
Just one minute later, Trent Alexander-Arnold played a nice one-two with Salah and sent in a cross towards Sadio Mane in the middle, but it was intercepted by James Collins who put it out for a corner. The corner was swung in by Milner, and Virgil van Dijk was the best in the air, but his header was saved by Adrian.
Ten minutes in, Emre Can managed to both create and solve the Reds’ first problem of the game. His backward header was too short and picked up by Marko Arnautovic, who combined with Joao Mario, but their efforts were thwarted by the sudden reappearance of the backtracking Can. Then the German midfielder produced a fabulous pass for Salah who was cutting inside, but Pablo Zabaleta defended well. In West Ham’s next move forward, the former Manchester City full-back was successfully stopped by Robertson.
It should be noted that Zabaleta had a very good game individually, which is never easy for any full-back playing against Liverpool, unlike Patrice Evra on the other side who was expectedly booed by Anfield throughout. He even had the name of Luis Suarez chanted at him a few times.
For all the dominance though, Liverpool could easily have fallen behind after 15 minutes. Arnautovic was facing Joel Matip around 25 yards from the goal. He then very cunningly moved right, seemingly creating a tighter angle for himself, and drawing Loris Karius out a few steps. He then produced a very accurate lobbing shot to the far top corner. Karius back-peddled quickly and barely managed to tip it on the bar. It was very close.
Then a good combination between Evra, Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini created some trouble for the Reds’ defence, and the ball went across the box for the incoming Zabaleta, whose shot went wide.
These moments gave confidence to the visitors and they tried to push their lines a bit more forward, while Liverpool worked patiently to reestablish control over the proceedings.
The Reds were more successful in their endeavor and forced West Ham to retreat to their starting positions. In the 19th minute, Mane sent the ball to Firmino who had made another diagonal run to the left. Firmino then crossed, looking to reemploy Mane, but Mane’s header went over the bar.
Six minutes later, James Milner stopped a West Ham counterattack and enabled Emre Can to pick out a great pass for Mane, but Zabaleta was excellent again. Two minutes later, the Hammers sent in a cross from a free-kick and a bit of a scramble followed, ending with Lanzini taking a tame shot that was easily saved by Karius.
The Reds then increased the pressure.
A mishit cross by Robertson almost caught Adrian by surprise and went into the far top corner, but the West Ham ‘keeper tipped it over. Then Alexander-Arnold whacked one from range, but Adrian was alert once more and put it out for another corner.
The corner was taken by Salah, and the cross fell perfectly for Emre Can who easily beat Evra (another slap in the face) in the air and slammed his header in.
Emre with our 100th goal of season. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/z6nqeghJma
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 24, 2018
Two minutes later, Can tried a low one from 18 yards but it went just wide of the far post. Then Firmino charged down the middle and released Robertson on the left, who spotted the run of Salah to the far post and whipped in a brilliant cross, but Salah at a full run couldn’t keep his header below the bar.
With just over half an hour gone, there was a bit of a scare when Can stayed down holding his knee after an aerial duel, but he managed to carry on.
Five minutes from the break, Mane, Salah and Firmino combined dangerously but West Ham defended the situation successfully. Then Arnautovic tried a good one from range, but Karius was a match for it.
With less than a minute to go, Zabalet fouled Milner in a position perfect for a right-footed shooter, slightly to the left, 20 yards out. Still, Salah took it with his left and hit the wall. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that Alexander-Arnold, who was also standing over it, would have probably done better.
Half Time: Liverpool 1- West Ham-0
— Fields Of Anfield Road (@FOARsite) February 24, 2018
The Second Half
With just a one-goal advantage for Liverpool and West Ham occasionally showing dangerous signs, the game was far from settled when the teams took to the pitch again.
Two minutes in, an unnecessary elbow to the head of van Dijk earned Cheikhou Kouyate a yellow card from referee Stuart Attwell.
It should also be noted that the quality of refereeing was very decent in this game, an unusual occurrence in a Liverpool game recently. On the other hand, there weren’t really any difficult calls to make.
At this point, the Reds were looking to decide the game. They were pressing West Ham into submission all over the pitch, and as is their speciality under Klopp, they kept possession with some brilliant counter-pressing, which saw first Firmino and then Trent cunningly dispossess Evra in quick succession in his own half.
A dangerous moment occured in the 50th minute though. Arnautovic got past Robertson and came into the box, but van Dijk was there to sort it out. Game after game, the Dutchman (van Dijk, not Eric) proves what a great addition to the team he is.
And in the next minute, things fell into their place. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took the ball forward and played a one-two with Salah through the middle. He then did brilliantly to keep the ball against three opponents and poked it forwards, to Salah again, who was now inside the box. Aaron Cresswell tried to close him down, but Salah’s perfectly aimed shot to the far bottom corner went through his legs. There was nothing Adrian could do.
Two minutes later, Robertson made a bad mistake that somewhat marred his otherwise immaculate performance. He mistimed an interception and Arnautovic was free to whip in a cross. It wasn’t properly cleared by Trent and Mario tried to take advantage, but Matip was vigilant.
Less then a minute later, Trent fully made amends at the other end with a perfect pass that sent Oxlade-Chamberlain through, but his shot went wide of the near post.
In the 56th minute, Firmino did well to hold off Evra in West Ham’s half and pass to Mane who blasted it from range, but Adrian saved it. A minute later though, it was three.
Adrian sent a long pass forward for Mario who was easily dispossessed by Can. Can then whipped it over the Hammers’ back line for Firmino. Adrian came out and missed the ball, and Firmino easily brought it under his control and casually went towards the gaping goal.
Bobby Firmino + the ball + gaping goal = “no-look” finish.
But two minutes later, it was all undone.
Michail Antonio replaced Lanzini right after Firmino scored.
Just as he had been brilliant at dispossessing Mario and finding Firmino with an incredible pass two minutes earlier, Emre Can got caught in possession in his typical manner in the middle of the pitch by Kouyate, and all hell broke loose. With both full-backs high up, Liverpool were severely exposed down the flanks. Kouyate took advantage of this and sent Antonio running down the right wing. At a full run, Antonio sent a low, well-measured tricking shot to the far bottom corner, beating Karius as it bounced off the inside of the post and went in.
Liverpool almost struck back immediately. Milner released Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, Ox cut it back for Salah who had a shot from around eight or nine yards saved by Adrian.
But over the next several minutes, West Ham pushed forward, obviously encouraged by Antonio’s goal and the thought of the possibility of scoring another one in quick succession.
In the 65th minute, Milner fouled Evra some 40 yards out, and the visitors sent all their tallest players forward. Cresswell took the free-kick aiming for Collins on the far post. Collins tried to head back across the six-yard box, but he couldn’t direct it well enough and it went out over the bar.
After that, Liverpool patiently regained control once again and slowed the game down. Then they started moving forward again.
First, Oxlade-Chamberlain had a strong low shot from around 25 yards saved. Then, in the 73rd minute, he did extremely well to keep the ball under pressure just outside the box. He picked a perfect moment and then poked it through for Mane, who had escaped both his marker’s attention and getting caught offside and was through, one on one with Adrian some eight yards from the middle of the goal. Chances don’t get much more clear-cut than that. But somehow he managed to blow it, by smacking it against the post.
Three minutes later, a mistake by Karius put van Dijk in an awkward position but the centre-back dealt with it well enough.
Another minute later, the game was settled once and for all. Firmino took the ball, charging forward through the middle, and engaged Robertson who had made a dash down the left. Robertson’s cross cut through the six yards and Adrian came for it, but Mane was quicker. He cunningly lifted it over the West Ham ‘keeper, off the post and into the net.
Two minutes later, Mane tried to make it five with a low trickling effort from around 30 yards, but it went just wide of the far post.
Eight minutes from time, Kouyate stayed down for a while and received treatment after a foul by Robertson, and both managers used the break in play to make substitutions.
Firmino’s job was done, and it made perfect sense not to risk him further. Adam Lallana came on. Salah moved to the centre-forward spot while Lallana took his place on the right wing.
Moyes made a double switch as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez replaced Arnautovic, by far the standout performer for West Ham in this game, and Declan Rice came on for Mario.
With 86 minutes on the clock, Lallana made a good dribble, played a one-two with Salah that enabled him to break into the box from the right, and took a shot over the bar.
Then it was Klopp’s turn to make a double substitution. Salah and Mane made way for Alberto Moreno and Dominic Solanke. The Spaniard took Mane’s place on the left wing directly.
Liverpool attacked until the end. Three minutes into the stoppage time, they had two more attempts. First, Oxlade-Chamberlain shot from range again but it went to the middle of the goal, too easy for Adrian, and then a nice combination between Moreno, Robertson and Solanke ended with Robertson getting caught offside.
Full Time: Liverpool 4 – West Ham 1
— Fields Of Anfield Road (@FOARsite) February 24, 2018
It was a good performance from the Reds, and a good result, the same they earned at the London Stadium earlier in the season. It puts them into second place, above Manchester United for the first time in this campaign, if only for a while.
The devils play host to Chelsea on Sunday, and Liverpool having the better goal-difference means they will need to win in order to reclaim second place, a draw will not be enough. Meanwhile, Spurs play away to Crystal Palace.
Next up – we welcome an old friend back to Anfield: Rafa Benitez. After that, Porto in the Champions League, in what might as well be perceived as a friendly game, at least by us supporters.
We walk on.