Liverpool started the 2018/19 Premier League season with a home encounter against West Ham. Klopp’s men would have anticipated a stern test from a Premier League-winning manager in Manuel Pellegrini and his new-look squad. Liverpool scored 4 against West Ham home and away last season, however, and came into this fixture on the back of a tremendous pre-season.
Jurgen Klopp handed PL debuts to Alisson Becker and Naby Keita. Both arrive with big reputations and had Liverpool fans extremely excited to see them on the team-sheet.
Joe Gomez prevailed in a race against time to start alongside Virgil Van Dijk, in light of Liverpool’s mini-crisis at centre-half.
Klopp opted for Milner and Wijnaldum to complete the midfield 3 in his favoured 4-3-3 formation. The captain on the day, Milner, lined up in protective headwear after receiving 15 stitches to a nasty head cut last Saturday in Dublin.
Liverpool’s electric front 3 of Mané, Salah and Firmino started as expected, hoping to continue the scintillating form that saw them collect 91 goals between the in all competitions in 2017/18.
New signings Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho Tavares took their place on a strong Liverpool bench alongside skipper Jordan Henderson and the rejuvenated Daniel Sturridge.
Manuel Pellegrini found space for 5 of his summer signings in the starting 11. Fabianski, Fredericks, Balbuena, Anderson and Wilshere were awarded a baptism of fire at one of the most intimidating grounds in England.
West Ham lined up in a 4-3-3 formation to match Liverpool’s with a back 4 of Fredericks, Ogbonna, Balbuena and Masuaku affording new stopper Lukasz Fabianski as much protection as they could from Liverpool’s fearsome attacking trident.
Marko Arnautovic reprised his role as a number 9, which saw him finish the 2017/18 season in imperious form. He was flanked by new signing Anderson from Lazio and the ever-dangerous Michail Antonio, fresh from scoring the consolation goal at Anfield last February.
Liverpool kicked off the first half, playing towards the famous Kop end. Van Dijk played long and Liverpool instantly had a throw-in deep in West Ham territory. A clever throw from Trent Alexander-Arnold released Roberto Firmino into the channel and he flashed across goal, unlucky not to find a team-mate. The tone for the afternoon was set.
Early indications were that Liverpool had identified Masuaku’s wing as a weak point for West Ham. Pressing high and forcing mistakes, Liverpool took a stranglehold on possession. TAA whipped in 4th and 6th minute crosses, the latter prompting a punch from Fabianski in goal.
Liverpool’s trademark offensive press continued to pay dividends and the width of Mané and both full-backs looked set to stretch West Ham to breaking point. Immediately the fluidity of the Liverpool midfield became apparent, with no set number 6; Milner, Keita and Wijnaldum all taking turns to anchor while the other two progressed.
In the 16th minute, West Ham earned their first corner of the game, offering respite from Liverpool’s attacking onslaught. However, the delivery was poor and Liverpool threatened a break down the left, reminiscent of Salah’s first goal at the London stadium last season. On this occasion Salah was the one to carry the ball forward and his pass to Mané was cut out by the retreating Felipe Anderson.
The first major chance for Liverpool came on 17 minutes, courtesy of captain James Milner. Wide on the right, he whipped a perfect cross into the 6 yard box, somehow eluding Mohamed Salah, who in turn seemed to put off Roberto Firmino.
GOAL: 1-0: MOHAMED SALAH (18′), ASSIST BY ANDY ROBERTSON
A minute later, Liverpool made no mistake. Naby Keita received the ball in midfield and drove forward. Keita waited until Fredericks was forced to address him, before sliding in Andy Robertson with a perfectly-weighted ball, whom in turn made no mistake in finding Mohamed Salah at the back post, for an easy finish from 5 yards.
After 22 minutes, Noble fouled Firmino in a dangerous central area, 25 yards from goal. Milner sends the eager Van Dijk back to his post at centre-back, leaving all eyes on Trent Alexander-Arnold. Arnold stings Fabianski’s palms with a shot towards the top left-hand corner, over the West Ham wall.
The resulting corner is wasted and a run from Naby Keita results in a shot off target under pressure from several West Ham players.
With 27 minutes played, a ball over the top isolates Arnautovic against Gomez, who slides in just in time to block a strong shot at the expense of a corner. Wilshere finds the head of Balbuena who can only find the gloves of the previously uninvolved Alisson.
Anthony Taylor, the referee for the afternoon, extends West Ham’s brightest spell of the first half by tackling Georginio Wijnaldum as he tries to dribble clear of the Liverpool box in the 29th minute. Arnautovic is played in for a free shot at goal from 20 yards, which he drags disappointingly wide.
In the 33rd minute, Liverpool relieve the pressure with a long ball forward to Naby Keita on the left-hand side. Keita delivers a promising cross, but the headed connection from Salah is lacking and the ball is caught comfortably by Fabianski.
Salah spurns a massive opportunity! With 37 minutes gone, Firmino breaks free on the right of the penalty area and gets close to the byline before picking out Salah, 4 yards out with the goal at his mercy, who strikes straight at Fabianski once again.
Liverpool are almost in once again, this time Mané plays an ingenious through-ball for Salah with his head, but it just overruns him and is collected once more by the busy Fabianski.
GOAL: 2-0: SADIO MANÉ (45+1′), ASSIST BY JAMES MILNER
Liverpool double their lead! West Ham have a corner in the 45th minute but Liverpool break forward after it is cleared. Mané feeds the ball to Salah whose cross is blocked by Fredericks. The ball falls to Robertson, he whips it long to Milner who catches it on the volley to pass it back across goal into the path of Mane for another easy tap in.
Manuel Pellegrini deemed change to be necessary after his side’s first-half display, replacing Declan Rice with Robert Snodgrass.
Snodgrass’s first involvement came in the 48th minute, delivering a corner onto the head of Felipe Anderson. However, the Brazilian’s flick proved too high and pacey for Antonio, who did extremely well to get a boot on it with an acrobatic, overhead kick. Ultimately Antonio’s contact directed the ball well over the bar.
GOAL: 3-0: SADIO MANÉ (52′), ASSIST BY ROBERTO FIRMINO
Game over for West Ham. Milner receives the ball in central midfield and finds Bobby in a trademark pocket of space between defence and midfield. Firmino delivers a deft pass into the box and Mané swivels and dispatches with aplomb into the bottom left in front of the West Ham fans.
Replays show that Mané was comfortably off-side. But the Senegalese couldn’t care less, celebrating his second of the afternoon by pointing to his name and new number 10.
The game settled down considerably after Liverpool’s 3rd. The next chance of note came again for the home side. Alexander-Arnold’s 62nd minute through ball was agonisingly close to Wijnaldum, who turned out to be marginally offside anyway.
A 65th minute free-kick is lashed at goal by James Milner, however play is stopped after it strikes the blocking Jack Wilshire in a sensitive area, leaving him in considerable distress.
On 68 minutes Roberto Firmino is replaced by the skipper Jordan Henderson to rapturous applause. Usually capable of completing 90 minutes at high-intensity without issue, Firmino is clearly being protected after a late return from World Cup action. Yarmolenko and Hernandez make up the 3 West Ham changes in a bid to get back in the game.
With 77 minutes on the clock, Naby Keita carries forward before releasing Andy Robertson into the left-hand channel. The Scot flashes across the penalty area, narrowly eluding Mohamed Salah.
Sadio Mané is replaced by Xherdan Shaqiri to a standing ovation. Liverpool’s new number 10 looks unhappy to be replaced whilst on for a hat-trick, but hugs his teammate and is swiftly wrapped up in a lengthy embrace by the gaffer, who offers a short explanation for the substitution.
At the break in play, Mohamed Salah is confronted by a young fan and is cheered loudly for his classy reaction to the young pitch invader. Salah embraces and speaks to the young lad behind his hand and calmly leads him toward the sideline.
GOAL: 4-0: DANIEL STURRIDGE (86′), ASSIST BY JAMES MILNER
Daniel Sturridge scores with his very first touch of the season. He replaces Mohamed Salah in the lead-up to a Liverpool corner. Milner’s delivery isn’t perfect, but a West Ham defender fails to clear and Sturridge loses Fredericks at the back post to volley home.
Sturridge breaks out his iconic dancing celebration for the first time in what feels like an age, and the Anfield faithful love it.
The final whistle blows to the delight of the Anfield crowd.
Liverpool record an emphatic win in their opening game to go top of the table on goal difference. They can be very satisfied with the overall performance.
Their deadly front 3 picked up exactly where they left off, all recording at least one goal or assist. The balance and fluidity of this iteration of Klopp’s midfield 3 was extremely satisfying. Van Dijk and Gomez were largely untroubled, even less so was Alisson Becker in nets. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson played in large parts as wingers not wing backs, each delivering some very tempting crosses and through balls.
Liverpool travel to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park next, and they will be flying high on the back of this result.