By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool dropped points yet again, having to settle for a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium in the Premier League against West Ham on a wintry Monday night.
Sadio Mané opened the scoring for the second game in a row, but his effort was cancelled out minutes later by Michail Antonio – a player who is building quite the portfolio of goals against Liverpool. The result see’s Liverpool keep their spot at the summit of the Premier League, but only by three points.
Jürgen Klopp made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Leicester on Wednesday night. Injuries to both Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum saw the midfield pair left out of the squad, opening the door to allow Adam Lallana to pick up a rare start this campaign.
Fabinho also regained his starting spot as the midfield anchor, with James Milner completing the trio of changes, filling in again at right-back after serving the suspension he picked up against Crystal Palace.
The opening moments of the match saw West Ham take the game by the scruff of the neck. The game plan set out by Manuel Pellegrini was clear to see – defend as a unit, press aggressively and in packs, and then counter-attack quickly.
The aggressive nature in which West Ham would attack on the break seemed to catch Liverpool by surprise, with the Hammers coming close with three attempts, one of which required Alisson to make a diving save. Fortunately for Liverpool nothing came of West Ham’s attempts on goal, but that wasn’t where their luck ended.
In the 22nd minute, Lallana picked up the ball down the right-flank and began to dance with the ball in typical fashion. The English midfielder seemed to toy with both Robert Snodgrass and Andrew Robertson before flicking the ball through for Milner.
The make-shift right-back was clearly in an offside position but fortunately for the Reds the linesman didn’t flag, which allowed the number seven to find Mané in the box. The Senegalese winger continued his fine goal-scoring form, swivelling expertly before slotted the ball into Lukasz Fabianski’s net with a swift stroke of his left boot.
Unfortunately for Klopp, his lead didn’t last long, with West Ham equalising within six minutes.
A well worked free-kick by Snodgrass and Felipe Anderson saw the Brazilian slot the ball into the path of Michail Antonio. The English striker shrugged off Naby Keita, before running onto the ball and releasing a first time shot.
Although he’s clawed Liverpool out of trouble before, Alisson could only stand and watch, as the ball seemed to trickle into the far corner of the net in slow motion. The goal saw Antonio record his fifth in only seven appearances against the Reds and had West Ham level after 28 minutes.
Much like against Leicester, the rest of the half saw Liverpool have the lion-share of possession but failing to provide much threat to the West Ham rear-guard. In fact, if anyone was going to score, it looked more likely to be the men in claret and blue.
Despite having the best defence in the league this season, Klopp’s men were clearly struggling to deal with West Ham’s set-pieces.
The first half ended at 1-1, however, the travelling Reds should have counted themselves lucky to not go into the break trailing. Minutes before the end of the contest, Declan Rice found himself free in front of goal but failed to hit the target with his header, missing the frame of Alisson’s goal by a matter of millimetres.
Much like the first half, Liverpool came out from the break looking uninventive and lacking the quality that got them to the top of the league in the first place. Loose passes and miscommunication quickly became a feature of the performance, which left Klopp looking both confused and aggrieved on the side line.
Yet to produce any real chances of note with 22 minutes left to play, the travelling Anfield faithful began to sense where the result was heading. In a final attempt to inspire their team to victory chants of “Liverpool, Liverpool” began to echo from the away end as Xherdan Shaqiri entered the fray, replacing Lallana.
The introduction of the Swiss star appeared to change nothing in the form of creativity for Klopp, with his side yet again looking most likely to concede. A quick West Ham break down the left flank saw Snodgrass and Anderson link up well, with the Brazilian picking up the ball from the Scotsman as he charged into the box.
A last-ditch touch from Fabinho unsettled the control of his countryman, but the ball deflected perfectly into the path of Mark Noble who somehow managed to miss the target, volleying the ball over the Liverpool goal from the penalty spot. Yet again, a lucky get away for the Reds.
In the final 15 minutes, Divock Origi was brought on as Liverpool began to pile on the pressure on an ever deeper West Ham back-line. The Reds were essentially parked in West Ham’s half, as wave after wave of Liverpool attack was pushed back by an Iron tight defence, which showed no hint of budging.
Much like in the Merseyside Derby, Origi had a chance to win it in the final seconds of the game, finding himself alone in front of goal. Unfortunately for all the travelling Kopites in attendance, the Belgian was unable to get a solid contact with the ball, essentially passing the ball into the hands of Fabianksi, who was visibly relieved at the ease of his save.
It was a case of too little too late for Liverpool, who drop points for the second game in a row and see themselves go only three points clear of Manchester City. The miniscule gap now means that the Reds will drop down to second place in the table should the current champions triumph over Everton on Wednesday night.
Liverpool’s next game sees them take on Bournemouth on February 9th, and after failing to impress in their previous two outings, many will imagine that Klopp will demand nothing less than a return to winning ways from his title challenging side.