What a difference a week makes.
After defeat in the FA Cup against Manchester United, more questions were asked of this Liverpool side than at any other time under Klopp’s stewardship. It was a testing period with some suggesting that Liverpool’s season couldn’t be salvaged. Seven days later and the title challenge is back on and the confidence is starting to flow once again.
Despite the win against Tottenham – and with Matip and Fabinho unavailable due to injuries – many thought an in form West Ham side had a major opportunity to get a win against Klopp’s side, whilst leapfrogging the defending champions in the table. Instead, what happened was reminiscent of what has happened in previous years gone by at the London Stadium in this particular fixture, as Liverpool thrashed David Moyes’ side.
From the moment the match kicked off, the game was a mismatch with one side comfortably better than the other. Even though the first half was considerably less eventful than the second, there was enough on show to suggest that Klopp’s side were biding their time, waiting for a major opportunity to reveal itself.
With West Ham tiring and gaps starting to open after the hour mark, Curtis Jones replaced James Milner to pick up the intensity within the dominant Reds midfield, which paid off with immediate effect. After receiving the ball in the middle, the youngster drove forward and after a quick one two, laid the ball into the path of Salah who weaved himself into space, before unleashing a delicious curling strike into the top left corner.
Minutes later the lead was doubled into stupendous fashion. After clearing a West Ham corner, Alexander-Arnold rasped a 50-yard ball across the field to Xherdan Shaqiri, before the Swiss international perfectly picked out the clean through Salah with a looped 30-yard effort. If this was any other player receiving the ball, I would confidently say that the move would be over but the Egyptian killed the ball with his right foot and slotted home immediately with his left, to the delight of many on the Reds bench and back on Merseyside.
This was a goal of the season contender, never mind goal of the month. This was Liverpool counter attacking football at it’s best. Many a fan with have eulogised over this exquisite 15 seconds of football that many would normally think couldn’t be topped. If the second goal was the best of counter attacking football, the third goal was some of the best possession play that you will see in the Premier League this season.
After a move that consisted of 35 uninterrupted passes, the ball found its way to Roberto Firmino on the right, who found the onrushing Gini Wijnaldum to tuck home and secure a well-deserved three points. This will also go down as another goal of the season contender due to the slick and stylish build up play that was subsequently passed into the back of Łukasz Fabiański’s net.
The late Craig Dawson consolation for the Hammers will anger the Liverpool defence – especially Alisson who loses another clean sheet in the dying moments – but overall Klopp will be extremely happy with his sides work in the last 96 hours, knowing that another tough week is upon them and only maximum points is enough to keep their title defence on track.
The German made three changes from the side who beat Tottenham 3-1 on Thursday evening. Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi and Nathaniel Phillips came into the side for the rested Roberto Firmino and injured duo of Sadio Mané (minor muscle injury) and Joël Matip (ankle ligaments).
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Mohamed SalahEmbed from Getty Images
He is an outstanding footballer. One of the best players in the world. What more can I say about this man? He delivers game after game, season after season for Klopp’s side and there are still a small minority who doubt him.
He was mesmerising from the moment he took the field, running Aaron Cresswell into the ground. He was pestering the West Ham defence into mistakes and providing his teammates with a consistent conveyer belt of opportunities. Alone, this would have impressed many a fan and pundit, but his two goals on top of this just made this performance special.
His first to break the deadlock was signature Salah. After receiving the ball with four West Ham players in and around him, he waltzed through the crowd before using the final player as a guide, as he whipped the ball beyond the motionless Fabiański. We have seen it so many times before against Everton, Southampton and AS Roma just to name a few, but every time he cuts inside like this and finishes with perfection gives me goosebumps. If that first goal was classed as beautiful, then his second was beyond special that words can’t adequately describe.
In a ruthless display of counter attacking football, the Reds swiftly went from one end of the pitch to the other without breaking stride. After Shaqiri had deliciously flighted the ball over to the Egyptian in the Hammers area, there was still so much that the forward still had to do. However, the 28-year-old was calmness personified, as he delicately brought the ball down under his spell with his weaker foot, before dispatching it softly over the frantic dive of Fabiański.
If you wanted to show anyone why people loved football and what beautiful is, just show them the 15 second clip of this goal. The fact that Liverpool managed to produce a goal of this class and magnitude just made it even more special.
His brace today takes him to 21 goals for the season, and the fourth season in a row in which he has 20+ goals. It is a phenomenal record which hasn’t been done since Ian Rush. He will go down as a club legend with performances like this one an ever-growing occurrence within his Liverpool portfolio, whilst we hope this seasons efforts can be regarded as major contributions towards either a defence of the Premier League crown or a seventh Champions League title.
Nathaniel PhillipsEmbed from Getty Images
An absolute juggernaut at the back. Since his Premier League debut in the reverse fixture against West Ham, he has been in and out of the side with many wondering if Klopp truly trusted him at the back. With Henderson and Fabinho playing in defence ahead of him, this suggested that he wasn’t good enough. However, since coming on against Tottenham at half time, he has been nothing short of superb.
One thing that Liverpool currently lack in the side is a strong aerial presence, which sides have taken advantage of since van Dijk and Gomez got injured. However, with Phillips in the team, they look relatively strong in this department such is the strength of the Englishman’s heading ability. At no point during the 90 minutes against West Ham was the centre half in trouble in losing any of these duels, winning a couple of key headers that could have been troublesome had he not won them.
The main worry for fans was his battle with Michail Antonio, who has been a thorn in the side of the Reds for several years. The former Nottingham Forest player firstly targeted Jordan Henderson, who didn’t give him an inch for the first 30 minutes. With no joy against the Reds skipper, he moved to try his hand at the inexperienced Phillips but found his opportunities even more limited, as he lost every battle against the 23-year-old.
His no-nonsense defending may not be innkeeping with the current Liverpool style that Klopp is trying to play, but clearly his introduction and straight forward approach has given the Reds another valuable option. His more physical ability has proved troublesome for many Premier League strikers who have been unable to cope with the consistent pressure he applies.
It is great to see his him playing well and proving his worth to the club. He was hours away in the summer window from joining Bristol City, but his services where required and he has delivered when called upon. Hopefully, he can continue his good form over what is going to be a massive week for the Reds title ambitions this season.
Takumi MinaminoEmbed from Getty Images
What has he got to do to play?
In his last appearance for the Reds, he put in an impressive all-round display as Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 7-0 in a performance of the season contender. Many saw this as the turning point in the Japanese internationals career as his third minute goal in that contest started the onslaught. Since then, he hasn’t even mustered a substitutes appearance, with the previously out of form Divock Origi preferred instead.
There is clearly something happening between him and Klopp as from the outside many Reds fans – including myself – are bemused at why he hasn’t been given another opportunity after the promising display pre-Christmas. Whether it be performance in training, his attitude or something being said to the manager, I think people would appreciate an explanation for the 26-year-olds apparent isolation.
With Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri both putting in improved performances against West Ham from the start, the rest of the season looks pretty bleak for the forward unless circumstances change rapidly. I would love to see Minamino given his chance to impress during the midweek game against Brighton if Mané is still absent, however I feel he will be once again overlooked, and with Diogo Jota now a couple of weeks from returning, his time at the club could be coming to an end.
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