Momentum is a great thing. It takes times to build up but when it does it can turn good teams into great teams. Momentum builds confidence and breeds success. The timing of momentum is what is key. Getting some momentum are a period in the season where you are about to face some tricky games can either make up for points you may lose during that run or put you in the best position possible ahead of them. It’s fair to say that Liverpool have built up some very good momentum as of late and, with Porto and Manchester United on the horizon, it was expected that a victory over West Ham on Saturday would go some way to extending that run.
Having not played not played in the F.A Cup last weekend Liverpool had had ten days off since we beat annihilated Porto at the Estadio Dragao in the Champions League. That meant that Jurgen Klopp was able to pick his strongest available team knowing that our next game wasn’t for another seven days either. Rested from a what I’m sure was a lovely little mid-season break in Marbella, Virgil Van Dijk partnered Joel Matip in the centre of defence flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. The unwell Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson wouldn’t make the starting XI though, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner – who was mercurial in Portugal the week before last – joined Emre Can in the middle of the park. Do I need to tell you who started up front?
West Ham also had a rest last week having been the second Premier League victims of Wigan in the fourth round of the F.A Cup. That didn’t mean David Moyes had reconsidered his stance on Joe Hart though, with Adrian still being chosen over the apparent England number one. Patrice Evra did make his West Ham debut though at the stadium which is probably most unwelcoming to him in the world of football. Marko Arnautovic has been a bright spark for The Hammers since the arrival of their new manager. He was preferred to forge ahead alone up top at the expense of the more natural option, Javier Hernandez.
Shooting towards the Anfield Road End, Liverpool immediately seized control of the game. It took only three minutes for us to carve our first real chance of the game. Having been played in down the left channel by James Milner, Roberto Firmino played in Mohamed Salah on the edge of the box. Salah took one touch inside the onrushing centre half before firing towards goal, but Adrian was able to get fingertips onto the ball on its way to hitting the post. West Ham would also hit the wood work though. Arnautovic was played in by Noble and was being held off well by Van Dijk. He got to the edge of the area before trying a cheeky chip over Loris Karius. The German stopper was struggling but got the slightest finger on the ball to help it onto the bar, saving a certain goal.
West Ham possession, let alone chances, was short lived though. Liverpool began to take the game to the opposition, forcing mistakes from a midfield that was lethargic. Looking back now, Mark Noble, Cheikou Kouyate and Joao Mario were ill-equipped physically to deal with the pressure would face from Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner. It was always going to be a mis-match and so it proved to be. West Ham were unable to get the ball out of their half without hitting it long to their Austrian talisman. Liverpool were taking advantage too by creating clear chances, the best coming when Andy Robertson’s sumptuous left-wing cross was headed just wide by Mo Salah. Adrian’s goal was on borrowed time and, on the half hour mark, time ran out.
After a succession of corners, Salah strode over to the right wing to whip in an in-swinger. The ball into the six-yard box was tempting and found a poorly marked Emre Can. The big German was able to nod past the goalkeeper without much of a challenge from three yards and put Liverpool ahead. As Can wheeled away he was safe in the knowledge that he had put his side into a deserved lead. The question was whether we could hold onto it.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance, West Ham were creating chances. Marko Arnautovic was proving to be a thorn in the side of the Liverpool defence and was also the opposition’s main threat. Shortly before half time he took control of the ball centrally, about twenty-five yards from goal. He shifted inside before letting fly towards the top corner of the Kop net. Karius flung himself across his goal though to save spectacularly. West Ham weren’t dead yet, but the half was, as the referee called time on the first period shortly after. Jurgen Klopp will have been pleased with his sides first half display but will have been looking for the game to be put to bed in the second forty-five. David Moyes will have been wondering how his side were going to get back into this game although Marko Arnautovic looked their best bet.
The second half started rather slowly – that was until six minutes after the break. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had possession of the ball on the edge of the box was in a battle with Kouyate. He managed to hold onto the ball but then fell into another scrap with Angelo Ogbonna. Again, he fended off the challenge and flicked great ball into the feet of Salah. The Egyptian took one touch before shooting through the legs of James Collins and into the opposite corner of the goal to where Adrian was standing. There was now clear daylight between The Reds and The Hammers. The gap was about to widen.
Six minutes after extending our lead, Adrian chipped a ball to Joao Mario on the halfway line. He tried a little flick to take the ball away from Milner but was met by Emre Can. He took control of the ball and lifted a delightful pass over the opposition defence for Firmino to run onto. Adrian rushed out to intercept but Firmino got their first. He nicked it through the ‘keeper’s legs and passed it into the back of the open net while looking the opposite way. The party tricks were now out but maybe it was a little too soon.
West Ham responded by replacing Manuel Lanzini with Michail Antonio and the winger was immediately into the action. Two minutes after Liverpool made it 3-0 Emre Can lost possession in midfield to Kouyate. He brought the ball forward before feeding in Antonio in the right channel. The substitute took one touch into the area before firing through Van Dijk’s legs, who had come back to close down the shot, and beyond the despairing dive of Loris Karius. The West Ham cheer was louder than one you would hear at any other ground in the country in this situation. They this was Liverpool they were playing, and we’ve given away points from these positions before. Perhaps we still had a game on our hands after all.
Following West Ham’s goal Liverpool forged ahead. Our main threat came from out wide, namely from Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. There is no doubt that in these two we have possibly two of the best full backs in the division, certainly at left back in Robertson. His energy and work rate are unmatched. His defensive work is an upgrade on anything we had there last season and his delivery into the area is fantastic. Alexander-Arnold is maturity beyond if nineteen years but clearly still has a lot to learn. He too can whip a ball superbly and his defending is very good, yet he needs to pick his runs more wisely and become more a physical presence. These will both come with time and experience, and, when they do, we could have Englands first choice right back in our ranks.
Eventual man of the match Robertson and his young right sided team-mate were providing deadly width to our attacks. Liverpool had a range of options for creativity, whether it be pinpoint crosses from out wide or jinking runs and awkward to deal with movement from a lethal front three. Our attacks varied, and West Ham were flagging. Their looked increasingly like a consolation as they focussed more on, and failed to work out, how to deal with Liverpool. Their uncertainty was becoming problematic for them. First, Oxlade-Chamberlain had the ball on the edge of the box and fired towards goal only to see his effort clawed away by Adrian. Then Oxlade-Chamberlain dribbled across the box before sliding in Mane, who had broken the line with ease. The Senegalese, the only one of the front three not to score at this point, was in acres of space. He turned and tried to pass it into the bottom corner, but the ball hit the foot of the post before bouncing away. On seventy-seven minutes though his wait would come to an end.
Roberto Firmino was thirty yards from the West Ham goal with the ball with six or seven blue shirts ahead of him. He spotted the marauding run of the mercurial Robertson on his outside and the layed the ball into his path. Robertson timed his run to perfection, so he could knock it across the box first time. No opposition defender reacted as quickly as Sadio Mane did, who began his foray into the box as ball left Firmino’s foot. The ball from Robertson was perfectly weighted for Mane to run onto and convert via the post. He ran towards the Kop, comically mimicking Roberto Firmino’s spinning kick celebration and thus displaying the atmosphere that is in the Liverpool dressing at the minute.
The last thirteen minutes of the game consisted of both sides accepting the result before the referee eventually called time on a great performance and result for Liverpool. Not only does this expand the gap between ourselves and Spurs, who lie in 5th place in the Premier League, to five points, but it also sees us climb above Manchester United into second place in the Premier League table.
Many are saying that Liverpool are looking best placed for the runners-up spot in the league this season and they have every right to think so. We look like we are improving game on game, there seems to be no hangover or fallout from the sale of Philippe Coutinho, and the signing of Virgil Van Dijk looks to have solved most of our most prominent defensive issues. We are beginning to find momentum at the most important point of the season. As I said at the beginning of this report though, momentum is all about timing. Whether we have time our run down the home stretch well or not will only be decided in May.