Liverpool 4 – West Ham 0: Match Review & Analysis

All of the build-up is over. The World Cup is but a distant memory. The moment that most of us have been waiting for is finally upon us and proper football returns to Anfield for the start of the new season. Liverpool’s pre-season exploits meant that we were all confident heading into this one, with a few people at least slightly concerned about the fact that West Ham have bought some decent summer signings and have a talented manager in place. It’s good that some weren’t over-confident, but there was definitely a feeling amongst some that anything less than a four or five goal win would be disappointing. I don’t like that sort of arrogance from supporters, given that there’s a reason that the Premier League is considered to be one of the most competitive divisions in the world. Yet at the same time we can’t pretend that it hasn’t been an exciting summer and the squad is looking strong.

Jürgen Klopp has managed to blend some new players in much needed positions with players that helped us look like we could conquer all of Europe last year, meaning that we’re a stronger proposition for the campaign ahead. The problem with the first game of the new season is that it’s tempting to read into every aspect of it. A massive win means that you’re going to be challenging for the title, whilst a scruffy draw or a disappointing loss means that’s the title’s gone for another twelve months. The reality is that it’s just three points from a possible one hundred and fourteen, so you can’t get too carried away regardless of the result. The only thing you can do is have a look at how things have panned out and look at the seeds that have been sprouted. We’ve done brilliantly in pre-season, but competitive football is an entirely different kettle of fish. So how did we do in game number one against Manuel Pellegrini’s new look West Ham?

It Was Like A Continuation Of Pre-Season

There was plenty to get excited about today, but perhaps the thing I’m most pleased about is the fact that we didn’t even look like we came out of second gear. Though we started the match obviously in the mood for it, there were times when it looked like a continuation of our pre-season. We seemed to play at the pace and with the desire that was necessary to get the win without ever really needing to break a sweat. It was the sort of performance that, had it come from either of the Manchester clubs, the press would be referring to as ‘ominous’ or a ‘statement of intent’. We won 4-0 but never truly needed to work that hard for any of the goals, which is delightful to see.

It’s early days, of course, and much sterner tests are yet to come. Even next week week will pose a more difficult challenge, with Crystal Palace always a tough proposition at Selhurst Park. You can only beat the team in front of you, as the old cliché goes, which Liverpool did at a canter today. It was a pleasure to watch and you can understand why, to refer to my intro, some Liverpool supporters will be leaving Anfield feeling excited after that result. The opening game of the season is never an easy one to predict, not quite knowing how the opposition is going to setup or how well players are going to gel with each other, but the Reds adapted perfectly to what was in front of them and did exactly what they needed to do in matching Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs in getting three points on the board straight away.

If Only Every Team Would Play Such A High Line

Manuel Pellegrini is a very good manager. You don’t get to add a Premier League winner’s medal to your CV if you’re not. Yet his decision to persist with such a high line against this Liverpool team was, frankly, bizarre. This is a side that is filled with intelligent attacking players who know how to exploit space and when to hold their runs. The defensive line worked for a short time, but the likes of Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino are simply too good to be caught out by it for long. You saw that with the first goal, with passes being held until the right moment and the cross so perfectly pitched that the Egyptian King simply needed to walk it in. It’s brilliant that he’s picked up where he left off last time out, looking like he’s over his injury and ready for the season ahead.

Sadly I very much doubt that every team will turn up at Anfield and play with such a stupidly high line. Indeed, the vast majority are far more likely follow José Mourinho’s lead from last season and refuse to allow the players to move past the halfway line, camping out on the edge of the box where possible. It will mean that the attack will need to work much harder than they did today to break down opposition defence’s, but it might be a sign of how sides might approach games against us with the attitude of needing to so something different to get a result from us. The fact that the press have spent the summer acting as if we’re the main team that will be able to challenge Manchester City isn’t just helpful in terms of our confidence, it’s also likely to feed into the psyche of teams coming to Anfield and wondering what they can to do to get points off us.

The New Players Will Need Time To Settle

If you’ve read anything about Naby Keita since we managed to secure his signature last summer then you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was going to win games single-handedly. He’s arrived at Anfield with a sterling reputation, with those that spent time watching him in the Bundesliga last season absolutely raving about him and declaring that he’s the missing link from Liverpool’s midfield. Whilst he showed glimpses of what he’s going to offer today, I think it’s fair to say that he’s going to grow into his role at the club and it’s no bad thing to acknowledge that he’s got room to grow. That’s not to damn him with faint praise, however. I did think he offered plenty and he regularly chose a more intelligent pass than just a simple, obvious one.

As for Alisson, it’s difficult to make any kind of sensible judgement about him given that he was barely even tested throughout the ninety minutes. It’s interesting how many people are willing to forgive him making similar errors that they spent last season lambasting Loris Karius for, given that he was sloppy in possession at times and palmed a cross across the face of the goal that was not dissimilar to the one that Tottenham scored from when Victor Wanyama smashed in a screamer. It’s not about comparing the goalkeepers, of course, and if the Brazilian is given the time and support that his German colleague should’ve been afforded then I’m all for it. None of this is to say that the new lads underperformed, but rather that they’ll look even more exciting once they’ve properly settled into life on Merseyside.

The Defence Looked Solid

I’ve had some debates with fellow fans on Twitter over the past couple of days because of my opinion that Liverpool should’ve signed a centre-back during the summer. Those that criticised me were quick to point out that we’ve got five lads who can play in the middle of the defence and therefore were ‘well-stocked’. My problem isn’t with the number of players we’ve got, nor of the ability of the players. My issue this summer was about the fact that none of Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan nor Joe Gomez have demonstrated that they can be available regularly enough to form a convincing partnership with Virgil van Dijk. Even heading into this match there was a massive question mark over who would partner the Dutchman when Jürgen Klopp released his first team-sheet of the season.

Today doesn’t disprove my theory, of course. I’m concerned about the duration of the season, not just one game. It’s legitimately possible that we could find ourselves in a situation where our back four is centred around Joe Gomez and Nat Phillips at some point, despite that being entirely avoidable. Yet I’m also not so married to my position that I refuse to admit the defence looked solid today. Marko Arnautović was one of the most impressive players I saw at Anfield when West Ham turned up in the last campaign, but he was kept quiet today and Gomez dealt with him well whenever he needed to. The longer he gets to play with van Dijk and part of a settled defence with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson and in front of Alisson Becker, the quicker he’ll being to be comfortable and relax into his new role. It’s a positive start!

New Season, Same Old Refereeing

I really want to go into this season without constantly moaning about the refereeing, by my goodness the men in the middle seem to be determined to make that as hard as possible. I wanted to say a quick word about Anthony Taylor’s performance on the back of a convincing win so that I can’t be accused of it being based around sour grapes. I understand that refereeing isn’t easy. The game moves at such a quick pace and the officials will naturally be caught out every now and then. I’m not even that annoyed about the referee almost gifting West Ham a goal when he deflected the ball to Arnautović, given that things like that will happen every now and then.

Referees will make mistakes, we all accept that. Those of us that are in favour of the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee believe it’s important because it will help them get more big decisions right than wrong. The major issue I have is when they can’t even get the basics right. There was a moment in the second-half when Taylor used his spray to paint a line on the floor for a Liverpool free-kick, only to then allow the West Ham players to stand in front of it when the kick was taken. That’s not a difficult decision, that’s just a weak referee. He then stopped play because two of the Hammers’ players had been kicked in the nether regions with the ball. Unless I’m much mistake, that’s not the head injury refs are supposed to be concerned about. New season, but the referees don’t look any better.

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