When we beat Maribor 7-0 at their home ground in our Champions League group game just over a fortnight ago, it set pulses racing ahead of our Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur. A combination of Dejan Lovren falling apart and Simon Mignolet returning to mean later and our pulses were no longer racing but our stress levels couldn’t have been much higher. A 4-1 loss to Spurs wasn’t what anybody expected, but it was perhaps something of a wake up call to Jürgen Klopp as far as our defending was concerned, with that match at Wembley followed up by two regulation three nil wins at home against Huddersfield and the Slovenian side.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) 4 November 2017
So would we see another regulation performance against West Ham, or would it be a return to the dodgy defence we’ve seen too often on the road so far this season? Fifteen goals conceded on the road in the league compared to just the one at Anfield has proven us to be one of the maddest teams in the division. The Olympic Stadium is comparable to Wembley in terms of its stature as a football ground, but it’s entirely different when it comes to who plays there. West Ham have been struggling, with Slaven Bilic clinging on to his job by a threat thanks to recent results. That said, they’d only lost twice at The London Stadium before we rocked up. The stage, as they say, was most certainly set.
A Crazy Starting Eleven
Let’s be honest, no one saw that starting line-up coming from Jürgen Klopp. In his press conference just yesterday afternoon he informed the media that Sadio Mané had been running outside and training with the first-team to the extent that he might get twenty minutes or so at the end of the game. Even Liverpool Echo journalists, who are genuinely quite well-informed despite what the haters might say, didn’t think he’d be back on the bench, let alone that he’d start! It was a big call from a man that doesn’t like rushing players back, regardless of the circumstances.
Mane starting after returning to training only this week, 2 weeks ahead of schedule. An unexpected but very welcome surprise that. #LFC
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) 4 November 2017
It was a decision that paid off almost immediately, with Mané integral to the opening goal. The speed with which he and Mohamed Salah burst forward from West Ham’s corner was a sight to behold, being reminiscent of the Red Arrows we grew used to watching last season. Their combined pace caused West Ham problems throughout, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting involved in giving the Hammers’s defenders nightmares too. It gave us a tantalising glimpse into what we can expect to see when they’re both fit and firing, which isn’t something we’ve been able to watch enough so far this campaign thanks to Mané’s recent hamstring injury. If the two can stay fit, just how many goals can they score between them? 20? 30? It’ll be exciting to find out.
Mané’s appearance in the starting line-up wasn’t the only surprise that Klopp had in store. Gini Wijnaldum reportedly went to bed on Friday night with a badly swollen ankle and the manager was prepared to rest him. When he woke up it was much improved, so into the starting line-up he went. Perhaps that was something to do with the fact that Jordan Henderson has picked up a thigh injury and couldn’t play. I’m also doubtful that the manager believes James Milner has got the legs to play three times in a week, which is good because he hasn’t. There was also a first Premier League start for Oxlade-Chamberlain, seemingly in his favoured position in the middle of the park. Except that there was another surprise from the German, who lined us up in something of a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than his preferred 4-3-3.
Hands up who saw that team selection coming?
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) 4 November 2017
I’d love to say that that was enough surprises for one day, but Klopp also had to make a decision over the captain with Henderson out and Milner on the bench. For reasons I can only put down to trolling, the German gave the honour to our goalkeeper. Now I confess I’ve never been particularly trusting of the Belgian, but even his most ardent supporters would surely admit that communication has never been one of his strongest attributes. How, exactly, was a man who is a essentially a mute supposed to communicate with his entire team? Semaphore? Perhaps this was the manager’s way of telling people who dislike Jordan Henderson as captain that things could be an awful lot worse? Regardless, Mignolet had his usual game of not being directly responsible for goals and yet not doing much to to stop them.
An Attack In The Groove, A Defence Still Looking Suspect
It’s genuinely quite tricky to know how good our attack is. West Ham approached the first forty-five minutes like a side that knew their manager’s head was on the chopping block and was happy enough to sharpen the knife. There was little to no pressure on the Liverpool players and the fact that we of all sides were able to not only score from their corner but also one of our own spoke volumes. Our opening two goals came from West Ham players giving us more time and space then we deserved and not reacting quickly enough to the ball. The same could be said of our third, given that Chambo had enough time to get on the rebound off Joe Hart to stick it away for his first Premier League goal in Red.
“Awful. Passive. No heart. No passion. No desire. No team. No communication. No responsibility.”
Steven Gerrard on West Ham’s performance. pic.twitter.com/ue6yoQGuvs
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) 4 November 2017
Even so, we looked dangers enough every time we went forward, causing the West Ham defence all sorts of problems and getting into positions that should have seen us ask more questions of Hart. We scored 4 but even 6 or 7 wouldn’t have flattered us, given the number of chances we created and the lack of desire from the Hammers to make life difficult for us. We’ve probably actually played better than we did tonight already this season, yet we haven’t been as clinical in the final third. That’s the extent to which I think stories of us having a poor start have been exaggerated. Had we taken a few more of our chances we would probably not be all that far off Manchester City, but the reality is that being clinical is a huge part of being successful.
If being clinical in the final third is important then it’s arguably secondary to keeping things tight at the back. Numerous clean sheets in recent matches may have lulled the manager in to thinking that our defence is getting its act together. Hopefully he was more than a little bit alarmed by the extent to which a frankly dreadful West Ham side put us under pressure simply by putting Andy Carroll on the pitch. We won’t face a team in disarray every week, so finding a way to be a bit more confident at coping with a big man will surely help. Mignolet, to give him his due, came and collected a big ball into the box at one point and that was enough to stop the Hammers from trying that particular tactic. Certainly it’s a matter for the central defenders to figure out, given that Joe Gomez and Alberto Moreno are two of our most consistent players so far this season.
Watching Liverpool defence defend is the visual equivalent of a hysterical car alarm going off.
— Srijandeep Das (@srijandeep) 4 November 2017
What, then, have we learnt from recent matches? I’m not sure it’s an awful lot. Until we come up against a team away from home that actually puts our defence under pressure, there’s no way to know how much the defence has developed and how deadly the attack can be. I’m more than aware that this is all a bit churlish given we’ve won 4-1, but it’s also the truth. Perhaps the only things we’ve genuinely learnt from our match at The London Stadium is that Slaven Bilic won’t be West Ham’s manager after the international break. Not that that matters to Liverpool all that much, of course. Regardless of the decision that David Gold will make in the coming days, it’s great that we’ll have a victory to savour over the next couple of weeks instead of a loss.
Salah & Mané Could Be The Difference
I mentioned them before, but the extent to which Sadio Mané and Mo Salah could be the difference for us this season is unreal. Mané was our player of the season last year, which was no mean feat considering he missed about a third of it. If he can maintain his fitness this time around then I have no doubt that he’ll be a danger man again this time around. He definitely struggled a bit mentally after his sending off against Manchester City, but hopefully he’s got himself back in the right frame of mind during his absence and today’s performance certainly suggests he has. As soon as we broke forward from West Ham’s corner there was no question that he’d have the pace to get away from those chasing him, nor that he’d pick the right pass for Salah to score.
Salah’s 11th goal last season came on March 9th, by the way
— oh you beauty (@natefc) 4 November 2017
As far as the Egyptian’s concerned, he’s been an absolute revelation. He was a young player when he was signed by Chelsea and never really got a fair crack of the whip at Stamford Bridge, but he certainly seems to have learnt something during his time in the Premier League. He was decent for Roma but he’s gone to another level under Jürgen Klopp, with his finishing going to an elite level in recent times. According to Dan Kennett on Twitter, He’s scored his eleven Liverpool goals from just 55 shots. To give you some indication of where that puts him, Harry Kane has scored thirteen from 77 shots. Plenty of our supporters cry out for an out-and-out striker similar to Kane when we draw or lose, but the reality is that we might well have two. Not only that, but we’ve got a forward in Roberto Firmino who knows how to bring them into the game and that might well prove to be decisive.