Liverpool headed down to London to finally turn the potential points of their game in hand into reality.
Only Divock Origi continued on from their poor performance against Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup. He was the only change from the side that beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, replacing the injured Sadio Mane. Jurgen Klopp returned to Liverpool’s usual 4-3-3 formation after using a 4-4-2 against Wolves.
David Moyes set up his team in a 5-4-1 shape, making two changes from the team that lost to Leicester City: Lukasz Fabianksi replaced Darren Randolph in goal and teenager Jeremy Ngakia replaced Pablo Zabaleta at right-back.
West Ham were extremely passive. They sat back in a 5-4-1 shape to defend, letting Liverpool have the ball. Usually in a low block, a team will allow the opposition space high up the pitch but close them down and shut off space once they begin to enter the attacking third, however West Ham weren’t even doing that, often letting Liverpool’s players simply wander forward in between them even in their own half.
Nevertheless, the back five ensured that West Ham always had plenty of bodies around the penalty area, so that even if Liverpool found it easy to get the ball into attacking areas, they didn’t have the space to finish off those moves.
This back five adjusted depending on which flank Liverpool played down. Pass out to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Arthur Masuaku would push out of the backline to close him down, yet play out to Andy Robertson and it was generally Robert Snodgrass who would close him down. This made the game easier for Ngakia, allowing him to stay close to Issa Diop.
Liverpool weren’t offering a great deal to really test West Ham though. Quick interchanges of passes got Robertson running in behind down the left a few times, but for the most part Liverpool were simply playing short sideways passes amongst themselves, shifting from one side to the other. This could have been a good strategy to wear West Ham down, forcing them to sprint from one flank to the other, but Liverpool were playing far too slowly, meaning West Ham weren’t having to exert much effort to get across and cover.
West Ham were very poor in attack themselves. They were constantly giving the ball away in their own half under fairly basic pressure from Liverpool and their main alternative to passing short was just lumping it up to Sébastien Haller with Snodgrass sprinting forward in support, which rarely troubled Liverpool’s defenders.
They managed to look threatening on the counter a few times, pushing Masuaku forward and Ngakia also venturing into attack as his confidence grew, however the full-backs’ deliveries were generally terrible, handing the ball straight back to Liverpool.
Liverpool ended up taking the lead due to this. Masuaku managed to dribble past Alexander-Arnold only to then play his pass behind Haller. Robertson intercepted the ball and Liverpool sprung forward on the counter, the move ending when both Diop and Ngakia felled Origi in the box. Mohamed Salah stepped up to take the resulting penalty and scored from the first shot on target of the game.
They doubled their lead shortly into the second half from another counter. West Ham had a corner that Virgil van Dijk headed away and Liverpool went straight down the other end and scored, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finishing.
West Ham began to close down Liverpool with greater intensity, often looking like a 4-4-2 due to Masuaku getting dragged up the pitch into midfield, however they changed basically nothing else. Moyes made only one substitution, removing Manuel Lanzini for Pablo Fornals. They never looked like they had any hope of getting back into the game.
West Ham offered very little to trouble Liverpool, and the Reds didn’t even do much to work around what small problems the home side did pose, and yet they still ran out convincing winners without ever getting out of first gear.
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