Sport Liverpool

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Coutinho's class keeps Reds' fate in their own hands

West Ham 0-4 Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho (C) shoots past West Ham United defender James Collins to score his team's second goal. Photo: Getty
Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho (C) shoots past West Ham United defender James Collins to score his team's second goal. Photo: Getty

Jeremy Wilson

Liverpool's place back among Europe's elite is almost certainly assured, but it is hard to know whether Roy Keane or Arsene Wenger would have been the more incensed viewer.

Keane says he physically "cringes" when he see clubs of Liverpool's stature celebrating mere Champions League qualification, but there was no holding back here following a 4-0 victory that leaves only a home fixture with relegated Middlesbrough as the last obstacle.

Manager Jurgen Klopp made the most of the London Stadium's vast technical area to perform a touchline jig once what he called a "perfect" victory was clinched, while the Liverpool fans celebrated as if a trophy had been won.

Wenger's ire would surely have concerned the performance of West Ham.

Yes, they had eight senior players injured, including Mark Noble and Andy Carroll, but they offered only the most limited resistance. Safe from relegation but well adrift of European football, this was the sort of performance that unavoidably provokes those 'already on the beach' clichés.

Feeble

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp should spend big in the transfer market, according to former Reds striker John Aldridge
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp should spend big in the transfer market, according to former Reds striker John Aldridge

Defensively, West Ham were feeble and the final scoreline was actually still more flattering to them.

Liverpool will not care and are now poised for what would only be their second top-four finish in the past eight seasons. A potential points tally of 76 has also only been bettered by four Liverpool teams in the entire Premier League era and, while considerable investment and improvement will be needed next season to compete across two fronts, Klopp is now in pole position to deliver on his first big target.

The next week will be spent warning against any complacency and, while it is hard to imagine an upset on Sunday, it is still likely to be a more rigorous test than this. Mastering nerves, even in front of a fervent Anfield crowd, will also be key.

"Part of our life is to ignore the bad part of pressure and to use the good part of pressure," said Klopp.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge rounds West Ham goalkeeper Adrian to score his team's first goal. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge rounds West Ham goalkeeper Adrian to score his team's first goal. Photo: Reuters

"These players did so well this season. Nobody makes 73 points as a present.

"The first sentence the players said in the dressing room was: 'One more time. One more game.' We will stay focused 100 per cent. We know about the difficulty of the next game. Nobody will go into this game and underestimate it even one per cent. Middlesbrough have had a hard season and I'm pretty sure they'll want to enjoy playing football at Anfield. That makes life difficult for us."

Klopp also hopes that Liverpool will have the option next week of Roberto Firmino, whose absence along with Sadio Mane contributed to a first start since January 2 for Daniel Sturridge. The formation was also tweaked, with Sturridge and Divock Origi starting in the advanced positions, while Philippe Coutinho drifted more centrally to help establish their control of possession.

Klopp acknowledged Coutinho is at his best "in the middle of the park", but it was from a corner that he created the first chance, with Joel Matip finding space but aiming his downward header into the ground and on to the bar.

After James Milner had also wasted a good chance, Coutinho did then dissect West Ham's defence for Sturridge.

West Ham United's Edimilson Fernandes in action with Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Reuters
West Ham United's Edimilson Fernandes in action with Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Reuters

Winston Reid and James Collins had both stepped out, but Jose Fonte was napping to play Sturridge onside and he rounded Adrian confidently to open the scoring.

Klopp later praised Sturridge's wider contribution, but also acknowledged an extraordinary moment both of fortune and profligacy.

With the score still at 1-0, West Ham's Andre Ayew somehow twice hit the post from a distance of two yards following a Manuel Lanzini corner.

"One of the biggest chances I ever saw in my life," said Klopp.

Liverpool were clearly determined to make a fast start when the game resumed and Klopp said they had spent half-time identifying different paths of attack.

Origi, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum all quickly forced saves from Adrian, but Liverpool's dominance had become so complete that a second goal was inevitable.

Wijnaldum volleyed against the crossbar and, after the ball was only half-cleared by Reid, the chance fell to Coutinho on the edge of the penalty area.

Reid and Havard Nordtveit's attempt to close down Coutinho were utterly half-hearted and the Brazilian easily found sufficient space to shoot past Adrian.

West Ham felt aggrieved when Wijnaldum's arm struck Reid's face, but their penalty appeal was waved away and Liverpool soon exploited the situation to release Coutinho.

James Collins was still between him and the goal, but the Welsh defender was statuesque as Coutinho again shuffled into a position to finish calmly beyond Adrian.

Origi hit the crossbar after that, but finally did join the scorers following more hapless West Ham defending to complete the rout.

Telegraph.co.uk

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