Monday 18 November 2019

Defensive nightmare back to haunt Rodgers as Liverpool are humbled by red-hot Hammers

Liverpool 0 West Ham United 3

Liverpool's Alberto Moreno in action with West Ham's Cheikhou Kouyate
Liverpool's Alberto Moreno in action with West Ham's Cheikhou Kouyate
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic celebrates with Diafra Sakho
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers with Philippe Coutinho after he was sent off
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is shown a second yellow card by referee Kevin Friend

Carl Markham at Anfield

The Beatles were at No 1 with She Loves You when West Ham United last won at Liverpool courtesy of goals from a then un-knighted Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. Forty-two times since that 2-1 win in September 1963 their supporters have traipsed back to east London without any tangible reward.

No longer. Fifty-two years on, reward came wrapped in an emphatic victory for Slaven Bilic's side.

"Super Slav" sang the travelling support as their manager savoured his second win in the Premier League. The first came at Arsenal, the second at Anfield with goals from the excellent Manuel Lanzini, Mark Noble and Diafra Sakho. After home defeats by Leicester City and Bournemouth, it appears West Ham are already thriving away from the Boleyn Ground.

Not even Noble's harsh dismissal could remove the gloss from this uplifting display for the visitors. For Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, however, this was a galling, dispiriting defeat capped by a red card for Philippe Coutinho that means he will miss the trip to Old Trafford on September 12.

Their new-found defensive prowess was in tatters from the start. Rodgers' team would have equalled the club's Premier League record by keeping a fourth clean sheet from the start of the season, having failed to keep four in a row since 2011, but West Ham shattered their impregnability after merely 148 seconds. Vulnerability to a quality cross would be a feature of Liverpool's performance all afternoon and they succumbed to the first of the game from the hugely impressive Dimitri Payet.

Liverpool had opened brightly with Emre Can and Roberto Firmino typifying the energetic, industrious approach witnessed at Arsenal last Monday. But they granted Payet far too much space at the visitors' first attack and compounded the problem when Martin Skrtel headed his right wing cross to Aaron Cresswell on the edge of the Liverpool area. The former Anfield trainee drilled a low delivery into the six-yard area where Manuel Lanzini ghosted in ahead of Joe Gomez to convert from close range. A soft, simple way for Liverpool to spoil their clean sheet.

The home team were almost level shortly afterwards when Firmino, making his first start at Anfield, cut inside Mark Noble 25 yards out and unleashed a powerful left-foot strike that struck a post with Darren Randolph beaten in the West Ham goal. For all the probing of their Brazilian pairing, Coutinho and Firmino, that was as close as Liverpool came in the first half as the visitors' well-organised, powerful defence limited the space and supply available to Christian Benteke.

By contrast, Payet and Lanzini were a potent force on the counter-attack for Bilic's team, who should have doubled their lead through Cresswell only for the left-back to scoop a fine chance over from 15 yards.

West Ham were ultimately gifted their second courtesy of a dreadful error by Dejan Lovren. Rodgers had hailed the Croatia international for his early-season improvement on the eve of the game but was left cursing that public vote of confidence when the £20m central defender lost out to Lanzini near the corner flag. Lovren shook off the attentions of the on-loan Argentinian on the touchline, then inexplicably turned the ball into Lanzini's path on the byeline. The former River Plate midfielder strolled into the Liverpool area unopposed and, though Nathaniel Clyne intercepted a cross intended for Diafra Sakho, the ball broke for the in-coming Mark Noble to slide a measured finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Boos rang out from the Kop for Liverpool's laboured display at half-time and the home supporters became incensed when Coutinho was sent off for a second bookable offence seven minutes after the restart. Coutinho, recalled to the Brazil squad on Friday, foolishly invited trouble from referee Kevin Friend. Already booked for dissent late in the first half, the No 10 sent Payet tumbling while lying flat on the ground.

Rodgers replaced Emre Can with Alberto Moreno at half-time and reverted to a 3-4-2-1 formation. He gave Danny Ings a first Liverpool appearance in place of Firmino, introduced Jordan Ibe for Gomez. The pattern remained the same. Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna continued to dominate Benteke in the air while Noble and Pedro Obiang worked tirelessly in central midfield to protest their defence.

Noble received the second red card of the game for a supposed foul on Ings committed after Friend had blown for a West Ham free-kick. The visiting captain protested long and hard over the straight red, so too his manager, having appeared to win the ball from the former Burnley striker. It mattered not. Sakho sealed a fine away win with a low shot through Skrtel's legs and inside Simon Mignolet's near post in stoppage-time.


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