In an interview after the win over Man City, Captain Jordan Henderson said: “We need more of the same.” Quick deductive reasoning says that he didn’t mean that we want to win more of our games by the same scoreline of 1-0 and, yet, here we are. This match hearkened back to the string of 2-1 wins a couple seasons ago, where we’d basically dominate the game, leaving no doubt as to which side deserved to win it, but still end up forcing supporters to chew their nails bloody while waiting for the clock to run out. I wasn’t quite that traumatized, since you could see that the game was, in fact, under control, even with the real chances that West Ham United were creating in the second half, but there’s no debate that tension was there. This season’s defensive performances have created a basis for that tension that’s basically indisputable. Teams are still getting through our back line and they’re still putting the best goalkeeper on the planet under pressure. Thankfully, the majority of the time, he’s up to the task.
Other than Alisson Becker and scorer, Darwin Nuñez, it’s probably safe to say that no one else except one other player had a great game; certainly not on the level of the performance against City, but it’s hard to duplicate those performances, especially against a David Moyes side that are usually predicated on not letting you do what you want to do, even to the failure of what they want to do, if anything. It was a hallmark of his squads at Everton and remains so now in his second stint with the Hammers. In that respect, they largely succeeded, presuming it was their efforts and not the Reds simply being off the ball after their efforts on Sunday. Seen from a distance, it could be argued that we set up a number of low quality chances and surrendered a couple high quality ones. But I think that argument is at least half-rooted in the change in expectations created by the match against the Sportswashers. Yes, West Ham came out on top in xG, 2.5 to our 2.25, but that difference isn’t that significant and Darwin was stopped by the post twice, rather than anything that the Hammers were able to do.
Speaking of which, that’s three goals in his last three starts, which may mean that he’s finally found his feet here on Merseyside and may be ready to fulfill the incredible promise he showed at Benfica. Hammer fans, Mensa candidates all, decided to chant: “You’re just a shit Andy Carroll!” at him. But that chant was far more effective against those of us who still roll our eyes at the ridiculous decision to fork over an insane amount of money to Newcastle for Carroll, instead of someone like Darwin, who almost certainly doesn’t know who Carroll is and who doesn’t understand English, anyway. A couple minutes after that chant was voiced, the winning goal went into the far corner. Of course, the loud voices among the TWWs were raised on Twitter when the three substitutions came in with a half hour left in the match, as that immediately started the rain of criticism for how the match changed and because Darwin was one of those replaced. After the match, Jürgen mentioned that Darwin had felt a muscle twinge at halftime, so there was good reason for the change, even aside from the desire to take advantage of our depth and because we’re in the middle of playing 13 matches in 43 days. But when you’re among the geniuses who don’t really understand what they’re watching, apparently the only answer is to throw a tantrum about how Jürgen Klopp doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Speaking of which, that other player with the great game? Yeah, that was the captain; a favorite target among the TWWs who, again, don’t really understand what they’re watching. The passes he was delivering to both control the ball in the middle third and unleash it in the final third were pretty typical Hendo. It’s what he still can do and the added fluidity created by being part of a double pivot that allows him to get forward with impunity is only highlighting that fact. It’s still a change in play and you can see we’re still getting used to some of the shifts that come from abandoning the 4-3-3 we’ve played for the past few years. But this game was exactly what we’ve come to expect out of a routine league win, even if the defense isn’t the implacable wall that it has been in the past (outside the six-yard box, anyway.) It is, to put it simply, more of the same.
Liverpool 1 – 0 West Ham
So, yeah, that diagram is kind of revealing, in that most of our shots were from the top half of the box which, again, is kind of a hallmark of a Moyes team. We, OTOH, gave up most of our opportunities right outside the six-yard box, which is less than ideal. In contrast to Sunday, Joe Gomez didn’t have a good game at all. The foul leading to the penalty was clearly a poor choice, but he also let a lot of balls bounce that he had covered against City’s quicker, but less physically dominant attackers. That latter point may be the key one, in that that Hammers’ front line is more prone to pushing you off the ball than simply circling you and taking it away. With Gareth Southgate in attendance, Joe didn’t make the strongest case for himself to be on the plane to Qatar which, of course, from my perspective is perfectly fine, since there’ll be less chance for injury playing downtime friendlies at home, but Joe probably has a different opinion.
That’s a striker’s statline, which is basically what we bought him for. He has those moments of movement where you’re like “Yeah! £80 million? Totally worth it!” because you can see the potential. Everyone keeps comparing him to fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez’s slow start with the Reds and I’m not quite sure he has that much potential, but it’s something to aspire to. And then, of course, he has those moments where you’re like: “Where did this guy learn to not play football?!” Some of that is still acclimatization. He’s playing with forwards that are significantly superior to anyone he played with at Benfica. It takes time to learn that Mo Salah is going to be here and not there. It will come and, given the injuries to Luís Diaz and Diogo Jota, Darwin is about to get a lot more minutes than Jürgen probably would’ve been comfortable with before. And he was a significant part of this:
This is the counterpoint to the “We were on the verge of losing/They got better chances” complaints. We still largely did what we wanted. As much as they disrupted some of our delivery, field tilt (percentage of touches in the attacking third) was still vastly in our favor. And even when they did get those chances, we had Alisson.
Considering that most people have long thought that saving penalties is the weakest part of his game, that’s a pretty enlightening stat. An assist and a penalty save in successive matches, plus another clean sheet? That’s a keeper that you want. When you see Man United fans ranting on Reddit about how the Liverpool goalie is the best in the league and/or world, you know you’re looking at something special which, of course, we knew already. Speaking of assists…
That was a perfect cross into the box for the goal. You almost can’t hit it better than that and we’ve seen Andy Robertson do some that are every bit as good. Having two left backs that could easily argue to start over the other is quite the luxury, given our usual offensive system, although I’d still favor Robbo over Kostas. But only just. The regular right back was returned to his (ahem) rightful spot, but it’s worth dropping a couple words about his replacement from Sunday.
The Robot Warrior, man. He’s indefatigable. For someone whom, like the captain, gets repeatedly dumped on by the fans who only assess success in terms of dollar/pound/Euro signs, it’s hilarious to point out just how important he’s been and continues to be to our club and that he was probably the best free transfer the club has landed in its 130-year history.
So, City Ground next. I know some of you think it’s a good thing that Forest is back in the top division because history or whatever. I’ll tellya about history. We’ve got plenty of it with that club and most of it not good. Hmph. After that, we’re at Ajax on Wednesday to solidify a place in the Champions League knockout rounds.
Also, as a last note and since I was just disrespecting the next opponent, due credit to Moyes for his press conference before the match when a reporter attempted to get a quote out of him about Jürgen’s red card on Sunday. Moyes was a whiner just like the rest of the Bitters when he was with Everton, but he’s always been a pretty level-headed guy about the game in general and this response only reinforces that feeling.