David Moyes has, uh, been around a while, if Jürgen’s cracks about his age before the match weren’t enough to clue you into that, and his style has never really changed. He was Everton’s last real hope at glory in the first decade of this century, playing a conservative and very organized style that let the Bitters turn decent talent into better results than anyone expected. He leveraged that apparent ability to turn iron ore into something almost gold into the appointment to the Man United job after Alex Ferguson finally decided to hang up his boots. That lasted less than a year, upon which he took over at Real Sociedad, which lasted less than a year, and then took over for Big Sam Allardyce at Sunderland and took them down to the Championship. This is his second bid at West Ham, having rescued them from relegation a few years back and then not having had his contract renewed (I believe the Hammers’ owners mumbled something about wanting someone “more exciting” at one point) and is now trying to stave off the Sunderland slide once again. He probably has more talent on this squad than he had even with any of his teams at Everton, but he still plays that methodical, stacked defense, counterattacking style that’s about as straightforward and, dare I say, Hodgson-like as you can get. “Very English” might be the proper term, especially if anyone’s seen Gareth Southgate lately. In that way, playing West Ham under Moyes will never be a particularly thrilling match because Moyes doesn’t like thrilling football. The fact that this match was running end-to-end for a few minutes in either half is a remarkable achievement in and of itself. But the fact that West Ham have now failed to win against us more than once in the last 14 matches isn’t of particular note. Kinda like Moyes.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. He’s a decent guy. He wasn’t infected with the bitterness of Goodison once he left. But football is supposed to be entertaining and West Ham are rarely that. That made our game kind of workman-like in its own fashion, as well (purely appropriate for a game against a club created (and largely made up of) a shipbuilding company.) There were some great moments of style; most notably Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass to Cody Gakpo and the latter’s excellent turn and strike for our first goal. But a lot of it was similar to the last match against Nottingham Forest. We dominated the ball, passing it when and where we wanted, and eventually found a couple openings and exploited them. After finally taking the lead, we then proceeded to demonstrate how time-wasting should really be done. Opta recently did a study about how much of a game’s official time the ball is actually in play among the top five leagues in Europe. The average in the PL is not good (55% of the time) but it was nice to see that Liverpool is one of the leaders in trying to keep the game moving, second to Man City in total time, but fastest in restarts and goal kicks, and third in throw-ins. That’s because we, like City, recognize that it’s better to have the ball actually in play and in our control. You could see it happen from about the 70th minute onward tonight when, despite dominating possession prior to that, the nature of our possession changed and we began passing around the perimeter more often and clearly killing the game off. The less time actually wasted means the less time the lead official will add to the end, which is why despite a goal celebration and multiple substitutions for both sides, there were only three minutes added at the end of the second half. We killed the clock, but we did it by playing the ball which, incidentally, also often presents opportunities to further the lead, which won’t happen if your keeper is doing a Jordan Pickford for the entire match.
One encouraging thing is that, even against a side that presents a vastly more threatening forward presence than Leeds or Forest (and whom demonstrated it a couple times in this match), we still stuck with the new formation of Trent as central playmaker and an effective back three. Jürgen said that there were some teams that we probably wouldn’t do that against and the only one that came to mind was Man City, but there are enough differences in approach by other teams compared to a Moyesian side that he apparently is confident enough in it to make it our base formation for now. I’m all about that, since it slightly reduces the urgency of midfield replacements this summer, now that we’re in the race for a half-dozen still expensive alternatives to Jude Bellingham, and clearly has jump-started Trent for the remainder of this season (4 assists in his last three matches.) The club has also stated that they’re not looking for anymore backup at right back, either, with Joe Gomez, Conor Bradley, and Calvin Ramsay on hand. It also gives us more versatility in the middle, since Fabinho is obviously playing better with an effective double pivot on hand. Options. Changes. Variability. All of these are generally anti-Moyesian things and all of them will be effective against the enduring lump of slag that is West Ham under Moyes. So, y’know, same old, same old. They’re in their world and we’re in ours.
West Ham 1 – 2 Liverpool
I’m not sure what’s happened to Caley Graphics, unless they’re on an extended vacation, as they haven’t tweeted anything since April 1st. It’s quite possible they’ve abandoned Twitter like so many others, given the behavior of the Elmo and his vacillating policy changes on the site. I’m hanging in there, because it’s still a wonderful source of news (as I try to demonstrate with every post), but there’s no doubt that, in addition to the proliferation of Elmo Dudebros, the LFC corner of the Twitterverse is often suffused with the stupid. Supposed Reds fans are suggesting that the first thing we should do this summer is sell Darwin Núñez “because he isn’t scoring.” He also hasn’t been starting and is playing about 20 minutes a game for the past three. And, uh, he also scored in one of them. Le sigh. Next thing you know, they’ll be back to complaining about Trent’s defense.
I think both Cody and Joel Matip (Giraffe powah!) were cited as MotM by this or that organization (because goals) but looking at that statline, I’m having a hard time thinking anyone else was in the running. Between Trent and Fabinho, the middle third is once again ours to command. The passing, a highlight of both of the previous matches, was again on full display as we not only kept the Hammers pinned back, ball-watching, but we also sliced them up pretty nicely when they did decide to come out and play. That assist is also Trent’s fifth of the month. No other Liverpool player has had that many in a single month in the Premier League era. But he’s not alone, of course.
There was some concern about Trent’s new role signaling the end of the fullback-to-fullback era that we’ve been enjoying for the past few years. Despite being the third of the nominal back three, I don’t think Andy Robertson’s situation is changing that much. He’s still charging down that left side and causing all kinds of havoc, despite his assist in this match coming off of a perfectly-placed corner kick (and West Ham pairing up the 5′ 8″ Said Benrahma against the 6′ 5″ Joel. Oops.) Adding Luis Díaz to that side more regularly should only increase the fretting among opposing defenders. The one possible downside of Trent’s absence from the right might be a more frequent stranding of Mo Salah. As we saw multiple times in this match, he was often trying to create shots on his own and trying to get the ball on his left before someone could get in front of him to block it (this happened at least three times in the box tonight, if not more.) But that’s why having even more creators in the middle three is a good thing.
Curtis Jones is making it happen, yo. It was his fourth consecutive start and his fourth consecutive positive performance. People kept saying that all he needed was some time away from the medical table and on the pitch and they were right. He’s been great. No, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need a couple more midfielders this summer (see: Injuries, Captain Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcântara on the wrong side of 30, etc.) but adding them to an already solid core, rather than having to do a full rebuild, is a really positive thing. Add Harvey Elliott to that mix and a couple new faces in their low 20s and we should be set for a while. Another measure of the skill of the current midfield makeup is xT (expected threat.)
It’s one of the fancystats that I sometimes mention here because it tends to indicate fluid ball movement and control of the match, both of which were highly evident on our behalf. That’s reinforced by the fact that all 10 of our outfield players were in the top 11 of this list, with only “boyhood Liverpool fan” Aaron Cresswell joining it from the Hammers. But the emphasis for Curtis was ball progression.
Look at that rate for carrying(!) and still pretty high for passing, as well. Gini Wijnaldum used to put up numbers like these, even while people complained that he wasn’t scoring. Curtis is doing this and creating chances. That’s a midfielder that you want occupying one of your slots. And it wasn’t just because West Ham was bunkering in (Starcraft term (Does anyone remember Starcraft?)) I mean, they were because it’s Moyes, but they weren’t afraid to come forward and play football, unlike Forest.
That’s a side that actually tried, which is also something that can be said about Moyes’ teams. It was kind of absurdly slanted towards Benrahma on the right but, y’know, get the ball to your playmakers and he’s definitely one of those. That also meant that they were trying to take advantage of Joel’s presence on that side, given his relegation to the bench recently in favor of the now-injured Ibrahima Konaté. But Joel played really well, carrying forward (as seen in the diagrams above) and covering Ibou’s role generally without incident. And you can’t complain about the giraffe power that led to that smashing header for the winner. In fact, the only moment of real danger encountered by the CBs came against Virgil Van Dijk, who used his magic feet again for the picture that opened this post to rob Michail Antonio of an otherwise obvious goal.
An honest-to-some-guy-in-the-clouds winning streak. Weird. Thought we were done with those. We’re in shouting distance of the top 4 again, but a lot would have to break right for us to make it (Forest upsetting Brighton tonight was among those things.) One other part would be beating the now-tailspinning Spurs who were most recently so badly eviscerated by Newcastle that the players offered to pay for the tickets of all of the traveling section who came to St. James’ Park. It also inspired Daniel (Not “Dan.” Not “Danny.” Not “D.” Daniel.) Levy to issue a non-statement about how this wasn’t acceptable. But, lads, it’s Spurs. (That’s an historical (paraphrased) quote from Moyes’ predecessor at ManU, whom Spurs face tomorrow.) See you Sunday at Magee’s to welcome in the new executive crew of OLSC Detroit, too.