It was hard to wake up over here and be really excited for today’s match. We hadn’t won at Anfield for a billion years, we are savaged by injuries yet again, and the transfer window has proven to be not only discouraging from a players-in perspective but also from PR standpoint. I never used to believe those that talked about deliberate spin coming from on high. But now? In my mind, I was preparing a scathing indictment of the board and their recent headlines as part of a recap on a predictable loss.
Time to hit the reset button.
The opening moments of most games are a time to settle in. For the players, too. You need to find the best spot on the couch. You need to have your phone ready to text or call during vital moments. You need a beverage of some kind for nervous sipping. I was up to the beverage part when Payet sent a cross into the box that Skrtel tried to clear, but his weak header went straight to last weeks villain, Cresswell. The cape came out to transform him back to a hero when he sent a low cross into the box. It was Gomez’s job to mark Lanzini coming into the box, but he failed and the newcomer from Argentina got around Gomez and poked the ball behind Mignolet for West Ham’s first goal at Anfield since 2006.
Liverpool 0, West Ham 1
Liverpool came very close to leveling the score in the 9th minute when Firmino picked up the ball 25 yards out from goal. He cut to his right, and then quickly back to his left before firing on goal. Randolph was beaten, and the shot looked destined for the top corner. But perhaps Bobby decided to take some time off from above to watch the match and nudged it a bit. It banged off the post. A minute later, Lucas fed Benteke in the area. He turned on the ball but went down from a very slight touch from Reid. Any West Ham fan had a right to be concerned a penalty was on the way. But Kevin Friend was right there, staring at the proceedings, and did nothing. Reid gave Benteke and earful as well, adding to the notion it was a flop.
From a sheer skill standpoint, the one thing West Ham have lacked recently has been players comfortable with the ball at their feet. Such skills were not of the highest priority under our previous manager. But Bilic wants us to play our way out of trouble when possible. Payet and Lanzini are two players capable of doing that. In the 12th minute, they combined with some quick passing and movement to win a free kick. A few minutes later, Lanzini broke on the counter from a failed Liverpool corner and did what no West Ham midfielder has done freely since Benayoun. He ran at the defenders, causing them to back up. Lanzini, with space in front of him, fired a long shot on goal that went wide. He had a right to be disappointed in himself for not testing Mignolet.
Liverpool then had a spell of possession. But on each occasion where danger could have been lurking, West Ham pressed and got numbers near the ball. In the 20th minute Clyne won a corner off Reid, but Lovren was called for a push as the ball sailed into the box. Minutes later, another Clyne cross deflected off Tomkins for another corner. From a defensive point of view, West Ham looked comfortable and compact.
In the 29th minute, West Ham happiness turned to unfettered joy when Lanzini harassed Lovren along the sideline. After Lanzini tumbled over the linesman, Lovren likely assumed he was free and clear. Lanzini had other ideas and ran in front of the shocked Lovren and grabbed the ball. Running down the touchline, Lanzini sent a low cross intended for Sakho. The ball was deflected out to Noble, who calmly side footed to ball past Mignolet.
Liverpool 0, West Ham 2.
While it likely didn’t effect the outcome of the game, Lanzini followed up his brilliant offensive display in the 37th minute with some equally impressive defensive work. Twice he won the ball back deep in West Ham territory, the second time clearing to Kouyate to diffuse any Liverpool aggression.
The final moments of the half saw Coutinho shown yellow, which would become pivotal later on.
Halftime. Liverpool 0, West Ham 2.
The halftime stats said West Ham only had the ball for 29% of the first half. Yet it didn’t fell like a West Ham bus garage. When on the ball, West Ham players looked comfortable. None more so than Payet, who in the 49th minute was able to dribble through Liverpool players the way pros often dribble through hordes of small children. He attempted a through ball to Kouyate but Moreno put in a good challenge to prevent him from charging into the Liverpool area. That kind of ability on the ball obviously creates scoring opportunities, which Payet did last season better than anyone in Europe.
But it has ancillary benefits as well.
In the 52nd minute, Liverpool’s day looked like it could be over and done with when Coutinho recklessly took Payet down from behind and saw red for a second yellow card. Replays showed the card could have been soft, and on another day play might have continued.
Ancillary benefits indeed.
Liverpool responded to the red card with lots of possession. It so happened to only be in midfield, nowhere near a trouble zone for West Ham. The frustration of not being able to break through the West Ham defence looked to get the better of Lovren when he unleashed a prayer of a long shot directly at Randolph. Two minutes later Liverpool finally got a cross into their new target man, Benteke, but after chesting the ball down to his feet his shot was blocked by Ogbonna. The ball came out to Clyne but his attempt sailed over Randolph and out for a goal kick.
Liverpool came close in the 63rd minute after winning a throw in the West Ham half. A Moreno cross came to Ings, who had replaced Firmino, at the top of the area. Ings laid it off for Milner, and with time on the ball sent a low shot towards the West Ham goal that slid wide. Even with a man advantage, West Ham had stopped pressuring Liverpool. They had stopped closing down. Kouyate took matters into his own hands and won possession, ran the ball deep into the Liverpool half and won a corner. Minutes later, Sakho and Lanzini combined at the top of the Liverpool box. The ball popped out to Kouyate, but his shot didn’t have enough power to trouble Mignolet.
West Ham came close to a third goal in the 76th minute when Cresswell got onto a long pass from Noble inside the Liverpool penalty area. He cut twice and tried to beat Mignolet on the short side when sending the ball across the face of goal might have been better. West Ham won multiple corners before a Reid header went out for a goal kick.
If West Ham’s day was going to implode, it would have started in the 78th minute when Kevin Friend showed Noble a straight red card. [He had earlier picked up a yellow]. It wasn’t a two footed challenge, and it wasn’t dangerous play. The card was unjustified. But West Ham fooled around on the ball in a dangerous area when a good old fashioned hoof was in order, probably by Kouyate who was right there.
In the 83rd minute, a Milner corner found Benteke in the box but his header went wide. Minutes later West Ham broke on the counter when Cresswell sent Payet and Kouyate towards the Liverpool area. Payet was brought down from behind by Ings, which ended Payet’s day and saw the introduction of Jarvis.
The 90th minute saw Liverpool squander their final half chance when Lucas and Moreno tried a one-two but the final pass deflected off Ogbanna and into the waiting arms of Randolph.
Seeing out a 2-0 win at Anfield would have been epic enough. The only icing on the cake would have been a goal by Sakho to get his EPL campaign started. As if they all heard my inner thoughts, a long pass from Oxford (who had come in for Lanzini) found Jarvis. Jarvis worked the ball to Kouyate, which then deflected into the path of Sakho. Skrtel backed off Sakho, inviting him to shoot. Which he did, rolling it past the helpless Mignolet.
Liverpool 0, West Ham 3.
An epic and euphoric day in so many ways it’s hard to list them. Instead, I wondered why Liverpool decided to follow the strategy of Arsenal, with a compact and narrow midfield, instead of the wide game both Leicester City and Bournemouth used to beat us. Bilic did say he would sort things out after last week, and maybe he did. In any event, the thrilling feelings that we all had after The Emirates are back.
West Ham have had their share of sponsor issues in the past few years. Alpari last year, that travel company a few years back. Well, if Betway goes south I’ve got it all figured out. Bipolar.org.uk. It is apparently the leading charity in the UK supporting individuals with Bipolar Disorder. I get the feeling they could help both the club right now as well as us supporters. The stunning highs of Arsenal and today, the depressive lows of the two games at home.
Let’s hope there’s more of the former to come.