Yet another gritty, slightly unconvincing win for the Reds on the back of the cruise against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield. To be fair, it was at Upton Park. It was up against Sam Allardyce and his ultra long ball to Andy Carroll strategy. It was always going to be a difficult game.
For the first time in a long time, Brendan Rodgers got his tactics wrong. Going 4-3-3 had left Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge isolated up front, while there was some lopsidedness as Raheem Sterling’s presence on either flank meant the other side was left unmanned. Sturridge did not have his best game – hopefully he’s saving that for the epic title clash against his old club Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday – as he had a few wayward shots that failed to threaten the West Ham keeper. Still, captain fantastic produced a moment of magic yet again as his 50 yard ball before the halfway line found Suarez in the six yard box, and the Uruguayan magician, in trying to get past James Tomkins for a shot at goal, forced the English defender into handling the ball intentionally. Penalty for Liverpool, up steps Gerrard, 1-0 to the Reds.
What A Ref
Then the start of a refereeing shocker from Anthony Taylor. Just like the games away to City and Chelsea before the turn of the year, where Lee Mason and Howard Webb were arguably guilty of bad calls, and most recently against Sunderland at Anfield where Kevin Friend seemed to be trying his best not to side with the home team, Taylor’s performance yesterday was arguably the pick of the lot.
A West Ham corner was superbly caught in the air by Liverpool’s keeper Simon Mignolet. However, not content on letting him have an easy time, former Liverpool record signing Andy Carroll had other ideas and literally assaulted Mignolet as he held onto the ball. He had a nice slap across the Belgian’s face before pulling the keeper’s arm down such that he was forced to release the ball. Guy Demel saw the chance and prodded the ball in. Foul! The Reds’ supporters behind the goal screamed, the linesman on the near side flagged as well. Taylor initially gave the goal, but went over to chat with his lineman who had a better, unobstructed view of the incident. The referee, thinking he knows better, still gives the goal. It may have been a blessing in disguise. For the first time in awhile Liverpool do not get their way and it could be the jolt they needed.
After getting it pretty wrong in the first half, Rodgers sent on Lucas Leiva for Philipp Coutinho in a bid to gain more control of the game. This meant he reverted back to his diamond midfield, and to great effect. Liverpool got more of the ball, while Carroll was increasingly isolated and their wingers had lesser effect on the game. Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling managed to combine more often, while the full-backs could push higher up into the West Ham half.
This substitution of Lucas and the subsequent tactical change which allowed the full-backs go further forward ultimately led to Liverpool’s second penalty. Lucas picked up the ball on the edge of West Ham’s penalty box and sent a wonderful through ball towards a flying Flanagan. He tried to go around the keeper but was impeded by Adrian. Penalty for Liverpool, up steps Gerrard, 2-1 to the Reds.
With Allardyce then sending on his second battering ram in Carlton Cole to try to get something from the game, Rodgers was acute enough to realise it was time to shut up shop and hold the lead, instead of forcing a third, and duly sent on Kolo Toure for Sturridge and switched to a back five. Three formations used in a single game.
Mind you, Suarez still threatened and could have put Sterling through had it not been for Pablo Armero’s illegal intervention. Toure and the magnificent starting centre back duo Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho – in for the injured Daniel Agger – managed to see off the two towers of Carroll and Cole, and this sealed the game for the Reds.
Nail Biting Stuff
This was akin to the Sunderland game, with Liverpool opening scoring late in the half and having to battle down the clock and their opponents right till the final whistle. But they got it done, and this resilience has not been seen since the last title charge in 2008/09 where Rafa Benitez’s men had several come-from-behind 3-2 victories which featured some vital last-minute winners. Not as dramatic as of yet, but these 2-1 wins are arguably more important than the home thrashings of supposed top 7 teams.
Next up is that much-awaited clash with Manuel Pellegrini’s City side, which seems to have Sergio Agüero back in the squad. With Edin Dzeko’s current form, I don’t think Agüero will return straight into the team, as Pellegrini will most likely stick with an unchanged side.
This will be the latest test for Flanagan against Spanish international Jesus Navas. This will be the latest test for Gerrard against Spanish playmaker David Silva. This will be Skrtel’s latest test against Dzeko. This will be Sturridge’s chance to go up against his former side for the first time this season. This will be Suarez’s chance to score against City after drawing a blank in the first game. And this will be for Sterling against the side he first shined against last season.
Anfield awaits, Anfield hopes. We are all enjoying the ride, and long may it continue into next Monday.