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West Ham United 3 Liverpool 1
Saturday, 20th September 2014
Scousers. Red or blue, we never seem to get anything out of them.
It's just as well we don't play Tranmere regularly, or I'd be sighing wistfully about the full set of red, white and blue. So we maybe could manage the draw we deserved in last season's home game? Blimey, muvver! 'Oo'd 'a fort it, eh?!
A goal within 90 seconds. Yes, for us! Another before seven minutes are on the clock. This is Liverpool we're playing, right? Pinch me, I'm dreaming! Lovely finish from Sterling, 2-1. Rather backs to the wall for much of second half, before a decidedly pinched late third that nevertheless gave us a fully deserved two goal victory. But the best thing wasn't the goals, or the result. It was the performance.
There's two conclusions I'd draw from this game, before saying anything else about it. The first is that Liverpool won't be challenging for the title with a defence like this. If Rodgers doesn't sort that out well before the end of the year, they'll be struggling to make the top four.
It wasn't a good display at the back from The Reds. Lallana for Lucas at half-time plus, presumably, a half-time talking to from Rodgers made a huge difference. But not at the back. It was the midfield, largely ineffectual in the first period, that came out in the second and mostly bossed the game. Not the defence.
The cracks were merely papered over, as Amalfitano's late third showed. It took us a while to get back into things after the restart. When we did, there was enough on show to suggest that a third wasn't impossible. Late on, after we'd sunk back into defensive mode, an inch perfect ball on the counter-attack from Downing allowed Amalfitano to beat a despairing Skrtel slide and poke it precisely past an unimpressive Mignolet.
In some ways, Liverpool and West Ham showed opposite ends of the footballing philosophy last season. We kept, what was it in the end, 14 clean sheets? But we struggled to score. Every time we conceded, we were under pressure; the fans worrying. Liverpool scored freely enough that they always thought they could still win. And often did.
Now, however reluctant Sam has been, we're creating chances AND finishing them. But it was December before Liverpool lost 3 league games last year; it's not even October yet. That defence isn't good enough.
The second conclusion is that, just so long as we play like that just half the time this season, we can keep our eyes firmly on the top half of the table and dream... dream... dream... If we can take Liverpool apart like the first 45, if we can play like that against the leading lights as well as the lesser ones, we'll do well this season. And we'll do it entertainingly too.
As Eliza Doolittle sang, "Wouldn't it be luvverly!"
Liverpool, it must be fully and cheerfully acknowledged, played a full part in an incident filled and entertaining game. Their long-passing game (which, obviously, is not the same as Sam playing hoof-ball; oh no!) was wildly off today. Their short passing game wasn't.
But it was stifled almost entirely before the restart, and barely created a decent chance after, for all the possession they then had. I dread to think what the stats will be, but it must be well over 60% in the latter half. Notwithstanding which, I spent most of it going "Come on lads! You can get this away!", rather than "Oh shhhhh... thankthelordsforthat!"
Their best chance, by far and away, was their goal on 25 minutes. Balotelli; well marshalled by Reid and Tomkins all game, practically anonymous throughout; took an average cross down with a sublime touch. He turned on a sixpence and blasted the ball goalwards, only for the shot to be bravely blocked by Cresswell.
Unfortunately, the ricochet fell straight to Sterling, who buried it in the bottom right corner, almost before Adrian could even start to dive. Many of you, at this point, will be saying "Yeah, but Balotelli shouldn't have been on the pitch by then!" No, I think you're wrong.
Balotelli is more a loose cannon than Suarez was but, today, he was more sinned against by Adrian than sinner. Yes, it was a slightly late challenge, but keepers are, quite frankly, over-protected, and have been for the last 20 years. Yes, it was a yellow card.
But Adrian, completely unnecessarily, over-reacted. Our Noble Captain (or is that Captain Noble?) rushed up and tore him off a strip, but it was too late by then. Both got booked, both could easily have been sent off, and that would have hurt us more than them. Adrian has displayed this streak of petty temperament before; someone needs to have a word with him about that.
Let the ref referee the game. Pawson, I thought, had a good game today, although one of his linesman; our linesman in the second half; appeared to be wearing red underwear, with some of the decisions he was flagging for. Always difficult for the ref to overrule his assistant.
The only other slightly controversial, purely ref's, decision in the game was just before the interval. Whilst there was certainly contact in the box on Valencia, I have to say I thought he was one third tripping himself, one third falling over anyway. No penalty seemed fair enough to me.
Nevertheless, I thought we were worth a two goal lead. We'd hustled and harried them from the off, and finished the half putting them under heavy pressure too. We won a free kick in the first minute. Downing floated a dangerous ball to the back post. A disorganised and panicky Liverpool back line went scrambling across, Mignolet included... Only to find an excellent Tomkins run had resulted in a header back across about a yard out that Winston simply couldn't fail to bundle into the net.
Before seven minutes had passed, it got even better. It's at times like this that I wish comments were enabled on match reports. How many of you said "That was a cross"? I did. How many of you, as I have, have seen it on replay and said "No it wasn't; he meant that!" I did.
Watch carefully, when you get the chance. Mignolet again charges unwisely all the way across his goal. There's a little glance up from Sakho. He knows where the keeper is, and I think he says "If I do this right, it's either straight in, or my mate Enner buries it." It was right; sublime finish if it was intentional. I think it was.
Then, of course, in amongst much other action, Sterling pulls one back to make it nervy for most of the rest of the game. We're West Ham. We never do things the easy way! Reid, having scored only two minutes earlier, over-enthusiastically crashes through the back of a yellow shirt; yellow card and 87 minutes to go. This'll be interesting!
Valencia nearly knocks himself out on Mignolet's shoulder (no fault of the keeper). Minutes later, Kouyate looks like he's off with a groin problem. Nope, soldiers on. Adrian crashes through Reid punching the ball out. Liverpool's Sakho (on after 20 minutes, supposedly for an injury to Manquillo; it looked more like tactical to me) and Lovren head each other trying to clear the ball. Lovren, eventually and thankfully, climbs to his feet after a lengthy delay.
Six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first period. Kouyate down again on 80, clutching his groin again but, with all our subs used, lasts the remaining time. A late, well taken goal to give us a two goal win that didn't flatter us. This was not a game short on incident!
There were only three small black spots on an entirely silver cloud for me today. The first was the sight of Sam trying to shut up shop with 15 to go, when he brought on Collins for Valencia. It wasn't a surprise, but I never like to see us doing that.
In the first place, we don't usually do it very well. In the second, we'd already spent too much of the half conceding the initiative, which is not what got us into the position that we were in.
The second black spot was that our dead balls were largely unimpressive again. Yes, we scored in the first minute from a free kick. But dead balls, in football, are like the service in racquet sports (I'm a squash player, myself) - it's the one moment in the match that you have the time to make sure that your delivery is perfect. We had seven corners today; I think two, maybe three, were actually any good. The rest were crap. Similarly for free kicks - too many poor deliveries.
Finally, we rather fell off the admittedly furious pace of the first half in the second. It was fairly inevitable that Liverpool would lift their game, true. Lallana, too, certainly made a difference. But we didn't seem to press their midfield quite as hard or quite as closely for much of the last 45, and consequently had less chance to pressurise their creaky, leaky defence. That's as much as I can find to criticise in a terrific win, though.
I've still not named a man of the match, have I? Mmmmm... difficult... It really boils down to two players, I think. I went rather against the flow by saying that I didn't think Downing was great against Hull. Most other pundits and commenters think he was.
On the other hand, I've spoken highly of him in the past when others were questioning why we'd even bought him. I thought he was terrific today. I've given him at least one MotM, I think, by the width of a fag-paper, but not today.
We did look good, right through the team, it must be said. The green shoots of a new style, a proper West Ham style. Less of the play rigidly square; more of it (and against Liverpool, too!) angled and going through the middle areas of the pitch. There's more movement, too, off the ball.
More fluidity as well. We nominally seem to be lining up as a 433 or a 451. In practice, today it seemed that Valencia and Sakho were leading the line, and Downing had licence to roam where he would in front of Noble, Kouyate, and Song. Reid and Tomkins, Song, Cresswell.... I could name practically every starter today as having done good things one way or the other.
My Man of the Match today, though, goes to Diafra Sakho. Always lively, always working, always dangerous. Never mind that he scored a finish that, if it's acknowledged as deliberate, is an early contender for goal of the season. It might even be better than Enner's opener earlier in the week. Even late in the game, he was chasing back from the penalty area to rob the 'Pool midfield and create another attack.
I said after the Hull game that I think he's "arrived". As it turned out, the oggie was eventually credited back to him, so he's another Premiership goal to his name today. Valencia, despite his work-rate and flashes of skill today, I still think he's finding his feet. But Sakho, whilst he is not yet the finished article, is already a real handful. Long may it continue!
Oh, yes. There's the little matter of the red half of Manchester next week. In Manchester. I wrote recently that I hoped Sam would not try a defensive set-up for these games. He admitted before today's match, so I gather, that he'd chosen Song over Zarate for some extra solidity in midfield.
It worked; no arguments. I do hope, though, that that will be the extent of his unambition. No more changes, Sam. Injuries permitting, play this side next week, and tell them to play with the same style and the same commitment. Red Devils? Bring 'em on! It's about time we had a result up there again...
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Redeemed himself with some good work in the second half after... Well, a damn silly over-reaction to a late Balotelli challenge in the first. Good captaincy from Noble, who gave him a good telling off.
A typically solid Demel performance was epitomised in the 15th minute when he stole the ball from Borini, turned full circle (which Paul Walker hates!) and fed it up the touchline.
Maybe a slightly generous 8 again, but completed a solid back line display and also dangerous going forwards, linking well with whoever was in front of him.
If Jimmy gets a slightly generous 8, Winston gets a slightly un-generous 7 (that silly yellow...). Equally solid in defence, not quite so dangerous in attack, despite scoring the first. Does Sam read my match reports? Someone's had a word with these two - Reid's best performance of the season and these two suddenly look like a unit again.
An industrious Borini got no change out of him, nor did the erratic Balotelli. Excellent under what pressure the Reds mustered, dangerous in attack, distribution good today too.
Hard working as always in midfield, the new formation seems to be allowing him a bit more freedom to get forward and curbs his tendency to play crab-fashion. Showed his mettle as captain too. Should be club captain as well as on the pitch.
The least of our excellent midfield today. Was relatively quiet today, mostly because he was busy keeping Liverpool quiet; successfully so. I just hope that groin problem isn't more than a mild tweak - we want him at OT next week!
As hard working as those he played alongside in stifling the 'Pool, also showed regular flashes of his undoubted class. Just about the pick of the three for the 68 minutes he was on.
A slightly un-generous 8, but he did have a couple of wasteful or selfish moments. Nevertheless, throve on the back of the midfield three, wandered where he would, and mostly caused havoc rather than otherwise.
A sublime goal, a real handful, a deserved Man of the Match!
All of Carlton's work-rate, with better off the ball movement, and rather more skill. Starting to combine well with Sakho, I still think he's not quite firing on all cylinders. When he does, he's going to make a real mess of someone's defence.
(Replaced Demel) Did OK for his half-hour, although picked up an unnecessary booking. I suspect he will be starting in a game or two, when Sam thinks he's fully fit.
(Replaced Song) Didn't see a huge amount of the ball in his 20 minutes on the pitch, but an excellent run and finish just before the final whistle.
(Replaced Valencia) Came on for the final quarter-hour to stiffen the defence. One heart-stopping moment when he went after a loose ball with a long slide, but he won it cleanly and fairly, and that raises him above the standard '5 for a sub'.
Did not play.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
West Ham United:
Adrian, Guy Demel, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Alex Song, Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia.
Winston Reid 2 Diafra Sakho 7 Morgan Amalfitano 88 .
Winston Reid 4 Adrian 17 Cheikhou Kouyate 28 Carl Jenkinson 66 .
None sent off. .
Simon Mignolet, Javi Manquillo, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Lucas, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Raheem Sterling.
Subs not used:
Brad Jones, Jose Enrique, Kolo Toure, Lazar Markovic.
Raheem Sterling (26).
Mario Balotelli (17).
Man of the Match:
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