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Liverpool 2-1 West Ham: The Reds Prove their Title Credentials as They Grind Out Another Win

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With Liverpool scraping another victory away to West Ham on Sunday, Jack Lusby looks at how their new-found ability to grind out results is vital to their title hopes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 6, 2014: Liverpool's players celebrate after beating West Ham United 2-1 during the Premiership match at Upton Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Steven Gerrard’s reaction after the final whistle said it all: fists pumping, this victory means more to Liverpool and its captain than any other this season so far.

Taking another huge step in their title charge, and a vital three points before Sunday’s Premier League main event at home to Manchester City, this win continues to prove the Reds’ mettle and their genuine title credentials.

It may be a cliché, but to be a title-winning side you have to know how to win both beautifully and significantly less so; against West Ham on Sunday, this had to be the case.

“For Our Character”

Whilst many will hinge Liverpool’s title hopes on two huge fixtures – at home to Manchester City and to Chelsea – but the fact remains that the Anfield side will likely need to win all of their games to win the title, and as such these potential banana skins are to be treated with the same caution.

The victory at home to Sunderland at the end of March, this visit to West Ham, and likely the visit to Crystal Palace in Liverpool’s penultimate fixture of the season, stood out as tricky games for the Reds.

These are sides who are ostensibly fighting for their survival in this league, and West Ham manager Sam Allardyce resorted to medieval tactics pre-game in light of this.

As per HereIsTheCity.com, speaking to LFC TV after the game Gerrard spoke of the Hammers boss’ off-pitch tactics: “I think we got a bit more than what we expected – a hot dressing room, a dry pitch, the bus had to park a mile away. I think they tried everything today to upset us…It was a good test for us, for our character.”

The character that Liverpool’s captain refers to will be crucial in Liverpool’s next five games.

A Returning Monster

Much was made of the threat of a returning Andy Carroll prior to the game.

A spurned acquisition, the lumbering forward was never going to suit the style of Brendan Rodgers’ hard-working Liverpool side. Nevertheless the Northern Irishman was full of praise for the 25-year-old, calling him one “one of the best players in Europe in how he plays”.

How he plays is of the supposedly typical English centre-forward – adept in the air and swift with his elbows – a tough challenge for any defender in the league, and a formidable weapon for Allardyce’s side.

As such, a huge focus was on Liverpool’s central defenders throughout the build-up and subsequent unravelling of this encounter, and in this case Rodgers opted to mix up his options and include Frenchman Mamadou Sakho alongside his trusted stalwart Martin Skrtel.

Making his first start since the 2-1 loss at Chelsea at the end of December, Sakho was likely deployed by Rodgers as a more physically imposing central defender – whilst Daniel Agger has been in solid form of late, he has been criticised by his manager for lacking physicality – and he performed admirably.

Naturally, Allardyce’s game plan seemed to be to pump the ball into the box with little regard for end results: a deplorable tactic which should stimulate only sympathy for the dutiful Hammers fans, who have to sit through this interminable dross week after week, pining for the days of Eyal Berkovic and Paolo Di Canio.

Liverpool’s central defensive pairing dealt with this threat in typical fashion; for all of Liverpool’s technical prowess, in Skrtel and Sakho they possess two defenders with an uncompromising brutality.

Skrtel shone most brightly throughout. With Liverpool consistently struggling to play the ball out from the back, the Slovak resorted – justifiably – to more rudimentary tactics.

According to Squawka, the 29-year-old made 16 defensive actions, including a massive 13 clearances – anything you can do, I can do better.

Refereeing Blunders

Another, uncontrollable adversity which Liverpool had to overcome in this encounter, and another which proves their title mettle, is a continued positivity despite some bizarre refereeing decisions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 6, 2014: Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and Luis Suarez appeal after referee Anthony Taylor awards West Ham United a controversial goal during the Premiership match at Upton Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Most prominent in this case was Anthony Taylor’s decision to award West Ham’s Guy Demel with  goal despite a clear foul on Simon Mignolet, by a flailing Carroll arm no less, leading the Belgian goalkeeper to drop the ball into his path.

The replays were inadvertently displayed on the Boleyn Ground big screens, and this blunder was made clear to all – including Liverpool’s players.

However, Rodgers’ men continued with renewed positivity and were later rewarded as Taylor afforded the Reds their second penalty of the day after Jon Flanagan was brought down by Hammers shot-stopper Adrian.

Liverpool seem to be showing a new-found belief and enduring positivity within their play, and this is pivotal to their title charge.

Dr. Steve Peters

Taking a muted central role in this is Dr. Steve Peters, Liverpool’s much-vaunted sports psychiatrist.

 

Now included around the Liverpool bench on match days, this is a significant image of the impact of Peters since his involvement with the club began in 2012; more involved now in this crucial period, Peters is as important to Rodgers as any of his players.

Both Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have praised the role of Peters in the games in the past:

“He helps you with positivity, the power of thought, and staying upbeat, that sort of stuff…He does simplify things and I am a lot more patient as a person now and I think I’ve improved as a person. He’s also helped me with the game as well.”
– Gerrard, via the Liverpool Echo

“Steve has helped a lot in terms of mindset…He’s all about self-belief: don’t go out there with the mentality of trying to do something, just let it happen.”
– Sturridge, via the Liverpool Echo

This focus on a positive mindset and self-belief bleeds through onto Liverpool’s performances, and this latest victory is perhaps the most significant yet, as Rodgers’ men overcame adversity towards victory.

Unable to play the game their way against West Ham, the grit and determination shown Rodgers’ side – typified by the passionate Gerrard, and the gutsy Flanagan – indicates a new string to their bow, and will be vital in the coming weeks.

Do you agree that this victory is one of the Reds’ most important of the season? Let us know in the comments below.

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