Brendan Rodgers’ Reds continued their impressive resurgence in their challenge for Champions League qualification on Saturday as they brushed aside Sam Allardyce’s men. Ben Twelves picks a mixture of discussion points from the 2-0 victory.
An enjoyable afternoon at Anfield saw Liverpool run out comfortable winners over West Ham thanks to cool finishes from Raheem Sterling and the returning Daniel Sturridge, resulting in Rodgers’ side leapfrogging the Hammers in the Premier League table.
Sterling – occupying Sturridge’s natural position prior to the injury-free returnee entering – kept his composure to slot the Reds ahead after being set in on goal by Philippe Coutinho’s delightful dink, and Liverpool took firm control of the game before doubling their lead after 80 minutes.
Sturridge delighted the majority of the Anfield crowd as he made an immediate impact on his long overdue comeback to the side, and the England striker picked up from where he left off as he controlled excellently from Coutinho’s pass before slotting inside the near post with his weaker foot to hand Liverpool all three points.
Rodgers: On the back of 120 minutes in the week, we knew today was going to be a tough game [..] some of our football today was outstanding.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) January 31, 2015
It was another positive display from Rodgers’ men as they continue their task of clawing back the ground in the race for a top four spot, and here are the discussion topics from the game.
(All stats via Squawka & Whoscored)
Defensive Improvement Continues
Everyone knew what to expect of West Ham despite the common but wayward belief of a new approach this season, and the Reds defence stood up to the inevitable physical and aerial challenge well.
The away side attempted to unsettle Rodgers’ team and ask questions of the solid back three as they searched for Andy Carroll in the final third, but credit must go to Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho – who produced a superb performance completing 100% of his passes and tackles – with all meeting force with force.
Lots of good performances today, but to me, it looks like we have a different keeper in recent games. Migs has really stepped up game. #LFC.
— Si Steers (@sisteers) January 31, 2015
The assured threesome and Simon Mignolet, who impressed once again, dealt with what was thrown by Allardyce’s side comfortably – with the defenders racking up 32 clearances between them – and their concentration assured of no nervy moments as Liverpool went in search of winning the game up the other end – something Man of the Match Sakho contributed to, as his incisive forward pass to Alberto Moreno set the attack for the first goal up and running.
3 clean sheets in a row in the league and 6 in the last 11. #solid
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) January 31, 2015
If Liverpool are to keep up pressure on the teams above, more complete defensive performances of this kind will be required.
Perfect return for Daniel Sturridge
On an afternoon of many positives, the biggest undoubtedly came with the return and goal for the 25-year-old in his first action since Liverpool’s 3-0 away win against Tottenham in August.
Sturridge made an instant impact making up for lost time after 153 days out as he notched the second goal of the afternoon in front of the adoring home crowd, and while it was the dream scenario with the England man registering on the score-sheet just 11 minutes after coming, there were also exciting signs of what the future could bring.
Incredible how Sturridge's introduction made everything click for #LFC, as everyone has been hoping.
Now need to get him starting.
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) January 31, 2015
Liverpool’s first choice striker was delighted to be reunited with his teammates, and the feeling was clearly mutual as the fast, exciting attacking play stepped up another gear and clicked into place with Sturridge’s presence providing a remarkable boost to players and fans alike.
It’s great to have the goal machine back and his return really could fire the Reds into genuine top four contention over the coming weeks.
Brazilian Magician continues brilliant form
If anyone has benefited from Rodgers’ successful formation switch, it’s Philippe Coutinho who produced another masterful performance at a sunny Anfield.
All of Coutinho's PL assists this season have come since #lfc started using the 3-4-3 formation. Movement.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 31, 2015
The 22-year-old was central to everything impressive about Liverpool’s attacking play – epitomised as he claimed the assists for both of the goals – which included reigniting his lethal partnership with Sturridge within minutes of having the chance.
The Brazilian rightly received praise from the Liverpool boss post-match for his “phenomenal” passes that set-up the goals – the first of which was a perfectly weighted reversed clip through to Sterling – and Coutinho has found the consistency over 90 minutes in recent months that has evaded him since his arrival in January 2013, now making him such an important figure in the team.
Back from #lfc game. 1st thought: most pleasing aspect of Coutinho’s progression is ability to repeatedly sustain a performance for 90 mins.
— Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) January 31, 2015
The £8million bargain is a joy to watch on his day and thankfully he’s had a number of them over the last two months – a key reason behind Liverpool’s upturn in form.
Adam Lallana’s struggles a negative for the Reds
The only downside to an almost-perfect display was the performance of Liverpool’s summer signing who endured a poor afternoon continuing his disappointing form of recent weeks.
Lallana turned in an uninspiring display, contributing next to nothing to the Liverpool attack – including firing three shots all off-target – being brushed off the ball and dispossessed on four occasions – the most of any Liverpool player – and the former Southampton man dawdled in possession too often, frustratingly slowing down the tempo of the pacey Reds attack too many times.
Lallana totally ignored Markovic's lung busting run there. Come on Adam… speed the game up
— AnfieldIndex (@AnfieldIndex) January 31, 2015
The England man was completely off the pace – one clever ball across the face of goal aside – and was carried through the match by the brilliant work of Coutinho, Sterling and Sturridge, and since producing his best performance in a red shirt in the 4-1 thrashing of Swansea a month ago, Lallana has somewhat disappointingly failed to build on the promise shown that night.
One player I was disappointed with today was Lallana, unfortunately. Off the pace with & without the ball. Out for Sturridge next game. #LFC
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) January 31, 2015
Rodgers faces a tricky situation over how to spark the £22million signing into life, but the 26-year-old is certainly not giving the Liverpool boss a reason to pick him consistently.
Brendan returns to the Rodgers of old
The poor first half of the season coincided with some questionable features of Rodgers’ management, but the boss looks to have learnt from the bad patch and returned to the manager of the previous two seasons.
Sticking with constant under-performers, picking players on reputation and underusing those worthy of more game time, as earlier this campaign saw, seems to have become a thing of the past for the Northern Irishman, who has done the complete opposite over recent months and has reaped the rewards with the sparking of a much needed revival.
Previous first choice starters such as Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli have rightly been cast aside tasked with the challenge of forcing their way back in, with Glen Johnson having to make do with a place on the bench and Steven Gerrard being managed more carefully, and players such as Sakho, Can and Lucas Leiva continue to deservedly be first choice selections in the team for their consistently impressive performances.
We're playing like a proper Liverpool team again. A proper Rodgers team. Manager deserves huge credit for turning it around.
— Green Scouser (@Green_Scouser) January 31, 2015
The meritocracy system, after a period away, looks to have made a welcome return along with the real Liverpool manager.
Thanks to all the fans for the love and support. Great 3 points today. Roll on the next game ??
I'm wayyyy up I feel blessed!!!
— Daniel Sturridge (@DanielSturridge) January 31, 2015
Liverpool have the small matter of the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park next weekend, but first Rodgers’ side must overcome Bolton in the FA Cup on Wednesday night, with a winnable tie against Crystal Palace in the fifth round up for grabs.