Liverpool just about edged past West Ham in what wasn’t a classic, but was enough to take the points and go just three points off the top of the table.
Liverpool 1-0 West Ham
Premier League (27), Anfield
March 5, 2022
Goals: Mane 27′
Midfield control…and then not
After all the worries earlier in the week that our central options had been reduced down to just four or so, it was a positive surprise to see both Naby Keita in the lineup and Curtis Jones on the bench.
Jurgen Klopp went strong everywhere else, Ibrahima Konate replacing the ill Joel Matip, in a clear nod that the relentless results required in the Premier League continue to take centre stage – even with the Champions League in midweek.
Most importantly, though, the Reds’ total first-hour dominance stemmed from here – a mauling in midfield, rarely giving up ground or easy possession and controlling everything all game long through the midfield trio.
After that? The drop-off also started in midfield, with less pressure on the ball, more slackness in passing and a far, far lower tempo.
Physically on it
Remember earlier in the season when West Ham went uber-physical on the Reds, bashing us on set-plays and fouling everywhere to disrupt play?
Opposite way around this time. The defence set the tempo and the expectation, clattering into aerial duels and using every ounce of physicality to keep the Hammers at bay.
Konate showed his speed and the fact it’s a 12km trek around him if you want to run on the outside, just to beat Michail Antonio in a couple of one-on-ones.
Robbo and Trent were both aggressive in the tackle and in tracking runners, while the left-back also cleared each of their first two corners to make sure there was no repeat of the London Stadium farce.
And Virgil? After a bad game in the reverse fixture, he dominated here.
Several times their attackers simply gave up when realising they were one-on-one with him again.
“You’re not fit to referee!”
Jonathan Moss is sh*t.
Something we’ve seen often of late from the boss is going early to his subs bench, but this time it was the opposite.
The game drifted a fair old bit between the restart and about the 70th minute; the odd half-chance fell our way, but more often it was easy possession and the more dangerous moments – not actual efforts – were for West Ham.
It probably required an injection of pace and urgency to get the killer second early on, perhaps a Jota or Origi impact, but it was 77 minutes before the Portuguese forward became our first change – on for Mo Salah.
And, to be fair, he was dreadful after coming on.
Milner came on as the clock ticked 90 minutes and Curtis Jones played all of 20 seconds.
Most in-form forward?
Luis Diaz hasn’t been here long, which naturally lends itself to being a bit of a flavour of the month, but he’s also quickly become a fan favourite because he’s, well, absolutely brilliant.
The Colombian was without doubt Liverpool’s most consistently dangerous and electric attacker during the game, missing a few efforts on goal but also creating more openings with his dribbling and pace.
His 50-yard run in the first half was sublime, leaving three in his wake before being fouled on the edge of the box, while more than once he linked brilliantly with each of Mane and Salah.
Keep that going and a place can certainly be won in Klopp’s go-to XI, even after the full complement are back in action.
Second leg and mind the gap
And so it’s Tuesday night and Inter Milan we look forward to now, two goals to the good but still with a big job to do.
Let’s be clear, the Reds should win. But Inter are back in form, won 5-0 on Friday for an extra day’s rest and preparation – and anything can happen under the lights, as we well know.
But this is Anfield, and our own form is imperious.
In Premier League terms, the gap at the top is now down to just three little points, with the same games played for 24 hours at least.
Go on United, just for a change…do us a favour.