Liverpool 3-1 West Ham United
Anfield, Premier League (6)
September 24, 2023
Goals: Salah (pen) 16′, Nunez 60′, Jota 84′; Bowen 42′
The front 3 that fans have called for
With Cody Gakpo not yet firing on all cylinders and Diogo Jota still to really find consistent form since returning from injury, many Liverpool fans have been waiting and hoping to see the Diaz-Darwin-Salah triumvirate in action.
It has taken a few weeks, and Nunez in particular to have some match-impacting cameos, but against West Ham, Jurgen Klopp opted to go non-European in his starting front three, and let the trio of the most rapid and chaos-causing forwards start.
While the early knockings of the 90 minutes were again more about wayward defending than exciting attacking, the first decent combination between them resulted in a goal.
That didn’t quite reach Nunez cleanly, but instead he diverted it to Mohamed Salah, who had the composure to beat the last man, win the penalty and ruthlessly smash into the net.
Nunez was constantly making runs behind the defence, in the channels and stretching the pitch length, even if he didn’t get the pass consistently.
Salah was his usual self, creative and looking to shoot relentlessly in equal measures, while Diaz perhaps blew hot-and-cold the most – a threat but too often checking inside and being halted.
For Nunez, his long leg and deft touch on the hour mark to restore the Reds’ lead was a goal none of our other forwards are really capable of.
Countering ongoing issues
Someday we’ll get that nostalgic feeling about the times when Liverpool could keep three, four, five clean sheets in a row. But it will not be this day.
Right from the off once again, the Reds were sloppy and open at the back, indebted to Alisson for a quite magnificent save, looking uncertain and having no real clarity over who picks up runners from the second line.
It’s such an ongoing theme that fans can easily predict when the Reds are most in danger of conceding a chance and the early openings that the Hammers had were all of the kind we’ve seen game after game, month after month.
We can’t blame the “Trent role” for all of them this time either; Joel Matip again looked muddled positionally at times and was nowhere to be found for the Tomas Soucek header.
On the plus side, Alexis Mac Allister mostly looked vastly more assured in the No. 6 role and made several good challenges and interceptions to stop some of the Hammers’ counters, but we still got caught out for a large number of chances when factoring in how little the visitors had the ball.
Stand-ins, or stand-outs?
Two players deserve particular acclaim for their showing at Anfield on Sunday, neither of which might always be in fans’ preferred first XI – but one of which has earned himself the position of starter and the other who is important in squad perspective.
First, Curtis Jones was brilliant in midfield.
He dovetailed nicely with Dominik Szoboszlai, switching sides frequently in the first half and both having the incision in their passing to split the Hammers’ defence and get the ball into dangerous areas in the final third.
Jones scored once, disallowed for offside, and tested the ‘keeper with another deflected effort after. His work rate was second to none and he was a real attacking threat as well as defensively diligent throughout.
Then, Joe Gomez deserves a word of note too.
Deployed at right-back again, he was excellent not just in one-on-one defensive situations, but also in driving forward with the ball, linking play with Salah and even dribbling past opponents with power and technique alike.
His role was simplified and it made the Reds more balanced as a result.
Midfield pecking order established?
So allowing for Jones forcing himself in as a starter when fit, and Szoboszlai obviously being a first-choice due to his Ballon d’Or-esque form since the minute he signed, it’s increasingly looking clear where everyone fits in Klopp’s mind at present.
Alexis, our No. 10, was very good in terms of starting play from deep and was arguably the best all-round performer on the park.
It quickly looks like Ryan Gravenberch has made himself the first back-up in midfield on the back of just one impactful start and a couple of interesting cameos.
It remains an intriguing situation for the mid-term, but one with lots of clarity in the short-term.
Rotation o’clock and a big test next
Klopp made 11 changes in midweek and eight more here to revert back to a first-choice lineup. We can assume, therefore, there will likely be in or around double figures during the week once more for when the Reds face Leicester City in the Carabao Cup.
Spurs have been free-flowing, attack-minded and pretty fearless under Ange Postecoglou – not infallible but certainly more dangerous than in the last couple of campaigns. Liverpool cannot afford to be anything other than 100 percent on it if the winning run is continue.
We can’t look too far ahead but remaining unbeaten to the international break has to be the next real task in mind for the Reds, and on the evidence of our attacking play at least, it’s certainly a plausible scenario to aim for.