Calls for Liverpool to drop Roberto Firmino based on his ailing recent goal record make little sense: goals aren’t the currency of his worth. Greater credence though can be given to those whose claims are based on his debilitated creative spark. Particularly after a 2-1 Liverpool win which saw Xherdan Shaqiri produce exactly the sort of pocket play we have long expected from the Brazilian, but was again lacking before he was replaced.
Liverpool got off to a poor start at Anfield; West Ham took the lead after ten minutes.
Angelo Ogbonna’s first time pass to Jarrod Bowen to initiate the attack was excellent, but it wouldn’t have reached it’s mark had Fabinho been playing. It’s exactly the sort of pass that’s nonchalantly snuffed out and recycled by the brilliant Brazilian when he’s playing in midfield.
Instead, Liverpool’s midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones all found themselves ahead of the ball. Bowen – under no pressure – swept the ball out wide before Arthur Masuaku’s tame cross was headed straight to Pablo Fornals by Joe Gomez.
The Spaniard’s half-volleyed side-foot finish off the post was wonderful, but it was a chance that shouldn’t have been. Gomez – under the pump to prove he can be first fiddle as well as second at the back for Liverpool – failed an early test. He was solid thereon in.
Praise for David Moyes’ organisational skills and West Ham’s defensive unity is predictable and well-founded: their setup and togetherness made it difficult for Liverpool. But it’s the transition – clearly on show for the goal – which sets this West Ham team apart from others who simply put bodies in the way and hope for the best.
Moyes’ team doesn’t rely on good fortune, an off day for a bigger side or a moment of individual brilliance to secure a result which they easily could have come away with from Anfield. There’s a clear directive to attempt to build from positions of potential strife; the manager deserves huge credit.
The ball is rarely lumped forward aimlessly; there’s a coolness of mind when they regain possession in their own half, with building evidence of such through a horrific run of fixtures against superior sides. Declan Rice is the key to this: he keeps getting better and better and continues to exhibit a level of authority far above his tender age.
Liverpool’s build-up play was tidy but stunted: a string of neat passes ended in a misplaced or poorly weighted one. They hadn’t had a shot on target before they were gifted a way into the game.
It beggars belief that any defender would try to nick the ball from Mo Salah in the box. The Egyptian had his back to goal when Masuaku’s attempt to dispossess him saw Salah take a tumble. It was a foolish and unnecessary challenge, rightly given as a penalty that was duly converted by Salah.
The second half saw a similar pattern to the first: a lack of cut and thrust to Liverpool; solid defending and mindful attacking from West Ham.
That was until Xherdan Shaqiri and Diogo Jota were introduced with twenty minutes remaining, to change the method, point and potency of Liverpool’s attack.
They thought they had the lead with ten minutes to play. West Ham committed bodies forward on mass for the first time in the half, only for Liverpool to counter-attack with predictable venom. Jota had the ball in the net only to see it ruled out after Kevin Friend consulted the pitchside monitor.
There was speculation of offside, with a query as to whether Mane or Ogbonna got the last touch, then whether Ogbonna showed intent to play the ball. In the end, it appears it was disallowed for a foul. I say “appears” as we don’t know, we’re irritatingly not privy to those VAR conversations. Which also means we don’t really know whether it was ruled out for a foul on the defender or the goalkeeper. It was probably both, in truth.
But Jota did have his goal moments later. His run in behind was well timed and the finish cute, but Shaqiri deserves most credit. He picked up that position, under clear orders from Klopp to do so, in front of the defence and behind the midfield – the domain Firmino normally haunts and is the master of – to control the ball with one touch and play a perfectly weighted, disguised, nutmeg pass with a second, through to the on-rushing Jota.
It was Shaqiri at his very best, which at the moment is better than Firmino, who’s somewhere near his worst.
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