Premier League
Liverpool 2 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 31st October 2020
by Chris Wilkerson

A battling West Ham went down 2-1 today at Anfield as a late second half winner from Diogo Jota finally broke the resistance of the West Ham defence.

They had taken the lead, Spaniard Fornals finishing smartly in the first half, but that lead was cancelled out before the break as Mo Salah smashed the ball past Fabianski from the penalty spot.

It was a game of defensive resolve for the Hammers, but one where they may argue they created the better chances in a game without many.

David Moyes made one change to his starting line up, Frenchman Haller given the opportunity to replace the injured Michail Antonio.


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He disappointed, giving the manager the dilemma of whether to stick with the expensive striker for any games in-form Antonio misses. This was Liverpool at Anfield, and a game where opportunity was in sparse supply for him to impose himself on the game.

And he was at least a part of the attack that consistently caused Liverpool problems on the counter attack. The credit should go mainly to Fornals, Bowen and Masuaku for that, all three men able to move on and off the ball at pace and intent that rattled the Liverpool defence.

However, for the most part the game followed a pattern of deep West Ham defending, followed by counter attacks at pace.

It was this that brought West Ham their lead in the tenth minute. Playing out from the back, Ogbonna passed wonderfully through midfield and into the centre circle to find Bowen.

Bowen played it left to Fornals, who looked to lose a little momentum from the move as he passed it back to Masuaku and the wing back paused on the ball.

But Cresswell's overlapping run pulled Alexander-Arnold away from the ball and gave Masuaku the space to cross. His ball in was headed away by Gomez, but only down and to the edge of the area.

The Spaniard was smart, passing the ball into the net to the goalkeeper's right with everyone expecting a shot to the other corner, using his body shape to fool Alisson and play it off the inside of the post and into the back of the net.

It wasn't a wholly surprising lead for West Ham, not just because they had set out to spring the counter in this game, but because, since the Arsenal game, every team we have come up against has looked vulnerable to the way West Ham counter through Bowen and Fornals.

Equally, the defending was strong and organised, although two occasions where Fabianski spilled simple crosses in the area gave reason for concern.

It was only really once in open play that Liverpool threatened, the defence splitting as Salah was able to guide a ball through to Mane. It might come as a shock to his detractors that Aaron Cresswell was the man able to keep pace and get across Mane, knocking him off the ball in a way judged as fair, showing a turn of pace and a lot of strength in the tackle.

It really was the only Liverpool opening, until Salah was given the opportunity to go down.


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And it must be remembered, for all the hysterics of how he fell, Salah was given the opportunity to go down in the box by a daft error.

Taking the ball down, Salah took control of a bouncing ball. There was an opening to clear, a very slight one that would need a perfect and deft touch. That was not what Masuaku had, the defender taking a swing at the ball and instead kicking Salah's foot.

Salah remembered eventually to fall down in agony, but the mistake had been made, the opportunity presented and a clear foul committed. And a reminder too as to why Masuaku, so brilliant on the ball, is not trusted to be a left back in a four-man defence.

The Egyptian smashed the ball down the middle to give Liverpool their equaliser and take the game into the break at 1-1.

The second half followed the same pattern, and it may well be refreshing for West Ham fans to see the side against less dominant opposition soon. Not as a criticism, merely just to see if they can play nearly as well when there is less impetus on defending.

They were the ones to have the first chance, and the best of the second half too.

This time it was again Masuaku down that left side, again outplaying Alexander-Arnold as he did the whole game. Beating the England full back, his driven cross was met on the stretch by Fornals, but his sliding poke at the ball got too soft a contact to beat Alisson. Frustratingly, Bowen was ready not far from him to strike.

And it was those two again who were in the centre of things as another big chance went without a second goal for the visitors.

This time it came from a long ball onto Haller's head. The forward won the flick on and both Fornals and Bowen went for it. It bounced off one and fell to the other, Fornals and Bowen getting into the box.

The ball was at Fornals feet and he quickly shot, only to be blocked by Robertson on the cover. This time Bowen was again a better position, slightly to the left of Fornals and in space to have an easy effort on goal.

These fine margins are what often separate the big sides from the chasing pack.


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It was West Ham's last real chance. From here, Liverpool really took a grip of the game. Yarmolenko replaced Haller, but traffic was all heading one way.

First came a chance for Salah, after Mane was blocked en route to goal by Ogbonna. The Liverpool forward laid it back to Salah and the goalscorer smashed wide under little pressure.

Then came what looked to be the equaliser, although how it was ever considered a legitimate goal is anyone's guess.

It was a rare occasion that Liverpool had numbers over West Ham on the attack. From wide, it was laid into the path of Mane just inside the area and looked likely to be slammed home by the prolific forward.

Mane's effort was well saved by Fabianski, but the rebound fell out just in front of him. Mane lunged and challenged Ogbonna and the goalkeeper, forcing the ball to squeeze out to Jota for him to fire home.

But Mane had gone through Ogbonna and forced his studs forward at the grounded Fabianski to make his challenge. It was one he would always make, the goal was there to have, but it was a clear foul. It was two clear fouls, and reckless too, but it came down to the referee Kevin Friend checking the monitor and eventually ruling the goal out, much to the chagrin of the unsurprisingly expectant Liverpool players and staff.

It mattered for little, Jota only having to wait another seven minutes to get on the scoresheet.

This time it was down to the brilliance of Shaqiri. The two substitutes combined as the ex-Stoke man played a defence splitting pass through the defender's legs, Jota running onto the ball in the area and smashing it past Fabianski to give his side the three points on a wet and windy Liverpool evening.

Benrahma and Lanzini were quickly summoned from the bench, but neither the man on debut nor the hero from the Tottenham game could conjure up anything to even threaten Liverpool's goal.

It was a harsh defeat, in many ways, the performance, resilience and the way Liverpool were limited to very few chances showing that West Ham had stood up to their threat well. A little sharper in front of goal, maybe with an Antonio rather than Haller, and a different result was close for the taking.

Instead, the horror fixture clump has been navigated successfully, a shame for the side to finish that devilish run of games with a defeat. They can go into the Fulham game next week with a lot of confidence, albeit the need to play differently against a less overwhelming threat.


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
One good save from Mane for the ruled out goal, but the two spills from crosses could have been punished. Two years in a row with shaky performances at Anfield.


Vladimir Coufal
You would probably have had to have paid real attention to Coufal in particular to notice much he did individually that stood out. Generally defended well, although lost the flight of a long ball that Liverpool nearly profited from.


Arthur Masuaku
As mentioned, it was a perfect example of why there is lack of trust in him defensively. He is a bit too casual sometimes, and whilst that relaxed approach helps him to move with and pass the ball out of defence, the flip side can be moments like this. It would be unfair to round on him, it's the kind of error any defender can make, but it wasn't a surprise; it was a surprise only that it had not happened sooner. Excellent on the ball, as ever, and had the beating of Alexander-Arnold all day.


Fabian Balbuena
Staunch defending, although he may be a little upset to be the man nutmegged for the winning goal. It appears the rhythm of a run in the side has given him his sharpness back and he looks much more the defender from his first season.


Angelo Ogbonna
Probably the most hard done by of the players on the end of a defeat considering he cleared up well, defended strongly and was comfortable against all of Liverpool's players one-on-one. Mistakes around him were what cost the game.


Aaron Cresswell
Arguably, the two most important defensive contributions individually were by Cresswell, covering to stop Mane and a clearance from a ball flying over his head that stopped a chance. It was also his overlap that created the space for Masuaku to cross in the lead up to the goal.


Declan Rice
Blocked and defended well, intercepting and dispossessing in the middle. Couple of fouls when beaten on the turn, but he was probably happy to make them and the booking, his first of the season, was the kind he knows he will occasionally have to pick up to stop an attack.


Tomas Soucek
A defensive game mainly for Tomas, he was strong and disruptive in the middle, protecting the defence well. Won a lot of headers, made a lot of tackles. Good shield with Rice.


Jarrod Bowen
Will feel he could have scored today if Fornals had been slightly more aware of him. However, it did feel like another game where Bowen was functional without being too dangerous. He has been excellent in joining counter attacks. relieving pressure on the defence and covering his full back, but he does seem to find himself in the thick of the action a little less than Fornals. Still has to start for this side, but should be more vulnerable to Benrahma's inclusion than Fornals on the other side.


Pablo Fornals
Took the goal excellently and again was involved in almost everything dangerous West Ham did. Has a great knack of finding space amidst attacks and counter attacks. Not sure you can blame him for taking on either shot when Bowen was in better positions both times, but the second one on the run into the Liverpool area should really have been a pass. Two games at Anfield, two goals.


Sebastien Haller
You've got to allow him a game to get into some rhythm and back into the team, but he was poor today. Won a few headers but never made Liverpool's young centre back worry (note: him getting Man of the Match was a little laughable.) 16 touches in 73 minutes is not good enough. One flicked header nearly led to a goal and there was a moment in the first half where he used his strength brilliantly to get West Ham on the attack. But it wasn't good enough and went no way to replacing Antonio's impact.



Substitutes

Andriy Yarmolenko
(Replaced Haller, 74) Appears to be Moyes' first choice attacking sub. A few good dribbles and did run harder than Haller, but came on as West Ham got into full defence mode and made no difference.


Said Benrahma
(Replaced Bowen, 88) One dinked cross that went absolutely nowhere.


Manuel Lanzini
(Replaced Masuaku, 88) No impact, but the game had basically stopped at this point.


Darren Randolph
Did not play.


Ryan Fredericks
Did not play.


Issa Diop
Did not play.


Robert Snodgrass
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Arthur Masuaku, Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Sebastien Haller.

Goals: Pablo Fornals 10                  .

Booked: Declan Rice           .

Sent off: None.

Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Phillips, Robertson, Jones (Shaqiri 70), Henderson, Wijnaldum, Salah (Milner 90), Firmino (Diogo Jota 70), Mane.

Subs not used: Adrian, R.Williams, N.Williams, Minamino.

Goals: Salah (42 pen), Jota (85).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Kevin Friend.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Aaron Cresswell.