LONDON — Three factors from the Olympic Stadium as Liverpool wrapped up a snug Four-1 win at West Ham…
1. Liverpool stroll to victory
Normally in a sport like this, you sense that the underdog’s finest likelihood of springing a shock is by relying upon counterattacks and set-pieces. West Ham boast neither the technical high quality nor the correct system to genuinely outplay Liverpool in midfield, however in these two conditions, virtually exterior the general tactical battle, they could have triggered issues.
Sadly, for Slaven Bilic’s aspect, that wasn’t the case; as a substitute, West Ham conceded twice in three first-half minutes from a counter-attack and a set-piece, primarily discovering themselves defeated after half an hour. It will solely worsen from there because the guests rounded out comfy Four-1 victors.
You would even say each of Liverpool’s first-half objectives had been set-pieces: one from a West Ham nook, the opposite from Liverpool nook. The opener got here when Joel Matip cleared Manuel Lanzini’s out-swinging nook and the ball broke completely for the devastating counter-attacking duo of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to launch a sudden breakaway. Salah’s contact took the ball previous Edmilson Fernandes, the duo raced downfield two-on-one, with lone Hammers defender Aaron Cresswell going through the type of state of affairs he’ll have nightmares about for days. Mane delayed the go lengthy sufficient for Salah to comb it previous Joe Hart.
If the primary was lovely, the second was scrappy. Salah’s scruffy low nook hit the hapless Mark Noble, forcing Hart into an honest save, and Matip could not miss with the rebound.
It isn’t the primary time West Ham have conceded a counterattacking objective within the aftermath of their very own attacking set-piece, nor the primary time they’ve defended set-pieces poorly. Bilic can be massively pissed off: West Ham weren’t overly troubled in open play however dead-ball conditions put them 2-Zero down by the break.
Although Lanzini briefly cut up Liverpool’s benefit in half with a well-taken end from shut vary, assured finishes from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and one other from Salah accomplished a dispiriting afternoon for Bilic and the Hammers.
2. Salah thrives in attacking midfield
Jurgen Klopp has usually deployed a Four-Three-Three system at Liverpool for the reason that begin of final season, however on Saturday he tweaked his formation, fielding Four-2-Three-1 and handed a special position to Salah, his aspect’s finest performer thus far this marketing campaign.
Whereas one would have anticipated Oxlade-Chamberlain to start out within the central midfield position he supposedly desires to play alongside Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, as a substitute he was deployed in a extra customary right-sided midfield position. Mane performed to the left and Roberto Firmino led the road, which resulted in Salah taking part in as quantity 10, theoretically bridging the hole between midfield and assault.
“Theoretically” is the important thing phrase as a result of in actuality, Salah performed extra like a second centre-forward, and in possession, Liverpool appeared extra like a Four-2-Four, albeit with Mane and Oxlade-Chamberlain each frequently drifting infield. It was a barely disjointed system, and whereas Salah is an incredible counterattacking quantity 10 — his performances for Fiorentina in that position had been genuinely sensational — it stays to be seen whether or not he has the intelligence to range his place, drop into midfield and assist Liverpool to play the kind of passing triangle that unlocked Maribor in midweek for Can’s glorious objective.
Salah stayed slightly too excessive up the pitch, with he and Firmino taking part in into the palms of West Ham’s three-man defence. What Liverpool absolutely required was somebody who might drop off, create three-against-two conditions in midfield to bypass Noble and Pedro Obiang. That is not likely in Salah’s nature, however each Firmino and Mane made extra vital darts into these zones.
This appeared set to be the sport’s key tactical battle: might Salah assist Liverpool break down a deep defence? Two early objectives from set-pieces, although, meant Liverpool did not have to show themselves harmful in open play.
Three. Careless West Ham might spell the tip for Bilic
There have been events when West Ham have been genuinely dreadful beneath Bilic. This was not one in all them, though the Hammers had been simply dreadfully flat, in need of attacking spark or interaction between their attackers.
The hosts did, admittedly, hit the submit at Zero-Zero: a deflected go ran by way of to Andre Ayew within the inside-right channel, and his dink over Simon Mignolet struck the skin of the goalkeeper’s close to submit. However apart from that considerably lucky likelihood, there was in any other case nothing to shout about right here.
Javier Hernandez is an excellent penalty field operator however did not even get the prospect to function within the penalty field. Lanzini floated round on the periphery, pressured to spend too lengthy on the left slightly than within the centre the place he can solely play when West Ham have possession. Noble once more appeared in need of Premier League high quality in a show that featured a hopeless dive, a mistake for Liverpool’s second objective and extra working or pointing than orchestrating.
Bilic at the very least has a ready-made Plan B. At half-time, Andy Carroll was thrown on for Fernandes in a Four-Four-2 and straight from the kick-off, West Ham launched the ball in the direction of him. Carroll was blocked off, complained to the referee and that was about it. The house aspect demonstrated they’d realized from their first-half errors when Winston Reid prevented a carbon copy of Liverpool’s opener by cynically hacking down Mane on the break within the opening interval of the second half, the final word “taking one for the workforce” problem.
But the extra direct method bought West Ham again into the sport — for one full minute. A deep cross from the correct discovered Lanzini, who brilliantly shrugged off Joe Gomez, introduced the ball down on his chest and lifted the ball into the web off the far submit, a genuinely glorious end boasting each energy and talent.
The bubbles had been nonetheless streaming throughout the London Stadium when Liverpool instantly restored their two-goal lead. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s objective, Liverpool’s second rebound of the day after Hart had saved his preliminary shot, deflated the house help and plenty of headed for the exits when, 15 minutes from time, Salah slammed in his second of the day with a positive left-footed half-volley into the far nook. No less than it meant the full-time boos had been much less apparent than the half-time boos, however one senses that with the worldwide break looming, it might be curtains for Bilic.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.web and a contributor to ESPN FC. Comply with him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.