The recent warm-weather training trip to Dubai has seemingly done Liverpool few favours. The Reds met an inspired West Ham side that stymied the league leaders in a 1-1 stalemate in London on Monday night.
For the second fixture in a row, Liverpool struggled to find any rhythm or create many clear chances. The goals have gone missing and a dip in form has the side smarting since returning to action after their mini-break.
Despite a disjointed starting side, the Reds managed to take the lead when Sadio Mané fired home with an excellent finish. James Milner should have been flagged offside in the build-up but Mané’s turn and strike sparkled amidst a team performance that stuttered.
The lead did not last long, as Michail Antonio equalized six minutes later with a cleverly conceived free kick that saw the midfielder get beyond Naby Keita and turn one in off the far post. From that point on it was a scrap.
Liverpool were lucky not to fall behind or lose, as West Ham looked far more up for the fight. Declan Rice got free on another free kick and should have scored, while Liverpool’s chances rarely seemed as gilt-edged.
Yet, Divock Origi had a chance to win it at the death, slipping behind the defence only to send the ball right at Lukasz Fabianski.
Considering he was offside and eluded the assistant referee’s flag, it would have been a controversial result had he buried it. More worrying is that Liverpool’s lead is shrinking.
Here are four findings from the match.
Once again, Sadio Mane was the best player on the pitch for Liverpool. Not only did he score a beautiful goal but the Senegalese star looked to force himself forward nearly every chance he could. No other player seemed quite as determined to will the Reds to win. The forward spent most of his time on the left but managed to put himself about in various advanced positions, presenting the Hammers with the greatest threat. He nearly had a second when he flashed a header on goal, only to send it right into the hands of the keeper.
Naby Keita and Fabinho played more as a midfield two as Adam Lallana played further forward, similar to Xherdan Shaqiri’s role when he’s been playing. Yet the midfield duo struggled to influence the affair in tandem. There is a spark that can be seen between the two but this was a midfield that had never played together prior to the night and it showed. Combine that with the fact that West Ham threw five into the midfield at various points and it was clear that Liverpool were getting overrun at times and they seemed unable to adapt sufficiently to deal with the overload. Also, Keita has yet to adapt to the physicality of the league, looking lightweight and unsure at moments.
Set Piece Setbacks
The fact that Liverpool surrendered the equalizer on a set piece has resurrected the narrative that the side is vulnerable to them. Yet half of the defence were substitutes and the midfield was all new for the match. Yet, Liverpool looked particularly vulnerable at the back from dead ball situations. To complicate matters, on the attacking side, Liverpool’s set pieces have shrivelled of late. It does not seem to matter who takes a corner kick, the Reds rarely beat the first man. When they do, the alternative seems to sail over the centralized crowd in front of goal. Their ineffectiveness has been a recurring problem for weeks, regardless of the kicker.
The list of injured players has stretched the depth of the squad to the point of fraying. With Jordan Henderson, but more importantly Gini Wijnaldum, as unexpected absentees, Liverpool’s bench looked shorter than it has recently. While Adam Lallana had a moment of brilliance in the build-up to Liverpool’s goal, he is returning from a year and a half of being in and out of the side and searching for rhythm and form. Additionally, half of the defence is new with Trent Alexander-Arnold injured, as well as Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren both on the trainer’s table too. Even though James Milner surpassed David Beckham to assume seventh on the all-time Premier League assists leader board, he is a stop-gap solution. Then there were the starters that struggled significantly to impose themselves in any way.