In a surprising see-saw affair, Liverpool came from behind to beat West Ham 3-2 at Anfield to close within 12 points of their first league title in 30 years.
It looked as though the Reds was going to roll on with ease when Gini Wijnaldum headed home the first goal in the ninth minute of play. Yet, within three minutes the Hammers had equalised with an excellently executed corner kick.
Employing the same tactics they used against Manchester City, West Ham challenged the Reds’ resolve and asked plenty of questions despite playing for long stretches without the ball. Their dogged defending helped them reach halftime at 1-1.
After the break, West Ham substitute Pablo Fornals shocked the Anfield Road end with a sneaky strike to give the visiting side two goals, a feat no side had achieved since Everton did it at the beginning of December in the derby.
The Reds responded by ratcheting up the pace and pressure for the final 30 minutes, forcing the visitors deeper. Mo Salah’s equaliser may have spilt over the line, but the Hammers were just hanging on.
Not to be undone, Sadio Mane capped the comeback tapping in a looping ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold for the match-winner. The best goal of the night was scored minutes with the same pair involved only to be correctly overruled for Mane being just offside.
Here are four findings from the match.
Every side now comes to Anfield for a cup final and David Moyes’ Londoners were no exception. While it may have seemed as if everything was going to plan, the gaffer had warned West Ham would be fighting for their Premier League lives and nothing could be taken for granted.
Within three minutes of Liverpool’s first strike, the fight was clearly on. Then for the Hammers to go ahead and snatch a second goal after nearly 700 minutes of match play at Anfield without a single concession, the Reds knew something extra was required. They summoned it and then some.
While Mo Salah would find some luck for his equaliser, it is the kind of fortune forged from intense, unrelenting pressure. The Reds ran wave after wave at West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski, forcing all manner of saves, but the easiest shot slipped through.
Then there was no doubt which side was delivering the winning blow.
It would be far too easy to draw hasty conclusions about Liverpool surrendering two goals from corners in consecutive matches.
Where once set-piece defending caused all kinds of consternation, the Reds have been refined into one of the strongest defences in Europe whether the ball is dead or not. Plus, two is not a trend.
The midweek concession in Madrid was the kind of flukey goal that can happen to any team at any time. The fact that Liverpool has yielded so few goals from set-pieces is the marker of note, not the rare exception.
West Ham’s corner kick goal was excellent. There is not even blame to be aimed. Issa Diop’s header may have caught Alisson slightly by surprise, but Robert Snodgrass delivery was class and merely required some steering. Allowing two goals from corners in two games is nothing more than coincidence.
It has been clear for the last 18 months that Trent Alexander-Arnold is redefining the role of the right-back. Simply put, he is Liverpool’s number 10 operating in the number two role. The closest full-back to him is his counterpart on Liverpool’s left.
Not for the first time this campaign, Alexander-Arnold proved to be the Reds’ best performer. His two assists for the first and final goals give him 12 assists in the league, equal to his record-breaking season for a full-back last year. It is still February.
More than anything, the boyhood supporter epitomised the fight and fortitude on display in the side. While he whipped in countless crosses, repeatedly testing West Ham’s defence, it was his refusal to give up on the ball before it went into touch that made both assists possible.
His drive to keep the ball alive helped him recover and find Gini Wijnaldum for the first, as well as the sheer graft to beat Fabianski to a loose ball so Sadio Mane could finish for the second.
Liverpool lose so few matches it was strange to see them take the pitch after falling in their first leg of the Champions League knock out stage. Yet, as Jurgen Klopp commented in his post-match presser, he does not have to do too much because the Reds have Anfield.
Since arriving on Merseyside, Klopp has transformed Liverpool’s home ground into a fortress. The club’s home form has been crucial in this record-tying run of 18 consecutive victories.
More than that, it has been the most critical factor in Klopp turning the doubters into believers.
The Reds are now approaching a three-year league run without defeat at Anfield. The current side is starting to rouse ghosts of previous golden eras. As close as this one came, Liverpool no longer loses at home.