It was a baptism of fire for Manuel Pellegrini as he took his West Ham United side to Anfield. Last season’s Champions League finalists already had pressure on them with Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur all putting three points on the board to get their Premier League campaign’s off to the perfect start.
Change was on the agenda in Merseyside with seven of the 22 starters making their debuts. The Hammers had the bulk of the new faces with Łukasz Fabiański, Fabián Balbuena, Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere and Ryan Fredericks all making their first starts with other summer signings Issa Diop and Andriy Yarmolenko having to settle for a place on the bench.
Klopp went with more of what he knew, choosing to give debuts to Alisson and Naby Keïta. The German tactician kept Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho in reserve alongside Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne.
The first half went as many had expected it to. Liverpool on the front foot, dictating the ball and space, and West Ham relying on Fabiański to keep them in the game.
The Reds had to wait until the 19th minute to open their account. Keïta, who was one of the best players on the park, carried it forward before timing his pass to Andrew Robertson to perfect. The Scotland international fired the ball across goal for Mohamed Salah to tap it home from close range.
The Egyptian was foiled by the West Ham ‘keeper and it looked as though they’d only hold a 1-0 lead going into the break but a Liverpool counter resulted in Robertson’s deep cross being kept alive by James Milner and Sadio Mané was on hand to poke it into an empty net.
West Ham looked livelier in the second half and Michail Antonio steered an effort wide just after the break. Just minutes later Liverpool extended their lead, rather fortuitously, after Firmno’s mazy run ended with the ball being played to Mané, who was in an offside position. The new No.10 swivelled and fired the ball home.
The Reds had chances to add a fourth but it appeared as though they would have to be content with a 3-0 win. That was until Daniel Sturridge came off the bench to replace Salah. With his first touch, he steered the ball home. The Liverpool No.15 wheeled away to celebrate and treated those in attendenace to a dance.
It was a statemet of intent from Klopp’s men. Here are five things we learned from Liverpool 4-0 West Ham.
Money can buy class
The Reds spent big to bring Alisson and Keïta to the club and though it’s early days it does appear to have been money well spent. The Brazilian shot-stopper is an imposing figure between the sticks and, for the first time since the days of Pepe Reina, Liverpool now have a goalkeeper who can singlehandedly win them matches.
He didn’t have much to do but the home fans seem more relaxed with him on the pitch. There were no audible gasps or groans whenever he found himself with the ball at this feet. It’s similar to the impact Virgil van Dijk had when he arrived in January.
And then there was Keïta. While not up to speed with the English game just yet, he looks to be a difference-maker and a game-changer. His ability to dictate the tempo of the game will be invaluable as the season progresses and Klopp’s men come up against teams determined to sit deep, smother space and sacrifice possession. He effortlessly glides through the gears and beats defensive lines.
The Liverpool No.8 was central to everything good Liverpool did on the day and his timing off the pass is sublime. He appears to hold onto the ball for too long before releasing the ball but it’s to draw the opposition in so that they commit.
Lovren’s pain is Gomez’s gain
Dejan Lovren played through the pain during the World Cup and is likely to miss a couple of matches while he recovers from the abdominal injury. There’s an argument to be made to suggest that he was in the best form of his life heading into the final months of the 2017/18 campaign.
It’s safe to assume that, on the back of this, he’s Klopp’s strongest XI. But the manager has shown on a number of occasions since being appointed that form trumps reputations.
Gomez was tasked with stepping in to fill the Lovren void and the former Charlton Athletic youngster looked a lot more comfortable playing in the heart of the defence. Marko Arnautović is a handful and the 21-year-old coped admirably for the most part. His use of the ball was assured and he took up good defensive positions to clear the danger whenever West Ham ventured into the Liverpool half.
If he continues to improve then Lovren might have to settle for a place on the bench.
Too much too soon for West Ham?
The Hammers needed reinforcements and they needed to back Pellegrini but there are questions to answer. The fact they started the match with five new faces in the starting XI was brave. They made the majority of their signings fairly early so they have had time to gel and bed in but even so, teams need time to adapt. Even more so when the signings made happen to be in key areas.
A goalkeeper needs to know his centre-backs who in turn need to have an understanding with the midfielder ahead of them. The Premier League is a harsh learning curve and there could be a few rocky results as the new signings familiarise themselves with their team-mates.
Liverpool were expected to dominate but West Ham made it easy for them.
Salah isn’t a one-season wonder
Many had queried whether the Liverpool No.11 could repeat the scoring exploits of last season of whether it was just a freakish campaign. After all, there was no surprise factor this time around. But just because you know what Salah is going to do doesn’t mean you’re in a better situation to stop him.
His goal, the opener on the day, was vintage Salah. He ghosted into a dangerous area and was able to tap the ball home. It looked easy because it was. What the Liverpool forward does is a craft very few have mastered and even fewer are in teams perfectly set up to play to their strengths. So in many ways, he’s fortunate but by the same token, the Reds are fortunate to have him to finish off these brilliant team moves.
He could’ve had a second before the halftime whistle and it felt like deja vu. Roberto Firmino’s cutback was met by Salah, free in the six-yard box, but his effort was saved from point-blank range.
The signs are there, though, that Salah the goal machine is here to stay.
Anderson catches the eye
Named as an Chelsea and Manchester United transfer target in the past, Felipe Anderson’s decision to join West Ham in the summer resulted in a number of raised eyebrows. There have never been any questions surrounding his quality but his work rate was something used as a stick to beat him with.
The narrative surrounding the Brazilian was that he’s a flair player who put on a show when the going was good but when everything was going against the team he was nowhere to be seen.
But at Anfield, he impressed with his defensive contribution. He attempted seven tackles and won four, all in his own half. He thwarted Trent Alexander-Arnold on a couple of occasions just as it appeared as though the scouse teenager was about to get beyond him and into a dangerous area.
If his work rate continues throughout the campaign he’ll be a firm favourite.