Liverpool and West Ham played out a hotly contested match at Upton Park. Liverpool just edged the encounter with two goals from former West Ham players (a Glen Johnson screamer & good finish from Joe Cole) and one own goal by James Collins.
Despite the close margin, Liverpool created triple the scoring chances of West Ham with 12 to The Hammers’ 4. Their possession play resulted in a strong 61% share of the ball.
West Ham ceded possession control and chose not to press the midfield for much of the match. Instead, they focused on getting the ball forward quickly for counter attacks. Once the ball was in Liverpool’s final third, they showed high work ethic to try to pin them in. If the ball reached the midfield, however, Allardyce’s side looked to sit back and invite openings behind Liverpool’s midfield.
Rodgers was without his key attacking player in this match. Luis Suarez was absent due to yellow card accumulation. This left 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey taking up a false nine role for the first time in a league competition. Rodgers has previously handed him this role in the Europa League. Shelvey is currently one of the top scorers in this competition.
Andy Carroll is still out due to injury. Sam Allardyce selected Carlton Cole to take his place at the top of West Ham’s attack in a target man role as he did against Chelsea.
Liverpool played narrowly throughout the match. The early substitution of Jose Enrique meant that Stewart Downing was shifted to leftback. Enrique usually has a large impact on Liverpool’s wing play, and his absence was noted. Glen Johnson was The Reds main outlet on the wings.
Liverpool’s Dominant Midfield
The return of Lucas Leiva continues to spell a future for Liverpool. The Brazilian completed more passes than any other player during the match. His influence has made Liverpool’s midfield more dynamic and well rounded. When played alongside Allen, both players can adeptly cover for their opposite, giving each the freedom to roam with the ball and sit deep when out of possession.
Gerrard operated slightly higher. He completed the most attacking third passes of any player. The Liverpool favorite also showed a great degree of discipline. He frequently challenged West Ham’s attacks in midfield, ending the matching with more tackles than any of his teammates with 4 successful challenges.
West Ham’s two central midfielders, Mahamed Diame and Mark Noble, were stretched in their attempts to cover Liverpool’s narrow play. Liverpool constantly had a man free, forcing the two West Ham players to constantly be hustling two against three. Noble ended the match with 5 tackles, but it failed to contain Liverpool’s possession.
The first goal is illustrative of the space West Ham’s midfield left for exploitation. Both of them attempted to press high against Liverpool’s central players. This allowed Johnson to cut inward into the center of West Ham’s defensive third and fire home a stunning opener.
Joe Cole’s goal also showed a weakness in defensive directly above the backline. Raheem Sterling was covered by both central players as he drifted deep. This left enough room for Joe Cole to slip behind the line. His finish was excellent; the run was equally clinical and astute.
Jonjo Shelvey as a False Nine
Despite nominally being Liverpool’s most attacking player, Shelvey tended to drift deep into midfield closer to his native position
However, Shelvey did end up having a hand in Liverpool’s winning goal. His pressure on Collins had a definite hand in forcing the own goal. His run to the near post to latch onto a corss was evocative of a physical number 9, and showed good mental awareness as well as physical tenacity.
Carlton Cole the Target Man
West Ham’s attacking game plan was rudimentary: hoof the ball long to Carlton Cole. The ball was frequently played long out of the defensive third up to Cole. This helped avoid the cluttered midfield were Liverpool usually retained strength in numbers.
Cole utilized his physicality to bring the ball down and bring other West Ham players into attack. He did a fair job of receiving these long balls, as illustrated below. Jarvis was his leading supplier, attempting far more crosses than any other player with 16 attempts, all of which were in open play.
Despite this direct style, Liverpool ended the match with a very slight advantage in aerial duels. Additionally, Carlton lost the ball more than any other West Ham player. It was an efficient game plan from Allardyce, but it just fell short on Sunday.
Both teams wanted to win this match, and at different points it looked as though either squad could have walked home with three points.
West Ham looked comfortable letting possession slip to Liverpool. In the first half, it looked as though Allardyce’s side had an effective counter attacking system worked out. Their pressing and physical pressure failed to create any tangible result though, and they failed to ever score in open play.
Ultimately, Liverpool was able to find too much space in the hole between West Ham’s defense and midfield, allowing runners to take advantage of over committed centrebacks.