Liverpool won their second of two home games this week with another goal-fest, beating West Ham 4-1 despite a couple of scares, and an overall good performance ahead of a tough end to the month.
Brendan Rodgers started Mamadou Sakho at left centre-back alongside Martin Skrtel in the absence of Daniel Agger who was sick. Sakho has been out of the side for a few weeks and has been unlucky not to feature, so this was an opportunity for him to get back into the team.
The starting midfield was interesting again, Rodgers choosing the same midfield three from the 5-1 victory over Norwich City – Ma. My last article on the Hull City defeat spoke about the need for dynamic and creative players in this area – Allen and Coutinho were on the bench for that game, and their inclusion in the midfield this week has reinforced the idea that they can be a major influence in a winning team.
In the absence of Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez continued in his lone-striker/false 9 hybrid role, with Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson either side of him forming the front three.
Allardyce went with a 4-3-3, using Mark Noble, Mohamed Diame and Kevin Nolan as the three midfield battlers to try to match Liverpool for numbers (however Liverpool had Henderson playing so narrow they basically had 4 in central midfield). The front three of Maiga, Downing and Jarvis were productive and threatening going forwards, and didn’t have a bad game at all despite the scoreline.
At the back James Collins had the job of taking care of Luis Suarez, he had a great game the last time the two teams met and drew 0-0, and the fact he had another good game and couldn’t stop Suarez influencing three of the goals says a lot about the form the striker is in at the moment.
The problem area of central midfield has looked a lot more promising for Liverpool this week, despite the home advantage and poor quality of the opposition.
Here you can see how they shaped up in their start positions (arrows show where they usually ended up), Henderson is included as his position on the right is more of a ‘false winger’ position, which involved him moving into the middle to play around Suarez and Coutinho with Liverpool in possession. In the second half when Gerrard came off he moved into the middle with Coutinho out to the left, and this also gave him more of a central influence.
Here you can see the midfield triangle that became more of a midfield square, as Liverpool progress forward early on. As Suarez drops deep to get involved (then moves wide) Henderson makes a central run beyond him to be either a long-ball target, or a short-ball focal point for a give-and-go if they can work it towards him. Coutinho is in a position to peel out to the left and link with Joe Allen if the ball is recycled out to him. With the ball on Gerrards side, he will be higher up with Allen slightly deeper, and vice-versa on the left hand side – Gerrard would drop to cover or recycle the ball.
Ideally Liverpool need a more combative and complete defensive midfielder in January to compliment Allen and Coutinho further forward. However the introduction of Lucas after Gerrard’s injury brought about something closer to what they require, the most practical midfield composition for Rodgers philosophy in terms of the players attributes. It makes them slightly more robust with a proper holding player, which allows the other two to be more adventurous.
The amount of time in possession in the last two games has really allowed Liverpool to make best use of Joe Allen in the middle, and he had arguably his best game in a red shirt. When he is confident, and playing in the right system the way Rodgers prefers to utilise him, he is capable of having an incredibly calming and creative influence for Liverpool. He is also deceptively strong and aggressive at pressing, winning and keeping the ball, and as a result he has only been dispossessed 4 times so far this season. With Steven Gerrard now injured, there is an opportunity for Rodgers to look at ‘life after Gerrard’, so this will be an interesting period in the season.
Statistically Liverpool dominated the game with 63.9% possession and 540 attempted passes compared to 289 for West Ham. Despite their only goal coming from the prolific Martin Skrtel, the Hammers actually created some very valuable chances for themselves and could have had a couple more goals. For all of Liverpool’s 31 chances, the majority were taken in wasteful fashion, and with Demel and O’Brien’s own goals, and Sakho’s effort bundled over the line, Liverpool struggled to score a ‘clean’ goal besides the Suarez header.
Liverpool massively improved in the final third with 84% accuracy which is fast becoming a strong characteristic of their Anfield performances, while West Ham suffered with 52%. This was largely down to a lot of their final third play coming from the wide areas with crosses and direct balls.
The Reds moved up to 2nd in the league with the win to put them 4 points behind Arsenal (now 5 after their 1-1 draw with Everton), and now have three away trips to Spurs, Man City and Chelsea to fight for their place in the top 4 come January. West Ham hover dangerously above the relegation zone and will be looking for inspiration from new places after losing key players Ravel Morrison and Kevin Nolan to bans.