Liverpool picked up a comfortable three points away to West Ham United on Saturday night as they continued their recovery from their one-sided defeat to Tottenham Hotspur with a third straight win. They won 4-1 at the London Stadium to move up to sixth in the Premier League table.
Jürgen Klopp didn’t look relaxed until the latter stages of the match, however, as his side briefly threatened to lose control of the game in the second half. Having established a 2-0 lead with goals from Mohamed Salah and Joël Matip, they proceeded to allow their hosts back in.
Manuel Lanzini pulled one back for West Ham ten minutes into the second half, but his good work was immediately undone. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored within one minute of the restart to restore Liverpool’s two-goal advantage. Then, on 76 minutes, Salah got his second and his team’s fourth to seal the points.
Here we analyse the five key tactical insights from the match.
LIVERPOOL WIN THE TRANSITIONS
Klopp has always been renowned for his approach to defensive transitions; his Borussia Dortmund side were famous for their counter-pressing. However, his Liverpool side were at their emphatic best in counter-attacking situations on Saturday night.
The first goal came on the break and showcased what is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Reds’ attack – their pace. A West Ham corner broke down and Sadio Mané ran clear to create a two-v-one instance with Salah up against Winston Reid.
From there the result was obvious. The Senegalese committed his man before sliding the ball through for his team-mate to finish with ease. It was quick and simple yet incisive, and similar moments happened throughout the game.
Liverpool’s speed and energy is awesome with Salah and Mané joined by Alberto Moreno, Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They used this not only to counter-press West Ham, but to win the attacking transition phases with unstoppable counters.
WEST HAM’S DEFENSIVE ISSUES
Slaven Bilić set his side up to defend passively in a deep block. His West Ham took up a 5-4-1 shape, with André Ayew and Lanzini supporting lone striker Javier Hernández in the first line of pressure when appropriate.
The Hammers didn’t tend to put pressure on the ball high, instead allowing Liverpool to reach the middle third before upping the ante. However, they often left far too much space between the lines of defence and midfield for the likes of Salah and Roberto Firmino to enjoy.
Another issue that reared its ugly head was the ball-watching tendencies of West Ham’s defence. This was particularly noticeable for the fourth goal they let in, when they were distracted by Mané and failed to pick up Salah, who scored.
SALAH AND FIRMINO LEAD LIVERPOOL’S NEW SHAPE
Liverpool appeared to take up a slightly altered shape to their usual 4-3-3 for this match. With Salah starting in a more central role alongside Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mané operated on the flanks. This created a rough 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 shape, depending on whether they were in the attacking or defensive phase.
The attacking opportunies offered by the change in system were that they were better able to occupy West Ham’s three-man back line. If, for instance, Firmino dropped deep, Salah would play on the shoulder of the last man and look to get in behind.
The inward movement of the wingers was another dangerous attacking outlet for Liverpool, whose front four were extremely fluid, mobile and aggressive on the ball.
LANZINI WEST HAM’S SOLE BRIGHT SPARK…AGAIN
It seems almost cliché to say but, once again, Lanzini was West Ham’s only bright spark throughout this game.
The Argentine took up a nominal left wing berth within the 3-4-3 attacking system his side played, and was undoubtedly his team’s most dangerous player in and around the final third.
His ability to jink past a man caused the occasional headache, while his goal was beautifully taken. He controlled a diagonal ball on his chest before dinking it past the onrushing Simon Mignolet. Lanzini had no right to score, but he made and took his chance.
And, on top of that one moment of brilliance, he worked hard throughout. He completed three dribbles, which was more than any other player on the pitch for both sides could manage. He also made one key pass, a number none of his team-mates could better.
Were it not for Lanzini’s ingenuity and technique, West Ham fans would have had nothing whatsoever to cheer about on another dark day for the club.
Sitting 17th in the league table does not look pretty, and if the Hammers are to avoid a relegation dogfight they will need their diminutive attacking midfield inspiration to be fit and on form for the rest of the campaign.
LIVERPOOL DEFEND FROM THE FRONT
The aforementioned attacking opportunities afforded by Liverpool’s tweaked tactic were married with defensive possibilities. While they may not counter-press or press with the same intensity as they did when Klopp first arrived, they showed glimpses of their old selves tonight.
Positioning Salah closer to the centre with Firmino meant that the Brazilian wasn’t the only man leading the press. The duo would take it in turns to undertake this activity; when one went to pressure the ball, the other would take up a deeper position and support.
This made it difficult for West Ham to play out from the back effectively and led to multiple turnovers and interceptions. And Liverpool took a similarly aggressive approach to counter-pressing at times, with the sheer pace and athleticism within Klopp’s unit making them an effective force in defensive transitions.