Liverpool West Ham United 1-0 Premier League

Liverpool – West Ham United: Hammers Fail to Smash Through Moyes’s Glass Ceiling (1-0)

Though they eventually found their feet in the game, the damage was already inflicted to West Ham which they could not recover from. Liverpool worked the ball around the West Ham block but looked shaky when Moyes’s men produced runs on the far side. However, without the proper profiles and last-minute interventions, the hosts kept hold of all the points.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker. 


The stock of David Moyes has fluctuated over his twenty-year managerial career, without ever breaking the glass ceiling placed above it from the start. It’s the big stages, like Anfield, where his teams continuously find their Achilles heel: seventeen times he took Everton, United, Sunderland and West Ham to the East of Stanley Park, without a victory.

Perhaps one would’ve put good money on such a feat earlier on in the season. They brought the hammer down on Liverpool’s emphatic unbeaten streak back in November, but inconsistent form since the end of the year has seen them lose grip of the top four spots. Add a Europa League run in the midst, West Ham doesn’t have the luxury of squad depth to compete fully on both fronts.

The title charge appeared to have slipped at the start of the year, but Jürgen Klopp’s team build incredible form by brutalizing teams. Twelve wins from the last thirteen indicate such form being established again, which also include a highly entertaining shootout to lift the Carabao Cup. Once Liverpool gains momentum, it’s very difficult to see where they’ll stop, to the point that bearing down on the Pep machine appears inevitable once again.

Klopp made eight changes, from the team that beat Norwich in the FA Cup in midweek. Alisson, Ibrahima Konaté and Jordan Henderson kept their places, which saw the return of all of Liverpool’s usual starters. Joël Matip and Thiago Alcântara where the only major omissions.

Declan Rice was unavailable due to illness, in a team that saw three changes from the defeat to Southampton. This involved Łukasz Fabiański’s return between the posts, whilst Aaron Cresswell and Nikola Vlašić also came back into the team.


 Let’s go round again

The game would break into Liverpool dominance on the ball, but the hosts would tear through the center of the field, from semi-transitions and more broken parts of play. West Ham’s set-up on the attack was to boot the ball towards Michail Antonio’s side and conduct play there, but this involved the wingers, Vlašić and Jarrod Bowen, stepping higher up and drawing the double pivot away from the center-backs.

From the first few minutes alone, Mohamed Salah was denied from close range, after a long ball was taken off a quick free-kick, whilst a last-ditch tackle from Craig Dawson denied him taking another shot, once Kurt Zouma was dragged far out of the last line.

Nevertheless, this was one of Liverpool’s highest ball possession figures throughout the season, having controlled three-quarters of the ball. West Ham sat in a very passive medium-to-low-block, with little pressing out of their 4-4-1-1 formation. Liverpool built in their trademark 2-3-5/2-5-3 set-up, with some neat variations to help play through the lines. This involved Naby Keïta and Fabinho as part of the same line, whilst Jordan Henderson received the ball much wider on the right, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah on the inside of this arrangement.


18th minute: Keïta and Fabinho, who moved as part as the same line, created the space for Konaté to pass to Mané (Grey ball, first pass) due to Fornals being dragged towards Fabinho, Souček to Keïta and Lanzini checking his shoulder to stay close to Henderson. Mané moved the ball out wide to Salah (Black ball, second pass.)


This rotation enabled Liverpool to play a lot of passes towards the outside, to open up space between the lines. Both Zouma and Manuel Lanzini would often leave too much space in these areas for a receiver to move into, which enabled a Liverpool attacker to turn and drive towards the goal.

Despite Liverpool finding routes through the block, openings were difficult due to a West Ham defensive line which was very rarely drawn out of its position. Aaron Cresswell and Ben Johnson tucked close towards the center-backs, who didn’t allow a Liverpool attacker goalside. Salah, Sadio Mané and Luis Díaz had moments when they would neatly combine, in front of the box, but this didn’t get any of them in behind the last line.

However, rarely do Liverpool not find a path through you. This would be found when Liverpool circulate the ball from left-to-right when the hosts had the ball in the final third. Vlašić would often be a few yards higher than Lanzini, as he would anticipate a shorter pass between the midfielders, rather than a longer switch.

This would be exploited in the goal, as Keïta’s ball over Vlašić was met by Alexander-Arnold. His attempt may have been lacklustre, but it was the perfect ball for Mané to charge in and score inside the six-yard box. Liverpool would have a similar pattern, towards the end of the half, where Fabinho was afforded too much space and Alexander-Arnold overlapped to create a cutback that resulted in a scramble at the goalmouth but was cleared away from West Ham defense.


26th minute: Player positions for Keïta’s switch to Alexander-Arnold, in the buildup to Liverpool’s goal. Notice the sizeable spacing between Cresswell and Vlašić.



 Ten first-half shots… to West Ham?

The premise of West Ham’s attack can be split into two parts: without a structure, before Liverpool scored, and with a structure, when West Ham was trying to get back into the game. The first saw a lot of direct balls to Antonio on the left side of the field, which churned some ranged attempts from the Jamaican but saw the striker doing a bulk of the work. Without proper circulation and support from others, West Ham was heavily one dimensional and predictable.

As the half continued, Antonio started to drift more laterally and was supported by more West Ham forwards on the same line, as well as the team behind able to circulate the ball to some extent. This involved a lot of switching across the back, intending to make Liverpool’s backline more stretched and hit them two runners on the far side.

Moments after the goalmouth scramble, that denied Liverpool a second goal, a short combination from Bowen and Johnson gave Pablo Fornals the trigger to make a run from deep on the opposite side of the field. Although the presence of Vlašić kept Alexander-Arnold wider, the spacing between the right-back and Konaté was huge, who himself was drawn by Antonio’s curved run. Fornals was onside and in a lot of space, a delicate chip over Alisson was too soft and Alexander-Arnold was able to recover. Vlašić had a second bite, but too many defenders would block his path.


38th minute: Fornals chance. Positioning from Antonio and Vlašić enabled huge space between the center-back and full-back to form on the far side.


It took West Ham time, but they genuinely offered a transitional threat. The structure may have been embodied, but the execution was not. West Ham was in desperate need of a super direct attacker, coming from the outside to support Antonio, a profile which can’t be attached to Vlašić, whilst Bowen’s work in front of the Robertson was relied upon to become the launchpad of these attacks.

Bowen would have such an opportunity at the start of the second period. A high ball from Cresswell was weakly contested by Virgil van Dijk, a very bizarre occurance, as the Dutchman’s connection enabled Bowen to sprint through onto the bouncing ball. Bowen got into the ideal position, but Robertson’s late recovery denied the winger a chance to strike. Eight minutes into the half, Bowen was forced off due to injury, replaced by Saïd Benrahma, another fruitful offensive option for Moyes, but not the kind of attacker to truly penetrate on the transition.


 Sporadic Liverpool, unloaded West Ham

After Bowen’s injury, Liverpool got more into the groove, in terms of their control on the ball, but didn’t impose themselves to the levels they had reached in the first period. With West Ham out of their low block for longer periods, this involved much shorter sequences to get a shot off, but these shots were from outside of the penalty area.

There was still a drive from Klopp’s team to move the ball into central areas, but Salah and Díaz were now shooting from further distances with West Ham defenders still in their positions. Mané was part of these moves, but operated more as a replacement for Roberto Firmino or Diogo Jota, rather than making the usual movements we see from him once the ball is in the final third.

Amongst Liverpool spells of circulating the ball came West Ham moving the ball in the widest areas of the pitch, and providing crossing opportunities. The best of these came with twenty minutes left on the clock, as Souček followed his pass to Fornals with a run on the inside. Once again, the positioning between Alexander-Arnold and Konaté was too great and Lanzini was able to take a touch once he received the cross. Excellent composure to bypass the sliding right-back, but a poor shot from an excellent position to punish Liverpool.

West Ham continued to get into great positions, without the pieces in the final third to draw level. Mark Noble replaced Vlašić, and created a huge chance for Antonio with a long ball behind Keïta, as the Liverpool shape was drawn to the right side of the field. The midfielder recovered, to deny Antonio from close range.

Nonetheless, Moyes’s team were able to continuously work the ball into good positions out wide, but without the ability to turn these chances into crosses, let alone get shots off at goal. Attacks were shut down by effective pressing from Liverpool’s last line, which would deter attackers to cross the ball and continue to recycle the ball or lose the good crossing position by trying to move the ball more centrally.

Although Liverpool was rocky throughout the second half, West Ham could only muster three shots in the entirety of the second period, without taking a shot on target. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold may have flexed their defensive prowess with last-minute interventions, but Liverpool where let off lightly.


 Takeaways

It’s unusual to see Liverpool concede as many openings, so it is always a game that is worth observing. Once West Ham found their structure, they were able to exploit positions between the fullback and center-back, which can be utilized by better transitional threats. Nonetheless, this Liverpool team is still on an incredible level, one which has added to its world-class attack. The way Díaz naturally fits into such a unique set-up between its attack is almost freakish.

Although still just a few points away from Man United, and level with Arsenal who has games in hand, the Champions League dream is slowly dwindling for Moyes’s men. It’s away to those clubs, as well as at Anfield, that continues to clip Moyes’s wings.



We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.


Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.

 

Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]

Comments

Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP