It was just too good to be true. It was almost going too well for Liverpool after the first three games of the Premier League season. Two wins and a draw had Brendan Rodgers’ side lying in the top four, three points ahead of champions Chelsea and coming off an impressive 0-0 draw away at Arsenal.
The visit of West Ham, who had lost to Bournemouth in their last league outing, seemed to many a Reds fan a straightforward home victory and an elevation to double figures in the team’s points tally. It was anything but.
Watching Liverpool crash to a 3-0 home defeat nearly a fortnight ago was like a bad dream, with constant horror following you, reaching unbearable levels until you wake up. The final whistle symbolised the wake up and the nightmare was the Reds’ incredibly poor performance.
Not since the 6-1 drubbing by Stoke on the final day of last season has Rodgers’ side looked so out of its depth, out of ideas, outthought and outplayed by an inconsistent Hammers side, that got its tactics 100% correct on the day .
Liverpool played right into West Ham’s hand, with predictable advances further up the field that were suppressed by the away side’s on-song defence. With a narrow 4-3-3 formation that limited the home side’s tendency to play the ball into goal, West Ham went on to blitz Rodgers’ defence with exceptional counter-attacking football.
It was a result which brought Liverpool’s impressive start to the campaign to an abrupt end – after scoring wins over Stoke and Bournemouth and the draw at the Emirates, it immediately brought back huge question marks over particular players and tactics.
Defensively, Liverpool were a shambles, with centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren both at fault for two of West Ham’s goals. After watching him attempt to play the ball out from defence rather than clearing it only to be robbed of the ball by Ezequiel Lanzini on the byline, it became clear that Lovren should not be playing week in week out. Or anywhere near the substitutes’ bench. Or even the matchday squad.
Further up the pitch, Phillippe Coutinho was sent off harshly and with that, the Reds lost its prime creative attacking outlet, with summer signing Roberto Firmino struggling to impress out wide and Christian Benteke looking like the loneliest man on the pitch – service to him was virtually nil.
Hopefully it was just a bad day in the office for the team but with eternal rivals Manchester United our next opponents, the need to get back to winning ways is sky high. Simply to arrest any potential dip in form and to firmly shift away from the disappointments of last season (a dodgy defence, a biteless attack and general disarray), before they rear their ugly head again.
Rodgers hit the nail firmly on the head in the aftermath of defeat that Liverpool were not creative enough and didn’t defend well against West Ham. This must be addressed when we visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
It still is the most anticipated game of the season when the North West giants collide, and one which never fails to disappoint. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1986 pledge to “knock Liverpool off its perch” the match-up has become synonymous with the league itself, with United winning countless league titles since then and Liverpool still waiting on that first league triumph since 1990.
The encounter has also produced some of the best matches in Premier League history and, despite both teams somewhat falling from grace over the years, the fixture’s importance has not diminished.
I can still remember watching my first Liverpool-United encounter in December 1995 where we coasted to a 2-0 victory at Anfield thanks to a brace from Robbie Fowler. Going through the years, the Reds’ league double in 2000-2001, the monumental 4-1 triumph at Old Trafford in 2009 and Dirk Kuyt’s match-winning hat-trick two years later stick out as memories that will stay with Liverpool fans forever.
While results of that level of brilliance probably won’t manifest on Sunday, Liverpool need to start winning against the league’s giants – something they did just once last year – in order to establish themselves further as top four contenders.
It would be the perfect remedy to such an abysmal result last time out, but one which will be difficult given Coutinho’s suspension and our consistently worrying defence. But the Reds will be up to the contest given the importance of the fixture and a victory at Old Trafford, in addition to a good performance, would easily vanquish the nightmare of a fortnight ago.