Jurgen Klopp furious as Liverpool draw with West Ham United
By Jason Burt, match report, from the London Stadium
Jurgen Klopp’s avowed intent when he became Liverpool manager was to turn “doubters into believers” but he knows those uncertainties can agonisingly and quickly re-surface, with every point dropped, as his side fell to another frustrating draw.
In truth they were fortunate to escape with that with their goal one that should have been chalked off for the clearest of offsides and with West Ham showing far more conviction and belief than the Premier League leaders. Liverpool extended their advantage at the top to three points but are suffering from a sense of being reeled in by the champions, Manchester City, in the past week. Pressure? Klopp and his players, headed by Virgil Van Dijk, brushed aside talk of it but it can be felt, it can be sensed nonetheless.
In fact City will go the head of the league, on goal difference at least, if they win away at Everton on Wednesday evening and although Liverpool will have a game in hand there is a definite feeling that the momentum could be shifting in this title race and a psychological blow can be struck. Liverpool need to arrest that.
Klopp bridled at talk of nerves and it would a surprise if he did not although he also knew the headlines, the reports, the analysis that this result and, just as importantly, this ultimately insipid performance would provoke.
There are 13 games to go, we are not in the run-in, far from it, but such are the small margins, such are the high standards set by Liverpool, City and Tottenham Hotspur who have made this a three-way conversation that every bump in the road feels like it could send someone off track.
Plus the world knows that not so long ago Liverpool had the prospect of going 10 points clear of City, had they won at the Etihad at the turn of the year, and are now nip and tuck although they should not forget where the advantage still lies which is when Klopp's experience of winning titles surely has to kick in for his players.
The double-Bundesliga winner would do well to remind them, for a start, that they have only lost once in the league this season and that just a week ago some people were writing off City after their loss away to Newcastle United.
In practical terms what is also certain is that Liverpool need to get players back and as unsure as they curiously looked in defence at times – the way West Ham undid them at free-kicks was shocking – and as blunt as their attack felt the real concern lay in midfield without Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Injuries have taken their toll on Adam Lallana, who made a rare start, but the real worry was the failure of Naby Keita to take his chance and of Fabinho to dominate alongside him. The best midfielder on the pitch was 20-year-old Declan Rice whose only blemish was to steer a header narrowly over from a free-kick when he was allowed to run unattended. He knew he had to score.
But then West Ham were also hampered by injuries, their list of absentees is lengthy, and they have of late been Liverpool’s whipping boys – conceding four times in each of their last four meetings – so surely this should have been a perfect fixture for the visitors to put aside the disappointment of drawing at home to Leicester City?
West Ham went close on two occasions with low shots whistling narrowly wide before Liverpool caught a break. Lallana’s smart pass close to the touchline was collected by James Milner, playing at right-back, and he was allowed to carry on and cross with Sadio Mane swivelling cleverly, as Issa Diop committed, before firing low into the net.
Problem was Milner was offside. However assistant referee Simon Beck was out-of-position and did not flag. The goal stood.
What was important, though, was West Ham’s reaction and they won a free-kick and worked a routine that saw the impressive Felipe Anderson sliding the ball parallel to the penalty area for Michail Antonio to peel away. Keita was slow to react, was out-muscled but still Antonio’s shot needed to be precise and was just that as he dragged the ball low across Alisson to draw his side deservedly level.
As the half-time whistle went Klopp ran down the tunnel – and then sent out his team early for the second-half. That spoke volumes while their carelessness – their nerves? – continued as Alisson shanked a clearance for a throw-in.
It was a nervous night for Alisson in the Liverpool goal
Of course, though, chances had been created. Mane guided a header straight at Lukasz Fabianski before Roberto Firmino shot weakly at the West Ham goalkeeper. They were good opportunities although clear chances also fell to West Ham with Javier Hernandez crowded out as he shaped to shoot and then Robert Snodgrass pulled the ball back from the byline, Anderson flicked it on, as he tried to gain control, and Mark Noble half-volleyed just over.
West Ham remained disciplined and it was Liverpool who had to chase the game. In injury-time they almost got another fortunate break as Divock Origi was played through inside the West Ham area. The substitute, too, was clearly offside but again, somehow, the flag stayed down and justice was done as Fabianski blocked.
At the final whistle West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini had words with Klopp with it later transpiring that he had reminded him, in forthright terms, how he had benefited from another offside goal when the two coaches met in the Champions League quarter-finals and Borussia Dortmund beat Malaga six years. “He can’t complain about nothing,” Pellegrini said. He was right. Liverpool can have no complaints over this result which left Klopp with plenty to think about to maintain the belief.
This was not the performance of champions-elect. They go again against Bournemouth at home on Saturday knowing they may no longer be top by then.
There is no need to panic as long as they can get their players back, soon, and do not allow their nerves to control them. They need to make sure this wobble becomes nothing more than that, for their own sake. For the rest of us it is turning into a title race to savour, with its twists and turns and long may that continue. And we are only just into February.
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