Liverpool 0 West Ham 3: Buried amid the cacophany of West Ham’s first victory at Anfield in over half a century was the simple fact that several months of hard work and apparent improvement by Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers apparently dissipated in 90 traumatic minutes.
The end-of-season humiliation, in which Liverpool were beaten by six goals at Stoke, had seemingly been forgotten as Rodgers’ side opened the new campaign with an unbeaten three match run and three consecutive clean sheets.
How quickly that was forgotten as Slaven Bilic’s side won at this famous old stadium for the first time since September 1963 when two blokes called Hurst and Peters were on the scoresheet in a 2-1 win.
Yet it was hard to assess quite which aspect of defeat was the most alarming. Was it the manner in which Liverpool failed to muster a goal threat as they continue to adjust to life without their primary goalscorer for the second year in succession - for Luis Suarez, read Raheem Sterling?
Or was it the woeful defending that recalled that defeat on the final day of last season that left Rodgers so deeply hurt?
The opening goal, from debutant Manuel Lanzini, was the result of a horrific defensive header from Martin Skrtel before, more alarmingly, Dejan Lovren tried to shepherd the ball out of play but succeeded only in gifting it to Lanzini for a cross which Mark Noble converted.
Only 24 hours earlier, Rodgers had been waxing lyrical about Lovren’s development and how, after a mediocre debut season, he was ready to show the £20 million paid to Southampton for his services was money well spent.
Here, Lovren followed one step forward by taking several back although West Ham boss Bilic, who once managed him for the Croatia national team, was swift to defend his countryman.
“He made a mistake. He was over-confident and that can happen,” said Bilic. “I spoke to him about that in Istanbul when Besiktas beat Liverpool in the Europa League. I put him in the Croatia team when he was very young. I know him best.
“When he’s concentrated and thinking only about his own game, not about the left-back or whoever is alongside him, there are very few centre-halves who are better than him.
“One mistake anyone can do but if you are telling me that Liverpool lost because of Dejan Lovren then no, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t down to him.
“I’m not objective about him because I like him. It was a mistake but a lot of Liverpool players made mistakes. He can be a strong person but if you get kicked in the head every day then it’s hard to stay strong. He was great against Arsenal. It is all down to confidence.”
Confidence was so clearly lacking in the entire Liverpool team, certainly after the two early goals were conceded, while the dismissal of playmaker Philippe Coutinho, for a second bookable offence, did little to improve their chances of rescuing a point.
In contrast, West Ham players, who have already won at Arsenal this season, grew in confidence, none more so than the 22-year-old Argentinian Lanzini who, on the basis of this one performance at least, appears to have the potential to become a true Premier League force.
“His whole performance was excellent,” said Bilic. “When he came in some of the people who were not for him and were for other players were slagging him off and they said he looks more like a jockey than a football player.
“Maybe, but he rides the challenges. He’s not afraid of them and he goes right into the challenge.
“In that respect he reminds me of Luka Modric. You can have tiny players who go into the tackle. He can do that. He was fantastic and not only because he scored a goal. Defensively he not only covered the left back, Gomez, but he cut inside on Coutinho and Milner when he went outside. He was great.”
Diafra Sakho completed the rout in injury-time, after Noble had joined Coutinho in seeing a red card, a decision that was as harsh as the one against the Liverpool man and which Bilic insisted West Ham will appeal.
Rodgers, who witnessed the unfamiliar, if not unprecedented, scene of Anfield emptying well before the final whistle and his team booed off the field by those who remained, cited the remarkable statistic that, with Manchester City the only home team to win on Saturday, only seven of the Premier League’s 38 games to date have ended with the hosts collecting all three points.
“Four out of seven teams lost at home today,” said Rodgers prior to Everton’s goalless draw at Spurs.
“It’s going to be a really difficult league to get your home wins.
“There will be lots of games like that and we have to find the way to win them. For us, we hope to be better in our own performance level. We want to be better and we have to be better.”
Mignolet 6 - Clyne 6, Skrtel 5, Lovren 4, Gomez 5 (Ibe 77, 6) - Lucas 7, Can 5 (Moreno 46, 5) - Milner 5, Coutinho 6, Firmino 6 (Ings 60, 6)- Benteke 5.
WEST HAM 4-1-4-1:
Randolph 7 - Tomkins 7, Reid 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 8 - Obiang 7 - Lanzini 9 (Oxford 81, 7), Kouyate , Noble 6, Payet 8 (Jarvis 88) - D Sakho 7 (Cullen 90).
K Friend 5
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