How good was Nat Phillips today?
I had to start with this question, because it’s the one that was on everyone’s minds before the game started. Liverpool’s deep crisis in the back is making some unlikely heroes, with the likes of Rhys Williams (formerly of Kidderminster in the sixth division) becoming a champions league regular. Would we be able to withstand David Moyes’ surprise package of this topsy-turvy season?
Enter number forty-seven, all the way from VfB Stuttgart in the German second division. Yes, he put a foot wrong once with a poor pass attempt that was quickly reclaimed, but otherwise Phillips did a marvelous job in back, effectively nullifying Sebastien Haller. There is no question that West Ham felt the missing Michail Antonio, and this game might have turned out differently were he playing, but that takes nothing away from Phillips. A man-of-the-match award must be given to either him or the never-ending Gini Wijnaldum, whose tireless work in midfield was just as essential to Liverpool’s dominance of possession.
I can’t choose, so take your pick.
The opening goal was, as is becoming unfortunately typical these days, against the run of play. Pablo Fornals’ hit after a poor clearing header from Gomez was extremely accurate, hitting the inside post before going in, and needing to do so to beat Alisson. Yet some blame must be allocated to Curtis Jones who failed to track back once possession was given away, and of course that poor clearance. Later on, Salah’s penalty was all Mo, all the way, and the fashion in which he conjured it in the first place was instead all Neymar, all the way, but it counts.
As for Jones, he (together with skipper Hendo) had a generally quiet game in the first half, and while he opened the second better, Liverpool were screaming for some creativity. When it arrived on the pitch in the form Shaqiri and Jota, the game was instantly transformed. They both have that quality of being an utter nuisance to the opposition, Jota with his endless energy and tendency to pop up where he is least expected (a bit like Firmino), Shaq with how he just sees things others don’t (a bit like Thiago). They combined beautifully for Liverpool’s third goal, and Jota’s second of the game.
“Wait”, I hear you say, “Jota only scored once. It’s right there on the scoreline”.
Sure. Sure he did. Look, there comes a time when I, as a Liverpool fan this season, must give up on VAR and just ignore it. It’s happening practically every game now, when some extremely close call goes against the Reds, when nobody can see it, and where one must suspect that no other team would be subject to it. How Mane’s supposedly uncalled foul could be considered a “clear and obvious” error when it took the officials several long minutes of watching and re-watching the play can be a matter for academic debate. As far as I’m concerned, that was Jota’s first, who is turning into quite the find for Liverpool.
All aside, West Ham did well today, and their amazing discipline is going to continue to serve them well this season. Still, in the end, the grinder ground out another result, and a historic record (63 straight games without loss at Anfield) is matched. The Reds again find themselves sitting on top of a rather crazy league table, with the likes of Aston Villa, Everton, and the Hammers themselves setting the tone.
Maybe one way to summarize this game is that VAR tried to hurt the Reds, and failed. Again. Winning against not just the other teams, but also the refs, is the stuff champions are made of. When all is said and done, we might get a cinderella champion this year, but the smart money’s still on Klopp’s lads from merseyside.