Liverpool made two changes, as Lucas Leiva and Roberto Firmino were both unfit to start, and were replaced by Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana. This predicated a switch to the 4-4-2 diamond, with Coutinho deeper in midfield and Lallana just off Sturridge and Origi.
Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Lallana, Origi, Sturridge
Lucas, Grujic, Woodburn
Liverpool ran riot at the London Stadium, turning in their best performance in over six months to see off a woeful West Ham side 4-0 and take the edge in the top four race going into the last day of the season. If Daniel Sturridge was the catalyst for the performance, then certainly Phillipe Coutinho was the maestro: benefitting hugely and scoring twice from a deeper midfield role.
It was a performance of the highest quality from Liverpool, as the entire team pulled their weight. Four goals were scored, a clean sheet was kept and it could have been a lot more, but nevertheless the Reds had to ride their luck at times, as a couple of key moments went their way.
The signs were there early on as Joël Matip headed onto the bar inside ten minutes, but Liverpool didn’t hit their best form until the second half. Nevertheless, they took the lead into the break as a devastating counter-attack gave them their first goal: a deadly through-ball from Coutinho finding Sturridge who rounded Adrian to slot home.
But as impressive as Liverpool were in the second half, things might have been different had Andre Ayew not produced one of the misses of the season right on half-time. Lovren failed to clear a corner, the ball dropped to Ayew inside the six yard box, but he inexplicably hit the post, not once but twice, before Mignolet gratefully fell on the ball.
That miss seemed to galvanise the visitors, as Liverpool came out for the second half like a side possessed: Origi, Lallana and Wijnaldum all forcing Adrian into action within moments of each other less than two minutes into the second half.
And when the second goal came, it was Coutinho again who was responsible. Gini Wijnaldum’s wonderful dipping volley from 25 yards smashed into the bar and fell to Coutinho about the same distance from goal, and he slalomed through two tackles before slamming home from the edge of the box.
However, before the Reds could turn on the style, they rode their luck for a second time. The ball hit Wijnaldum’s arm in the box, nothing was given, and seconds later, Coutinho was riding two challenges inside the box and slamming home, after wonderful build-up play from Can and Wijnaldum.
From that moment on there was one team winning the game, with Divock Origi’s thunderous effort hitting the bar before the Belgian got his goal, slamming home inside the box after a clever run from Sturridge and Lallana’s shot was blocked; Wijnaldum again the assister.
Four goals scored and it could have more as Origi bore down on goal, opting to shoot himself rather than pass to his striking partner. It’s the kind of selfishness that would be a disgrace were the game not already long over, and felt reminiscent of the relationship between Suarez and Sturridge. Certainly today’s performance would not have looked out of place in the 13/14 season.
This was a must-win game for Liverpool and Klopp’s gambles well and truly paid off. If he was criticised for playing too safe this weekend, then he certainly did not do that, and the Reds are one win away from Champions League football. And how.
Key Talking Points
Coutinho’s Midfield Majesty
Phillipe Coutinho dropped into the centre of midfield for this game and turned in arguably the best performance of any Liverpool player this season. Two wonderfully executed goals, a world-class assist for the opening goal and that’s just the goals. 6 key passes, 90% passing accuracy, 3 successful take-ons. Absolutely unreal performance from arguably Liverpool’s most important player. Klopp has been talking about him playing there more often and on this evidence, he should.
Sturridge Adds Much Needed Quality
Daniel Sturridge is one of Liverpool’s most technically gifted players and his reintroduction to the side worked to perfection. Scored the crucial first goal and caused West Ham problems all afternoon. Divock Origi looked much better playing with a partner, but it was Sturridge who provided some much needed cutting edge that has been missing from Liverpool’s front line in recent weeks.
Whole Team Deserve Credit
I’ve singled out Coutinho and Sturridge but there were phenomenal performances up and down the side. Matip was incredible defensively again, Emre Can bossed the midfield battle, Gini Wijnaldum’s second half was exceptional and James Milner turned in his best performance in months. Truthfully, not a single member of the Liverpool team played badly, although Lovren is fortunate that Ayew wasn’t able to capitalise on his error.
Simon Mignolet – 7/10: Not asked to do much at all but did it effectively. Two or three good punches under pressure and made a decent save from range to deny Fernandes, although it was one he would have been lamblasted for letting in.
Nathaniel Clyne – 7/10: Two or three really good pieces of defensive work and looked more of a threat than in recent weeks. Didn’t give the ball away at all.
Joël Matip – 8/10: Defensively excellent. Made a crucial interception just moments before Coutinho released Sturridge for the goal. Over 90% passing, ran well with the ball and desperately unlucky not to score; a constant threat from set pieces.
Dejan Lovren – 7/10: One error for Ayew’s big chance but other than that he was very good. Won joint most headers in the side, made the most clearances and his passing game was good too.
James Milner – 8/10: Excellent. Created two or three chances with impressive pressing in the first half, defensively very strong, and played three key passes. Crossed significantly less than usual and far more dangerous in the final third as a result.
Emre Can – 9/10: Ran the midfield. Performances like this one don’t work if the midfield isn’t ticking and Can did just that. 82 passes at 89% accuracy, four tackles, winning three aerial duels. Seriously impressive in the middle of the park.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 8/10: Absolutely anonymous first half but came to life in the second with two assists. Best passing accuracy in the side, and a thunderous dipping volley that should have ended up in the back of the net. Fortunate not to concede a penalty however.
Phillipe Coutinho – 10/10: What a display. Two world-class goals, an even better assist, everything he did turned to gold. The sort of game-changing display that makes him the most talented player and most important player in this Liverpool team.
Adam Lallana – 7/10: Did what Adam Lallana does. Ran really hard for 90 minutes, and ended up with four key passes. Not his best display but the energy and fluidity he adds to our midfield cannot be understated when he plays well.
Divock Origi – 7/10: Struggled in the first half and was the Reds’ worst player before the break. But his confidence grew second half and had two really good efforts before eventually nabbing his goal. That’s what he’s in the team to do. Selfish late on but worked hard and won plenty of free kicks for his side too.
Daniel Sturridge – 9/10: His goal was pure Sturridge class and although he wasn’t the man who won Liverpool the game, he was the reason that they won it. His movement and pace caused West Ham endless problems and he has a fantastic relationship with Coutinho and others in the side.
Lucas Leiva, Marko Grujic, Ben Woodburn – N/A: No point doing these three separately, as they had fifteen minutes on the pitch and fifteen touches between them. No time, no impact.
Man of the Match: Phil Coutinho
Written by Tom Holmes