Actual generations of West Ham United fans had no idea what it was like to taste victory at Anfield, but their wait is finally over and it came in such emphatic fashion that the decades spent trying to get one over on Liverpool probably doesn’t feel quite as long.
I’m positive that if you told the Hammers faithful that within the first four matches of the season they’d pick up full points at both the Emirates Stadium and away to the Reds, but lose to Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth at Upton Park, you’d be laughed all the way to the asylum. Manuel Lanzini got things started less than 10-minutes in, Mark Noble added a second before being the second player to be sent off under controversial circumstances after Philippe Coutinho was shown a second yellow not long after the break and Diafra Sakho turned a beating into a stomping, shrugging off the attentions of three Liverpool defenders to add a third.
Where it was joy for the Irons support, it was nothing short of abject misery for those on Kop and boss Brendan Rodgers. Taking absolutely nothing away from the visitors, they didn’t have a whole lot to do with the new found defensive stability enjoyed by the Anfield outfit during their first three matches quickly exiting stage left as the collective incompetence that ruined last season stepped back into the spotlight.
Martin Skrtel’s poor clearing header saw Hammers fullback Aaron Cresswell pick up the ball unopposed before angling in a low cross for Lanzini to turn home. Roberto Firmino, looking lively in the opening exchanges, came close to responding with a sublime wrong-footed shot that cannoned off the post, but set up to defend, contain and hit on the counter-attack, Slaven Bilic’s side were more than content to allow their hosts to pass the ball without pressure anywhere but the final third, giving creedence to the age old adage that possession without purpose is useless in and of itself.
Noble, who will likely see his straight red card rescinded on appeal, was the benefactor of a calamitous bit of decision making from Dejan Lovren when the Croatian made a hash of a what should have been a routine clearance by inexplicably miscontrolling and losing the ball on his byline under very little pressure. Lanzini, who must have been surprised at his good fortune, saw his initial cross half-cleared by a scrambling Liverpool backline before falling favourably for the Irons skipper. With Simon Mignolet rooted to the spot, the 28-year made it look all too simple as they dashed ahead to a two goal lead at Anfield for the first time in forever.
The Reds, predictably, had no response. Chasing what looked to be an insurmountable lead, possession without penetration would follow, repeatedly turned away as they approached the final third, clearly trying to answer a question that they didn’t understand to begin with. Christian Benteke, whose physical presence should have made an impact against a big side like West Ham, was shackled at every turn, doubled up on by the duo of Winston Reid and Pedro Obiang, unable to get a head to the ball, bring the midfield into the game or allow for anyone to make a run in behind the defence.
Coutinho’s sending off not only left the Anfield outfit without a realistic chance of getting anything from the game, but it now means that our trip to Old Trafford — already looming large on the horizon — will be that much more difficult with the Brazilian looking head and shoulders above his teammates in the early days of the season. Avoidable in every sense of the word, his first yellow came on the back of a familiar trick in his repertoire when he failed to make way quickly enough for a free-kick to be taken, which, of course, left him exposed when his careless looking tackle on Dimitri Payet looked to be cause for a second booking. That the French forward appeared to fall into Coutinho rather than as a result of him is a point of contention, but not one worth arguing with Noble’s sending off for a lunging tackle on Danny Ings bizarrely coming after play had been whistled and he’d been awarded a freekick.
Two changes in formation and tactics, the introduction of a second striker in the former Burnley man and both Jordon Ibe and Alberto Moreno couldn’t break the deadlock though and, with seven minutes of injury time added to the clock, when Sakho alluded the attentions of the Spanish wing-back, Nathaniel Clyne and Skrtel to add the coup de grâce, the home support had already been emptying the stadium for a good 10-minutes.
Defensive errors are impossible to account for, but you never expect to give up three goals on the back of them. Despite allowing six goals over their past two matches, West Ham came to Anfield with a plan and they executed it to a perfection and were worth every point they went back to the capital with; Liverpool, abandoning the defence first approach that has earned them both praise and clean sheets in equal measure, got the only result they deserved — one which leaves the same old questions hanging over the head of Rodgers and his ability to wring anything resembling the best out of this team.