With the League Cup final just over the horizon and the Europa League set to resume next month, the last thing Liverpool need is another match on their plate, but after a much changed side ran out a scoreless draw with West Ham United yesterday at Anfield, they’ll be heading to Upton Park for the replay as the Reds look to secure a spot in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Some encouraging individual displays from the hosts kept their far more experienced visitors working hard throughout, but a their inexperience showed far too often as a lack of a strong presence up front dovetailed nicely with a good performance from Hammers ‘keeper Darren Randolph to see Slaven Bilic’s men through the 90-minutes without too many scares.
“They did really well,” said Reds boss Jurgen Klopp following the final whistle. “Kevin Stewart – five weeks ago, he was at Swindon Town and didn’t play too often. Brad Smith – a big step in the right direction. That’s really cool. [Sheyi] Ojo came in and again did well, you could see. And Jerome Sinclair. There’s a lot of potential, that’s what we said before,” he continued. “It’s not only important to know about it; the players have to show it, but you have to show them that you see their steps. That’s what we tried. If they could have played as well as I trust them to, then it would have been a lot better because I know they can do better. But it was good, really good, and I’m pleased.”
Joao Carlos Teixeira twice saw shots beaten away by Randolph with the Irishman on point to keep out decent efforts from Cameron Brannagan, Joe Allen, who was handed the armband after his penalty shoot-out heroics against Stoke City earlier in the week, as well as an ineffective Christian Benteke with the Belgian once again looking off the pace and maligned in this all-action system.
Although the defensive pairing of Dejan Lovren and Steven Caulker — playing together for the first time — keep things relatively quiet, it was the visitors rather than the hosts that really should have done better. Dmitri Payet whistled a free-kick just wide of the post after wrong footing Simon Mignolet and Enner Valencia sent a header wide of the mark after getting on a peach of a cross from Aaron Creswell — and that was just within the opening exchanges.
“They had a few moments, we had a few moments. They were better in the second half – they could run more and were better at winning the second balls so it is a great result for us,” mused Bilic, seemingly not too bothered by the stalemate. “We lacked that kind of quality we normally have in the last third of the pitch, so overall I am happy with the result,” explained the Croatian manager. “When you make two subs in the first half your hands are tied in the second half. It limited our options and we had to wait to make a third substitution.”
There’s worse things than having another shot at claiming a spot in the next round, but adding another fixture to a pile that’s only growing is hardly ideal. With that being said, the kids held their own against a side that’s in good form and if they’re called on to do it again at Upton Park, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be up to the challenge.