Jurgen Klopp claimed Liverpool needed “more will” after losing at West Ham in a powder-puff performance on Saturday.
It was an honest assessment of his Liverpool team, who looked well short of the desire and determination that is required to win any game in this season’s Premier League, which is undoubtedly the most competitive ever.
After some recent laboured away-days, you could see it coming at Upton Park. Liverpool were easily beaten by a resolute and clinical West Ham side who haven’t really been replicating their early season form – mainly down to several notable injuries.
Ever since Liverpool’s six-goal haul at Southampton – in what can now be looked upon as a freak result – the Reds have struggled to find their rhythm away from Anfield. Defeats at Newcastle, Watford and now West Ham sandwiched a fortunate 1-0 win at Sunderland but on Saturday their luck ran out.
Klopp fielded his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and from the off they were second best. For all Liverpool’s possession they managed 60% and could muster only one shot on target in a first half laden with 21 shots on goal.
But if work-rate and desire is the bare minimum for any side, and it surely is whatever the level, then Klopp’s men failed miserably in the East End.
Liverpool lacked conviction all over the pitch. It would be easy to pin the blame on heavily-criticised frontman Christian Benteke, but he was no more at fault than the three amigos behind him in Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Ibe.
Firmino was ineffective and given the hook on the hour-mark to be replaced by Adam Lallana, Coutinho saw out the 90 minutes but had little to show from the game, while Ibe was probably the pick of the visitors’ attacking four-some – but hardly a glowing reference.
But it was the obvious lack of desire which was so evident from the encounter. Michail Antonio’s opening goal summed up the game as far as Liverpool were concerned. The Hammers were lucky not to be penalised when Antonio felled Alberto Moreno back on his own byline, but his willingness to get forward and support West Ham’s break ultimately ended with the former Forest man powering home a back-post header.
Antonio had made up around 95 metres, according to BT Sport, and although he was certainly not sprinting into a goalscoring position he showed enough conviction and strength to get ahead of Nathaniel Clyne and head home the opener.
To criticise Clyne too much would be harsh, but just why Enner Valencia was allowed to a dink a cross into the box unopposed should be one of the questions Klopp should be asking. With two holding players in Emre Can and Lucas in the hub of the midfield and protecting the back four, one of those two should have closed down the West Ham man.
And Liverpool did not learn their lesson in the second half, when this time it was Mark Noble who was allowed to whip in a cross which Andy Carroll bulleted a header into the far corner. It was another cross, which was allowed to arrive in the Liverpool box with ease and it was dispatched in a devastating manner by the former Liverpool man.
Obviously the loss of Jordan Henderson is a big blow to Klopp, but he should be demanding more from Can and Lucas. Lucas picked up a yellow card, but he rarely got close enough to West Ham’s midfield, while Can was similarly lacking in competitive edge.
In fact Liverpool’s spine was and has been far too weak in the last few months. Benteke, who has scored twice in the last two games, has been under fire and was recently told to work harder by Klopp. But there was little evidence of that against the Hammers. His touch looked heavy and confidence low against man-of-the-match James Collins. But for all Benteke’s negative attributes, he was starved of service by the three players in behind him and the two full-backs, who rarely got in enough space to make a cross.
Liverpool lacked width and enough guile to breach a West Ham rearguard which had conceded 12 goals on home soil. Klopp’s men dominated the ball, but only from Can’s curling effort from the edge of the box did they look like scoring, until sub Joe Allen inexplicably headed wide in stoppage time.
Klopp was labelled a “soft German” by Sam Allardyce this week and his team certainly looked a soft touch again this afternoon. The former Borussia Dortmund man is not renowned for bellowing from the touchline, but that looked like what they needed in the capital. Only for a brief spell after half-time, after we might have expected Klopp to have read the riot act, did Liverpool start to really look like they could open up a well-drilled West Ham side.
Klopp claimed he was not angry at half-time, when questioned in the tunnel at full-time, but maybe he needs to get irate?
Steven Gerrard, who left for LA in the summer, has hinted at a return to Anfield, and how they could do with a leader like the 35-year-old at the current time.