Liverpool claimed a vital three points with a fairly simple 2-0 at home to West Ham on Saturday afternoon, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge getting the goals in the second half of a match they dominated.
Philippe Coutinho created both goals as Sterling slipped the ball under Adrián before super-sub Sturridge, returning for the first time in five months, bent a powerful shot inside the near post with ten minutes to play. Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing returned to Anfield each with a considerable point to prove but neither managed to assert themselves on the game as the Hammers struggled for fluency.
Emre Can was handed a start in an effort to combat the physicality of the visitors, with Steven Gerrard out of the matchday squad altogether - replaced by Stewart Downing. The visitors were without Diafra Sakho, but Winston Reid started despite continuing speculation about his future at the club.
Carroll was clearly looking to make an impact from the off, with Can coming off very much second best in an early physical duel with the burly centre-forward. The Liverpool man had to receive a moment's treatment on the sidelines, but the first real chance of the half fell to the home side shortly after. Good work from Sterling down the left resulted in a chance for Lallana but the England man hesitated before he could shoot, and was forced to lay the ball off again for Marković, whose weak effort was easily blocked.
The Hammers threatened in their usual way, their direct and powerful approach clearly causing some problems for a Liverpool side shaken by Can's early duel with Carroll. James Collins and Kevin Nolan both had half-chances, but nothing concrete transpired from a spell of pressure around the 15-minute mark.
Sterling was unsurprisingly the main source of inspiration for the home side, but the next chance he created was wasted by Jordan Henderson. He drove through the middle of the pitch and drew three defenders towards him before tapping the ball to his left, but Henderson's shot lacked precision and it was easily held by Adrián. Moments later, Sterling exchanged a delicious backheeled one-two with Coutinho to release the diminutive Brazilian into the box, but the angle was tight and the Spanish keeper saved at his feet.
Sam Allardyce looked to be forced into an unwanted change around the half-hour mark, with Collins signalling some discomfort to the bench. The imposing defender decided he could run his injury off, and his presence was needed as Liverpool continued to control the ball in the first half with the visitors playing on the break.
West Ham's best chances were coming from set-pieces as the red defence struggled to contain the aerial presence of Carroll, though he was unable to generate enough power on his header from a corner after 35 minutes. Downing, Morgan Amalfitano and Valencia were all looking to get the ball towards their target man as quickly and directly as possible, and it was a tactic which looked as though it would pay dividends sooner rather than later as the visitors went close. Liverpool's set plays were less ominous, with Henderson's free kick deflected well over the bar and a succession of corners coming to nothing.
Liverpool wanted a penalty in first-half stoppage time as Joey O'Brien grappled with Sterling, but the forward seemed to go down easily and Downing's loose pass was easily picked up by Lazar Marković. The Serbian took a moment to compose himself from little over eight yards out, but still he bent his shot across the goal and wide. As the best chance of the half went begging, the two sides went in goalless at the interval.
Liverpool came out from their 15-minute break re-energised, and were in the lead just six minutes after the restart. Moreno delivered a cross in towards the chest of Sterling at the edge of the area to knock back to Coutinho. The playmaker flicked a pass over a static Hammers defence and Sterling latched back onto the ball before confidently slipping it under Adrián to open the scoring.
The goal provoked the visitors into their first change of personnel with Mark Noble brought on for the largely ineffective Amalfitano, who had struggled to make a real impact on the game. However, it did not spark them into life and they struggled to assert themselves, their best opportunities now coming from Liverpool mistakes. The Hammers saw more of the ball, but their best chance since half time came when Valencia failed to capitalise on a lapse in concentration from Can.
Carroll's afternoon ultimately resulted in disappointment as he was forced off by injury just after the hour mark after appearing to slip on some less-than-stable turf, but it was the return from injury of Sturridge which drew the biggest cheer of the game. Moments after Carroll was helped off, Henderson drilled a shot wide from range and Sturridge jogged on for his first league appearance since August, replacing Marković.
Sturridge's first action was to win a free kick some 30 yards from goal but Henderson again failed to test Adrián, side-footing it straight into the wall. Chances became few and far between as the half wore on despite the introduction of Sturridge, and the in-demand Winston Reid headed wide from Noble's corner with Mignolet rooted to the spot.
Sturridge had his first chance of the game with just over ten minutes to go, proving his match sharpness with some lightning stepovers before shooting right-footed towards the near post, but Adrian got down sharply to deny him. Seconds later came the moment that Liverpool fans had waited months for.
Sturridge found himself in yards of space inside the area, and showed no signs of rustiness with a terrific first touch and another right-footed shot towards the far post. It was curled around the outstretched hand of Adrián, and was greeted with his customary celebration, confidence now seeping from every red shirt in Anfield as fellow substitute Jordan Ibe was denied shortly after.
The result was never in doubt from that moment and the closing minutes passed largely without incident until the very last minute of stoppage time. O'Brien nodded a corner into the back of the net, but a foul had already been called on Mignolet and the final whistle sounded as the resulting free kick was taken. The result sees the Reds leapfrog the Hammers into 7th, and take one step closer to European qualification after a confident performance.
|Liverpool (1)||West Ham (0)|