West Ham stunned Liverpool with two goals in the first 10 minutes at Upton Park to help inflict a third defeat of the early Premier League season on Brendan Rodgers’ men. On the back of a 1-0 home loss to Aston Villa, Liverpool again provided a glaring display of their attacking deficiencies to enable a freshly energized West Ham team to take what proved to be a decisive early advantage through Winston Reid and then, brilliantly Diafra Sakho. Raheem Sterling brought Liverpool back into contention before half-time but, again missing Daniel Sturridge to injury, they could find no further way through the hosts’ resistance. With Liverpool toiling in search of an equalizer, substitute Morgan Amalfitano secured the win late on.
Sakho’s wondrous chip seven minutes in was the match’s undoubted highlight and he and new strike partner Enner Valencia, as against Hull City in a 2-2 draw on Monday evening, were key to an impressive West Ham display. With Stewart Downing playing his part, too, both with and without the ball in behind the front two, Sam Allardyce’s men were far more fluid than the stolid, predictable displays so often produced when Kevin Nolan was feeding off the knockdowns of former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll.
But for all that was good about West Ham, Liverpool once more shot themselves in the foot defensively. While last season Liverpool so often got away with errors at the back thanks to the quality of their play going forward, that, too, has now gone by the wayside. Without their top two scorers from the team that finished second in the Premier League, Liverpool have yet to find the right formula. At Upton Park new arrival Mario Balotelli was joined by a man who was told he was surplus to requirements in the summer, Fabio Borini. Neither sparkled, but they were helped little by the performances of those behind them. Captain Steven Gerrard struggled both in and out of possession, in large part due to the diligent and creative work of his former teammate Downing. Three defeats in their first five Premier League games says it all, and already leaves Liverpool with a major task to repeat last season’s success.
It was just a week ago that Liverpool conceded a set-piece goal to Aston Villa in a shambolic opening 10 minutes for their backline. And it was the same scenario at Upton Park. This time not even two minutes had been played when Downing’s free-kick was met by James Tomkins’ towering header at the back post and Reid was allowed to nod it in from close range in the middle. Five minutes later West Ham’s lead was doubled. Liverpool had still yet to get any foothold in the match by the time Mario Balotelli lost the ball on halfway and West Ham streamed forward through a vacant heart of the visiting team. But while the defending left much to be desired, huge credit is still deserving for Sakho, who launched a chip from a preposterous angle on the right of the penalty area that found the far corner of the net as Simon Mignolet was caught coming out anticipating the cross.
So perturbed was Rodgers by the start his team had made that less than halfway through the opening period he made a change in personnel and formation. Javier Manquillo came off for Mamadou Sakho and Liverpool switched to three at the back. The alteration had an almost immediate positive impact and four minutes later Liverpool had a goal back. Balotelli brilliantly took a Jordan Henderson cross out of the air and in an instant turned and hit a shot at goal. The effort was blocked by Aaron Cresswell, but only as far as Sterling, who, roaming inside from his now wing-back role, without hesitation from the edge of the box struck an unstoppable drive past Adrian in the West Ham goal.
Liverpool certainly looked more solid after the change, although the movement of West Ham’s front two continued to cause the occasional problem for the remainder of the first half. At the start of the second, the visitors created a couple of half-chances of their own but failed to take advantage, with the best of them was spurned by Borini, who, almost two years to the day since his last Premier League start for the club, looked a long way short of the level required for a team of Liverpool’s ambitions.
The weekend after their first foray back into the Champions League, Liverpool appeared to have little left to offer as the half wore on. And with two minutes remaining, West Ham took advantage of Liverpool chasing an equalizer with tiring legs. The excellent Downing played a fine ball through to the fresh Amalfitano, who caught Simon Mignolet unawares with an instant poked finish. It was no more than West Ham deserved.