F365 Says: Pellegrini exposes Liverpool’s soft underbelly

Date published: Monday 4th February 2019 10:56

“If we can give a hand to Manchester City, it’s not our problem, but of course I am a fan of Manchester City also,” Manuel Pellegrini said ahead of his side’s home clash against Liverpool. The Chilean certainly gave City a “hand” in the Premier League title race as his West Ham outfit drew 1-1 with Liverpool on Monday night.

Firstly, let’s not forget that West Ham have beaten Manchester United and Arsenal at the London Stadium this season and taken a point against Chelsea too. But this was not the Liverpool we have become accustomed to this campaign. There was a lack of fluency, lack of creativity and a lack of understanding between some players.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Reds looked unbalanced in defence with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold all currently missing through injury. Joel Matip looked questionable aerially against the Hammers, Virgil van Dijk was stretched at times as he looked to do more than one job at a time, while James Milner looked very uncomfortable at right-back. Liverpool’s decision to allow Nathaniel Clyne to join Bournemouth now looks even more baffling.

It was a troubling opening 45 minutes for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who were second best to West Ham. The Hammers made their intentions clear early on, as they sent waves of attacks towards Alisson’s goal, making good interceptions and breaking with pace.

However, Liverpool made the most of some luck on 22 minutes when Sadio Mane expertly scored from a James Milner pullback following some lovely work from Adam Lallana down the right. Milner wasn’t flagged by the linesman, despite being a yard offside, and the goal stood. It was a terrible decision, as the official seemed to be too busy looking at the ball, rather than the player. Pellegrini might have feared the worst given his record against Liverpool: he has five Premier League defeats against the Merseysiders, more than against any other club.

But West Ham bit back only six minutes later. Naby Keita got easily outmuscled inside the area from a free-kick, as Michail Antonio shrugged off his attempt to stop his run into the box and the winger finished beautifully into the far corner. The Reds have scored 15 goals from set-pieces this season – but this time they struggled to defend them. Declan Rice had a huge chance before half-time to give the Hammers the lead from a free-kick before Issa Diop was allowed a free header at goal shortly after the break.

Not only were Liverpool weak at defending set-pieces, they seemed to be too fragile in the middle of the park with Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum a big miss. Granted, it wasn’t Liverpool’s best performance by a long way but credit has to go to West Ham. This was a totally different Hammers outfit to the one that was taken apart by Wolves on Tuesday night; some of their passing and movement was superb. The question with 15 minutes remaining from one of Sky Sports’ co-commentators was whether “West Ham had the resources to hold on?” Hold on? The Hammers had been pushing for a winner for most of the match. It seemed a tad harsh.

However, the commentator’s foresight is certainly better than mine, as the Reds pinned West Ham back for much of the final 10 minutes as the league leaders pushed for the goal that would have taken them five points clear. It never came.

Liverpool have now dropped seven points in their last five matches with West Ham further exposing a soft underbelly created by injury problems. It’s likely to be just a minor blip for Klopp and his side as the media try to build up the ‘title nerves’ narrative.  One thing is for sure: Pep Guardiola and the Citizens will have been buoyed by this result.

In the aftermath of the match, Klopp said: “I didn’t see a good game from us, a couple didn’t perform at the highest level but that has happened before and it will happen in the future.” The German is right, the Reds have been so good this season that they are bound to have a few off days. They’re still three points clear of City and even if they were to lose their next couple of matches – which is unlikely – they wouldn’t be out of the title race. Goodness me, it makes for an exciting chase now though. Over to you, City…

Joe Williams


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