Liverpool booked another Premier League victory on Wednesday as they edged past West Ham at Anfield. The contest was settled in the 22nd minute, when a pin-point cross from Kostas Tsimikas found Darwin Nunez in the air and the Uruguayan striker beat Thilo Kehrer to put it behind Lukasz Fabianski, who was powerless to do anything about it.
There’s no better place to start than the man who scored the only goal of the game.
Nunez has been heavily criticized since the start of the season, with even some Liverpool fans feeling inclined to write him off as a flop already, while others laughed at the Reds for paying that much money for him.
That much money – that’s a phrase that has been used quite liberally in those sceptic statements. Liverpool agreed to pay £64 million upfront, with further add-ons set to potentially take the total fee up to £85m, or €100. And somehow, somewhere, that figure got distorted through stories, reports and various pundit claims and became a guaranteed £100m – which quite obviously isn’t true.
Naturally, such numbers prompted some fabled expectations that Nunez would come in and do something similar to Erling Haaland at Manchester City. Frankly, the Norwegian is such a sensation that no player in living memory had such a start in the Premier League – 18 goal involvements (15 goals and three assists) in just 10 league matches, 844 minutes spent on the pitch.
Nunez, on the other hand, with his three goals and one assist in seven matches and a total of 342 minutes, has had a fine start in his own right, and in this match, he once again produced a glimpse of the player he could yet become. Not only is he very capable of identifying the space he should be occupying in a specific situation, or finding the right channels to run into, he has also become the fastest player the Premier League has seen, making a run at 38 km/h (23.61 mph) to overshadow the previous record held by Kyle Walker at 37.8 km/h (23.49 mph).
All that Nunez lacks is composure and better decision making in the final third, and that will come soon enough, once he develops proper understanding with his new teammates.
It was a brave call from West Ham boss David Moyes to put Flynn Downes into the starting XI for the first time ever against Liverpool. The 23-year-old midfielder was previously used twice as a last-minute substitute, in the 0-2 home defeat to Manchester City back in August, and the 3-1 home win over Fulham earlier this month.
Nonetheless, Downes rose to the occasion admirably, playing against top opposition like a seasoned professional. The composure on the ball and smart decisions, as well as movements across the pitch, were simply stunning to see from a player who came into the contest with only two Premier League minutes under his belt. Playing on the right side of midfield, he mostly had to compete against Kostas Tsimikas, Fabio Carvalho and occasionally Thiago Alcantara, and he wasn’t inferior to any of them.
The 74 minutes Downes spent on the pitch under the Anfield lights will surely prove to have been a great experience for the youngster, spurring him on to work even harder than before to develop into a proper Premier League-level player. Following the rise of Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen, the Hammers might just have another gem on their hands.
A strange penalty
To put the talk about Bowen into the context of this match, it wouldn’t be right to move on without mentioning the events in the last minute of the first half. The West Ham winger rushed into the Liverpool box, racing for the ball against Joe Gomez, and having got to the ball first, he went down after a collision with the Liverpool defender. Referee Stuart Attwell initially allowed the play to go on, but he was soon told to go check the situation on the pitch-side monitor.
Interestingly enough, Attwell was in a good position to see everything as it happened, and if anything, the VAR slow-motion replay only made the intensity of the collision seem less than it actually was. But in the Premier League, it seems to be some kind of an unspoken rule that once the referee is sent to the monitor, the decision is made for him and his initial ruling will change.
That was the outcome on this occasion as well, and once Attwell returned, blowing his whistle, giving the VAR sign and pointing to the spot, up stepped Bowen to take it.
Now, there was some controversy over what Virgil van Dijk was doing while Attwell was reviewing the incident. It appeared that the Dutch centre-back might have been doing some damage to the turf right on the penalty spot with the aim of getting the taker to scuff his shot.
But Bowen didn’t scuff his shot; he whacked it properly and accurately, but to his dismay, Alisson Becker guessed correctly and made his move in time to save it.
The Liverpool formation
Looking ahead towards this game, it wasn’t easy to guess what formation Jurgen Klopp would choose for his team. They’ve played in a 4-3-3 for the largest part of the seven years of the German in the Anfield dugout, but recently they changed it to 4-2-3-1 with some success.
Klopp reverted to 4-3-3 for the big victory over Manchester City on Sunday, so it wasn’t easy to guess what he would do against West Ham.
Klopp went with a 4-2-3-1, with Fabio Carvalho on the left, Mohamed Salah on the right and Roberto Firmino through the middle supporting Nunez upfront. However, it was very interesting to see Salah and Carvalho drop deeper, either side of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara in midfield, to form a flat 4-4-2 when defending. It was very similar to what the Hammers were doing all match, and it was very efficient.
It’s probably safe to assume we’ll see something similar against Nottingham Forest on Saturday – a game Liverpool simply must win if they plan on getting back towards the top of the table.
Speaking of the table, Liverpool are now in seventh place with 16 points, and though it’s still very far from where they want to be, they will be happy with it given that only a few days ago, they had 10. There is a long way to go yet, of course, and though Klopp himself recently ruled his team out of the title race, if this run continues, there just might be a glimmer of hope on the horizon again.
As for West Ham, the successful run leading up to this game which saw them pull significantly away from the relegation zone, still has them in some comfort in that aspect. They’re currently 13th with 11 points. But as with Liverpool, that’s not where they want to be, and though nobody will have had genuine expectations from the Anfield trip, they now need to step up again. Playing at home against Bournemouth on Monday, there can be no excuses; a win is a must.
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