A spirited and boisterous West Ham display earned them a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium against Liverpool, who have now dropped points in consecutive games for the first time this season.
The Hammers started superbly and came close to an opener with both Javier Hernandez and Ryan Cresswell nearly scoring early on.
It was Liverpool, however, that found the strike when a dazzling bit of skill from Adam Lallana helped the ball on to James Milner, and despite the stand-in right back shown to be well offside, he was allowed to play on and pick out Sadio Mane in the box to turn and finish past Lukasz Fabianski.
The home side made sure that the Reds’ lead did not last long, and little over five minutes later they engineered an ingenious equaliser as Michael Antonio was slipped in behind from a free-kick, and needed only one touch to fire the ball in off the left post.
Declan Rice, Felipe Anderson and Mark Noble all had chances at a winner, whilst a late one-on-one for Divock Origi failed to bear fruit as Liverpool’s lead at the top has been cut to three points.
Heading into their home clash with Arsenal just before the new year, Liverpool’s league-leading defence had shipped just seven goals all season, but starting with Ainsley Maintland-Niles’ opener in that fixture, they have now conceded more goals (eight) in their last six matches than they had all season up to that point, keeping just one clean sheet in this run and subsequently dropping seven points.
So good was Liverpool’s defence in the first half of the season that they have still conceded five goals less than any other team in the league, but their recent malaise is somewhat concerning.
Klopp frequently avoids any excuses being made, however this stretch has coincided with the delayed return of Joe Gomez from a fractured leg, and in fact the young Englishman is set to miss further games as he as undergone an operation after a setback in his rehabilitation.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has missed the last three Reds games, meaning that James Milner and Jordan Henderson have filled in at right-back since the 20-year-old’s absence, with injury to Dejan Lovren all but rendering Liverpool’s defensive cover rather non-existent.
Jurgen Klopp teams defend from the front as much as they do at the back, and their engine room is also featuring on the treatment table with Georginio Wijnaldum and skipper Henderson, both of whom were supposed to start this match until the 11th hour, both out.
The absences showed as the Reds had no answer for West Ham’s swift counter-attacking, seeing their midfield sliced open too often and too easily, while Antonio and Felipe Anderson wreaked havoc in and around the Liverpool penalty area.
As Manchester City continue their pursuit of Liverpool’s place atop the Premier League, there is food for thought for Klopp and his staff at the back, who will be desperate for their key men to return to the side as soon as possible.
Hammers a changed unit
Casting minds back to Anfield on the opening day of this Premier League season, and a neutral viewer would be forgiven for thinking that West Ham were an entirely new side from the one that was trounced on Merseyside on that day.
In Pellegrini’s first game in charge they were insipid, lethargic and lacked hunger and passion as Liverpool walked all over them, but it was always known that it would take time under new tutelage, and that they had the squad and Pellegrini had the managerial acumen to make that result a one off.
Since then, despite battling inconsistency, they became the first team to take points off Chelsea and have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal, adding this result which may just be their most impressive.
Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna were rocks at the heart of the defence with Rice and Noble in front of them stopping any attempted balls between their defensive lines. Fabianski was commanding his six-yard box, consistently claiming crosses and releasing quickly to turn his side back on the front foot.
Most of the plaudits have to go to Anderson. The Brazilian turned around his transparent display in the reverse fixture with a dazzling and masterful one here. Each time he got the ball he drove at Milner and looked to create at every opportunity.
Playing like that it is difficult to believe that West Ham have lost more than they have won and sit in the bottom half of the table, but with time to grow as a young squad under a wonderful manager, they are in a good place to potentially play European football in seasons to come.
James Milner is invisible.
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 4, 2019
Always this time of year
In the 2016-17 season, Liverpool did not win a league game after the turn of the year until the middle of February, and were bundled out of both cups in the opening month of 2017.
To start 2018, Klopp endured back to back defeats against the bottom two teams in the league, with Swansea in the league and West Brom in the FA Cup, the latter being their first and only loss at Anfield all season.
With his German origins used to the Bundesliga winter break in December, Klopp is perhaps still yet to become used to the most busiest period in the English football calendar, but will be opening that history does not repeat itself and these two results are but a blight on their record as they continue to chase their first Premier League title.
Let the VAR begin
A strange subplot of this match was the officiating, with a good four or five offside calls proving incorrect going both ways.
Milner and Origi were clearly offside in their respective moments as mentioned, whilst Mohamed Salah was flagged when shown to be onside on another occasion.
With VAR set to makes its arrival on English shores next season, it is hoped that these sort of errors will be cut out.