The lacklustre and lethargic Liverpool were easily defeated by Sam Allardyce’s surprisingly energetic and attack minded Hammers, who began at lightning pace and never really looked like losing the two-goal lead they established after only seven minutes.
Raheem Sterling may have restored hope with a Vladimir Smicer-esque strike midway through the first half, but the Merseysiders failed to build any momentum on the back of the teenage sensation’s goal, Morgan Amalfitano netting on his home debut in the closing stages to seal the fate of Rodgers’ bedraggled troops.
Liverpool made four changes from the team that fell to defeat at home to Aston Villa last Saturday, as they reverted to a diamond formation, with Fabio Borini making his first start of the season as Balotelli’s partner in a front two. Sterling started behind the pair, Gerrard occupied the holding role and Henderson and Lucas were positioned in the middle of the park, while Skrtel returned from injury to replace Sakho.
Mimicking Liverpool’s imperious and irresistible displays last season, the home side shot out of the blocks quickly and raced into a fully deserved two-goal lead, making the most of some truly dreadful Liverpool defending.
After only 75 seconds, the Reds’ vulnerability from set pieces was exposed and exploited, as Tomkins nodded a free kick into the box across goal for the unchallenged Winston Reid to tap home.
|Reid opens the scoring early on|
Those goals, plus two further testing efforts from Creswell and Downing that Mignolet was forced to repel, prompted Rodgers to re-organise his team, replacing Manquillo with Sakho and changing to a back three, with Sterling and Moreno functioning as wing backs on either flank.
The move appeared to pay instant dividends when Sterling halved the deficit moments later. Balotelli, booked soon before for handbags with West Ham keeper Adrian, impressively hooked down a cross and saw his shot blocked by opening goalscorer Reid. Thankfully, the rebound fell for the on-rushing Raheem Sterling, whose awesome strike from the edge of the box flew into the corner of the net.
|The goal and the photo of the match|
Instead, West Ham remained the better side, Enner Valencia calling Mignolet into action again with a curling free kick, while Liverpool’s incompetence and incoherence at the back was exemplified by a clash of heads between Lovren and Sakho, which saw the former Southampton defender stay down with a head injury for a worrying amount of time before eventually re-entering the fray worse for wear and heavily bandaged.
The introduction of Lallana for Lucas at the break was a wise move, adding a degree of creativity and inventiveness to the Reds’ otherwise pedestrian midfield. However, it was insufficient to seriously trouble Sam Allardyce’s team, who looked relatively comfortable as they dealt with a Liverpool attack that looks drastically less threatening without Daniel Sturridge and a certain mischievous Uruguayan forward.
Balotelli saw a couple of strikes dealt with by Adrian, while Borini fired goalwards from a narrow angle and curled just over the bar, but the two Bs are just not in the same league as the SAS, while swapping Borini with Lambert 15 minutes from time did little to change the course of the game either.
In fact, Liverpool were so devoid of ideas that a speculative 30-yard strike from Martin Skrtel, hardly a player renowned for long range screamers, was the closest they came to equalising in the closing stages of a hugely frustrating match that merely underlined the fact that expectations for this season must be revised downwards in light of both last season’s over-achievement and the massive squad re-organisation that took place over the summer.
Two minutes from time, ex-Liverpool midfielder Stewart Downing exploited the space inevitably resulting from Liverpool pushing forward in search of a leveller, feeding Amalfitano, who poked the ball into the corner to score on his Hammers’ home debut and hammer the final nail into Liverpool’s coffin.
|Amalfitano sealed the win for the Hammers|
At the same time, however, they must learn from the many mistakes they made at the Boleyn Ground, particularly those that have been cropping up time and time again, namely defensive errors from set pieces. Liverpool look absolutely terrified when defending corners and free kicks, and that has got to change if they are to progress going forward.
Brendan Rodgers has to go back to the drawing board and get things sorted out urgetly to reverse the Reds’ decline and prevent their season spirally downwards swiftly.