HOW strange was that first half? It was everything a football match shouldn’t be.
Let’s be crystal clear — I’m not complaining. We tell ourselves all sorts of lies about the fixture list. We say “well, it evens itself out”. We say “you have to play everybody twice”. This isn’t the case. There is a good time to play every side across the course of the season and it just so happened that for 45 minutes Liverpool got the sweet spot against West Ham United. It was the perfect moment to play them.
In truth, we probably didn’t do enough. We go in 0-2 but we should have been finding a way to make two into four. It sounds churlish, of course it does, but it was there. In every sense they didn’t want to know.
It made the game a surreal experience. It wasn’t even like a pre-season game. No one on theirs even seemed to want to impress. Instead they wanted so little to do with it bar one deflected ball forward. They were as flat as it is possible to imagine 11 driven footballers in their 20s and early 30s being. It’s staggering.
We often worry about Liverpool’s lack of leadership or direction on the pitch. In comparison to that from West Ham we’re an ’80s super team of characters; Graeme Souness beating Ruud Gullit to death to be made captain.
In the second half West Ham really did want to know, at least until 70, at least until their legs ran out. In the second half West Ham really did give as much as they could. But the ship had sailed, the gaps were too big, literal gaps on the pitch, gaps on the scoreboard, gaps in class.
The selection surprised everyone but, whether changes were through choice or informed, the manager picked pace. Everywhere you looked Liverpool had pace and, while in the first 45 they didn’t match that with the quality, you can see the thinking. This was a side that wouldn’t like turning round.
When the quality was there it was irresistible. The opening goal was an object lesson in breaking away, in seizing an opportuntity. Mo Salah, loads of Sadio Mane, definitely Salah. Salah everywhere. Salah in abundance. Drenched in the gear.
What an opening to a Liverpool career this has been. We’re almost too busy to doff our collective cap to it. Too caught up in all our other shit. Indeed, while our other shit has been going on, Salah has racked up a dozen goals.
It shows the value of just being able to play well in bursts. When the quality was needed it was there. It was explosive in a way Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson’s teams from 10 years ago so often were, when they made goals look cheap.
The second was wonderfully cheap and from a centre back. Glory be. Liverpool didn’t need to work and they were 0-2. You crave the cheap goal even at the best of times. It was a goal akin to knocking your king over in a chess match. Fuck it. Can’t be bothered.
The key goal is the game’s fourth. West Ham flurried successfully. They had roused sufficiently. But in the grand scheme of things that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain goal was the final nail in their coffin. Roberto Firmino’s contribution to it was marvellous. Not for the first time he turned and carried brilliantly. Neither Liverpool nor Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down their second bite of winning the game.
Salah’s second leaves Liverpool resplendent. The travelling Reds getting to throw a party. Build it up in red and white. Poor old Hammers.
This thing of ours has seen us ease some of our troubles away. Not all of them. It gets harder again, it gets intense. But they could do no more than three wins in three, than a plus-nine goal difference. They’ve done the business.