Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 5 West Ham United 1 in the 2023-2024 League Cup quarter-final…


LIVERPOOL are excellent throughout against West Ham United and it vindicates everything and everyone.

The weather was dreadful. The game looked like a banana skin, an accident waiting to happen, but Liverpool took one look at that banana skin and kicked it into touch.

They found themselves against an unbalanced West Ham, but were themselves theoretically unbalanced.


In reality, they looked the most balanced they have in ages. Everyone and everything fitted.

Curtis Jones and Dominik Szoboszlai pressed brilliantly, allowing Wataru Endo to pick up the pieces and get Liverpool back on the front foot.

Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo interchanged, meaning Liverpool constantly posed questions that West Ham didn’t have the gumption to answer.

And then lastly, first half, Harvey Elliott was the glue, the tactical intelligence which flitted the shape in and out.

First half, Liverpool’s formation was 4-3-2-Elliott. Whatever the move, it was Elliott’s. He was tremendous and at the centre of everything good.

The night had it all apart from that Nunez goal in the end. But what do we mean by ‘it all’? It looked like football made more sense for Dominik Szoboszlai without the constant questions asked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah.

It was more straightforward with less flexibility. Flexibility is funny — in an ideal world it is the most special thing that a team can have. But you can twist yourself into the worst angles if you aren’t careful.

I reckon Dom Szoboszlai loves Joe Gomez, loves the overlapping run, loves its predictability and its power. This isn’t to say simplicity is the correct way home — it hasn’t been that of our rivals — but, from time to time, clarity eases the process.

The process is marvellous. I adore the City Centre’s Curtis Jones. He’d be the fifth name on my teamsheet every week. He’s the footballer who glues it more than anyone, while also being the likeliest goalscorer from midfield. He is my favourite. I adore him — potential king of Europe.

He lets the play get set, lets Liverpool be in formation to play both ways. He then shows two moments of brilliance.

It is time to run him to the line. Time to make him the heart of the matter, in the way he is from the heart of the city. He is the one I want. Honestly, deeply, the one I want.

Cody Gakpo scores the same goal against West Ham as he did last season, drilling into the bottom corner from the centre of the goal. It’s a goal he needs. I adore the backpost tap-ins. They matter. But, every now and again, an expression of class matters.

I’d have loved a backpost tap in for Darwin Nunez. He is now in the category of “needs a goal”. But he’s also in the category of “playing well”. The time on the left may prove instructive. He can do so much damage and is as likely to score. He has hard lines on three or four occasions, not least when he hits the post.

At the back, Jarell Quansah passes it brilliantly. It matters, this. He pings it into midfield next to Virgil van Dijk, who passes it whatever one rung above brilliantly is.

It all sets Saturday up brilliantly and it means, regardless of Saturday, Liverpool have a massive pair of games to play in January.

There is this thing about a work in progress. Liverpool are so much of one. But that is true of so many football teams throughout history that realise genuine achievements. There are few sides which aren’t works in progress, very few are the finished article and most make themselves so through playing.

Through playing games like this and the game which comes next. Football teams are forged and Saturday is the furnace. Saturday will be the furnace. I have had my eye on Saturday since June.

I have had my eye on Saturday for a decade, and I have had my eye on Saturday since 10pm tonight, and I have had my eye on Saturday with us all together, when I try to remember and try to conjure and try to believe in the best days.

Saturday is a magic-eye puzzle. Saturday is a date, a night out, I’ve already been asked for a dance and I have my eye on the karaoke and know that Dan Austin is out from whenever. Whenever.

Everyone and everything vindicated. Saturday is now everything; Liverpool win and they are top on the 25th. How lucky we are, how pristine it is on the horizon, what a set of footballers we have — my favourite ever work in progress.

Three more sleeps till Christmas.

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