We dissect a rare, frustrating loss.
So this is how an undefeated streak ends, to thunderous applause from bubble-blowing cockneys. Feels dreadful, if we’re being honest. We still talk about it, though, because we must.
None, Really: I had a few options here. Kostas Tsimikas is probably closer to nudging Andrew Robertson out of the starting XI after this game than at any other point in his stay at the club, and critics – whether of club ownership, transfer strategy or individual players – will undoubtedly experience some catharsis today, but truly, despite creating enough chances to score two or three goals on the road, the team was pretty bad across the board here, and as such, no players get to be elevated to Winner Status.
The Streak: This particular iteration of Liverpool, despite today’s result, is one of the best the club has seen in its illustrious history. Their streak of 25 consecutive games without a loss equaling a club record is testament to that. It is quite frustrating, then, that they failed to extend it in a game that looked eminently winnable both on paper and in practice.
All streaks must come to an end. Starting after the international break, the Reds need to start a new one.
Set-Piece Defending: The feeling of deja vu comes up often in football – in 19/20, for instance, the feeling of the Reds doing just enough to win despite rarely running rampant was bolstered by that same thing happening over and over again – and tonight felt like a throwback to days of yore, when any side willing to sit deep, play hard, and bully the goalkeeper on set pieces was liable to take points off us.
Since Virgil van Dijk’s signing back in 2018, Liverpool have been incredibly successful on set pieces at both ends of the pitch, but today they looked incredibly vulnerable in their own box, with West Ham creating dangerous situations on every corner kick through the rudimentary strategy of Being Physical.
The Reds’ aggressive defending has largely been bailed out by their high-powered attack this season, but if they’re going to defend set-pieces like this through the rest of the year, that tactic will no longer be tenable.
Craig Pawson: For a man who is so obviously terrified of making a call that’ll impact the result of the game, today’s referee sure did exactly that. While the pair of fouls on Alisson – Anotnio’s push in the back and Ogbonna elbowing his arm — for the first goal are both of the sort one expects to only be called about half the time in the Premier League, the horror tackle Aaron Cresswell landed on Jordan Henderson was not.
The fullback lunged in over the top of the ball with his studs up and followed through with his back leg to scythe down Liverpool’s captain for what is known as a red card hat-trick. Pawson — who also failed to call a foul on Pascal Struijk’s leg breaking challenge on Harvey Elliott back in September — didn’t even award a free kick, and VAR did not do its duty in alerting the referee to his mistake.
The Premier League’s let the game flow mandate has come under criticism this season from anybody who values good football over ugly hackathons, but whether this was a case of Pawson enforcing the league’s preferred standards or simply being dreadful at his job is uncertain. What is absolutely undeniable is that it was decisive in how the rest of the game – all 78 minutes of it — unfolded.
What Happens Next
It’s a welcome international break, where the Reds will hope two weeks off will result in more players available for selection rather than fewer, and perhaps a chance for the coaching team to figure out how to improve their defending before the season unravels because of it. Then, it’s a home date with fifth-place Arsenal, a team that hasn’t won a league game at Anfield in nine years.