West Ham vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned in Late Reds Win
Liverpool made their way back into the top half of the Premier League with a fine 3-2 win over West Ham United at Upton Park in what was one of the most interesting games for manager Brendan Rodgers to take positives from his side's performance from.
This despite the Reds not playing half as well as they are capable of doing.
Glen Johnson got the Reds up and running with a fantastic solo strike into the top corner but Liverpool should have added to their lead before the Hammers came back and turned the game around before half time.
A penalty from Mark Noble and an own goal from Steven Gerrard meant it was 2-1 to the home side at the break.
It took a big effort in the second half for the Reds to get going, but two goals in five minutes from Joe Cole and James Collins (own goal) gave Liverpool an important three points.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Substitutes Affected the Flow of the Game
Early on in the match at Upton Park Liverpool were by far the brighter and more inventive of the two sides, with Glen Johnson enjoying plenty of action in the final third in particular as he got forward with regularity to cause problems for his former side.
Less than half an hour into the game though the Reds were forced into their first substitution as Jose Enrique was replaced by Joe Cole. Stewart Downing shifted to left-back with Cole moving into the front three, and the game was changed completely into West Ham's favour thereafter.
It wasn't that Downing or Jose Enrique had had a magnificent impact on Liverpool's play on the ball, nor that Cole was anything below what Reds fans have come to expect from him, but instead a reduction in the space Johnson was able to get in the final third.
Previously Downing had hugged the touchline on the right, leaving a lot of space infield of him for Johnson to break into towards the penalty area and occupying the West Ham left-back in process.
With Cole (and Raheem Sterling, as the two switched positions) more inclined to break infield Glen, Johnson had less room and thus less opportunities to make up the numbers in the final third, instead having to hold his position wide in case of any counter attacks.
West Ham went on to be the stronger side for the best part of half an hour after that—but suffered a similar fate around the 70-minute mark when Mo Diame went down injured.
Liverpool had made a change just minutes beforehand, Lucas replaced by Jordan Henderson, and the switch in midfield energy suddenly swung the attacking emphasis back in Liverpool's favour as they out-played West Ham through the middle very quickly.
The movement was better and two very simple yet effective runs into the penalty area, of the kind the forwards should have been making all along, resulted in two goals for Liverpool.
It's also worth noting, of course, that Liverpool's second half goals were scored and made by substitutes.
Hitting Form: Reds String Best Run of the Season Together
Liverpool's win over West Ham means they have won three games in a row this season for the first time under Brendan Rodgers.
The closeness of the Premier League—bar the top two—means that just as Liverpool are both coming into good form and coming into their best run of fixtures they are also only four points off the Champions League spot.
Manager Brendan Rodgers seems equally unperturbed by his team's perceived lack of form beforehand and the challenges remaining ahead, speaking to the official club website:
We're making steady progress in climbing the league and that's important for us. It's a very tight league this season. We've supposedly had an unbelievably bad season up until now, so once we really hit form we'll be alright.
The Reds now face back to back home fixtures against Aston Villa and Fulham and are showing that they can still fight for a top four place—should they take six points from those games they'll be looking at the top six going into the Christmas run of games and heading towards the top four as the transfer window re-opens.
Glen Johnson Far and Away the Best Full-Back in the Premier League
Glen Johnson was simply superb against his former club West Ham.
One goal, several driving runs in the first half and a series of attempts to create clear scoring chances for his team mates made him the stand-out player of the game, while in the second period he defended stoutly when required and was still involved in the final third near the end of the match.
No player made more successful dribbles during the match than Johnson (four), while he also completed 83 percent of his passes which was only bettered by Liverpool's midfield trio out of those who played the full 90 minutes.
Five clearances from Johnson showed his continued awareness and improvement at the back. Whether playing from the left or the right, he has been Liverpool's best player this season and is, along with Lucas and Luis Suarez, one of the Reds' most important starters.
No other full-back in the Premier League can match Johnson for form right now, on either flank, and he has been a big part for Liverpool's upturn in results and performances.
Great win today. If that was at any other ground i would have gone crazy......!— Glen Johnson (@glen_johnson) December 9, 2012
Jonjo Shelvey Deserves Praise for His Work
With Luis Suarez suspended it fell to Jonjo Shelvey to lead the line for Liverpool.
Not anything like a striker by trade or nature, Shelvey nonetheless took to his task with plenty of effort and enthusiasm and in the end was rewarded by being heavily involved for the winning goal.
Shelvey does not have a Premiership goal to his name yet this season but has netted four times in Europe, making him the biggest threat at Rodgers' disposal without Suarez being present.
It was no surprise to see him deployed as the false nine once more and there were times when Shelvey was able to link up well with his fellow forwards after they finally began to make better runs in the second half.
Sterling and Cole took a while to get going but the former linked up with Shelvey to set the latter up to equalise in what was probably Liverpool's best passing move of the match. All it really took was a clever run into the box off the ball from Cole—something Liverpool's wide forwards have not been doing enough of this season.
Rodgers will have a decision to make for next week's game at Anfield, but Shelvey should be happy that he has done the job required of him in this game at least, regardless of whether he stays in the starting XI when Suarez returns.
Encouraging Mental Strength from Liverpool Away from Home
August 2009: That was the last time Liverpool came from behind to win a Premier League match, as they beat Bolton Wanderers 3-2.
It's been a long time since that day that Liverpool have waited for a win away after falling behind, but against West Ham they showed remarkable strength and endeavour to achieve just that.
For a spell it looked as though Liverpool would be doing things the other way round; they took an early lead only to be pegged back and go in at half time 2-1 behind, but goals in the final quarter of an hour from Joe Cole and a James Collins own goal turned things around.
Winning away from home is difficult enough, this was just the Reds' second of the season so far in the league. Coming from behind makes it more impressive—and against West Ham even more so.
Sam Allardyce is far from everyone's cup of tea with regards to the way he has his teams playing the game but they are certainly effective and organised, tough to break down and well-drilled.
It is perhaps no coincidence in part at least that Liverpool's last two victories, a well fought out 1-0 win with a clean sheet and a battling 3-2 win, having come with Lucas Leiva's return from injury.
Brendan Rodgers with Decisions to Make for His Team
Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique have both won their places back in the Liverpool team in recent Premier League matches after spells on the bench.
Jordan Henderson has been in and out of the team but has been relied upon as something of a "12th man" off the bench more often than not.
Now, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Cole have been pressing in recent weeks for recalls to the team on a more regular basis and both had telling impacts on the game at West Ham. Shelvey performed well in the absence of Suarez up front and has already been a good player this term for the Reds in midfield.
The three central spots might be sewn up at present but there is still arguably one wide forward place in the team which could be switched for the next home game.
Cole is another who could take that position after goals against Young Boys and West Ham, but he has also shown that perhaps he can be more effective from Liverpool off the bench rather than on from the start.
His fitness and tactical discipline are such that he can rarely be relied upon to be in the first XI on a regular basis—but Liverpool are short of impact players from the bench and if Cole can be that man, even if only for the next month, then it could be worth a few more points for the Reds as they chase a top four spot.
Statistics from whoscored.com