Liverpool lost yet more ground on the Premier League top four in Saturday’s early kick-off as West Ham United put them to the sword with an impressive 2-0 victory at Upton Park.
The goals came 10 minutes into each half, with Michail Antonio nodding the hosts ahead early on and former Liverpool star Andy Carroll doubling the Hammers’ lead in the second period.
The Hammers got their tactics spot on and fully deserved the victory over the toothless Liverpool, for whom Christian Benteke was particularly poor.
In an entertaining, end-to-end first half, it was the visitors who carved out the first meaningful chance of the game through Jordon Ibe.
The young winger picked the ball up on the edge of the West Ham box after some neat build-up play before fizzing a right-footed shot just wide of the post.
That was a let-off for the Hammers, yet just six minutes later, they found themselves in front.
Summer signing Antonio tenaciously tracked Alberto Moreno back to make a tackle just outside his own box. And he was in the right place at the right time to finish off the counter-attack that followed.
Enner Valencia was given way too much time on the right wing to pick out a cross and find the head of Antonio, who powered the ball past Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
It was a fantastic move from start to finish, and football writer Seb Stafford-Bloor was one of many lauding just how quickly the Hammers turned defence into attack:
Twenty-two seconds between Michail Antonio winning a tackle on his own byline and heading West Ham into the lead from the six-yard box.— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) January 2, 2016
Even so, Liverpool felt hard done by as Antonio rounded off the move, as replays showed his tackle on Moreno was, in fact, a foul.
West Ham could well have been 2-0 up seven minutes later, as Manuel Lanzini saw a swerving effort rebound back off the post with Mignolet comprehensively beaten.
The hosts were the only side looking like getting on the scoresheet, with Antonio pulling the strings and causing the Reds constant problems. NBC Sports’ Joe Prince-Wright was impressed with the former Nottingham Forest star:
Remember watching Michail Antonio in 2009 for #SaintsFC in League One. His desire & pace always impressed me. Glad to see he's flourishing.— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) January 2, 2016
Liverpool began knocking on the West Ham door as the half came to a close, and they came perilously close to breaking them down through Emre Can.
Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne exchanged passes inside the hosts’ box before the former laid it off for Can, whose curled effort came back off the crossbar.
That was as close as Liverpool came in the opening period, with lone striker Christian Benteke proving ineffective.
West Ham set up to defend their lead in the second period, but it didn’t take them long to double their advantage courtesy of another swift counter-attack.
Mark Noble was the man given too much time to provide, as he served Carroll with the perfect ball to attack and make it 2-0. The Premier League captured the scoring moment:
The Englishman caused nightmares for his former employers all game, and he could have doubled his afternoon’s tally just after the hour mark.
Clever work from Dimitri Payet and Aaron Cresswell down the left wing allowed the latter to stand up a cross for Carroll, who saw his point-blank header saved well by Mignolet. The Belgian then did well to deny Antonio on the follow-up.
Liverpool probed and pressed the Hammers, but they just didn’t have the craft and guile in front of goal to give Adrian something to worry about.
Moreno and substitute Brad Smith had some joy down the left flank, yet their final balls either let them down or fell to the awkward Benteke.
The Belgian didn’t have one of his better afternoons at Upton Park, and Goal’s Melissa Reddy and ESPN FC’s Miguel Delaney weren’t particularly impressed:
Percentage of aerial duels won by Christian Benteke thus far: 10% And that's a strength of his. #LFC— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) January 2, 2016
Benteke has not been good.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) January 2, 2016
Lucas Leiva had a header cleared off the line and Joe Allen went close as the Reds pressed for a route back into the match, but it was just one of those days when they wouldn’t have found the back of the net if they played through the night.
The result saw Liverpool drop to eighth before the rest of the weekend’s fixtures, while West Ham moved up to fifth.
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp desperately needs to change something before the Premier League resumes following a break for the FA Cup third round, with clashes against Arsenal and Manchester United on the way.
More performances like the drab display at Upton Park will see Liverpool really lose touch with the Premier League's elite.
West Ham goalscorer Carroll remained grounded after heading home against his former club, saying winning games is the priority, per BBC Sport: "Each game you want to win and score goals, it doesn't matter if it is against a side you have played for. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, we just want to keep winning games."
Klopp, meanwhile, cut a frustrated figure at the final whistle, as he said that despite the controversial circumstances of the first goal, there were no excuses. The Daily Mirror's Jim Boardman revealed the German's anger:
The foul on Moreno - "If no whistle you have to defend!" No excuses from a pretty angry Jurgen Klopp.— Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman) January 2, 2016
Klopp: "It's not a day to be disappointed, it's a day to be angry."— Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman) January 2, 2016
He also rued what could have been while talking to BBC Sport:
I'm really angry today because we could have got so much more because everybody could see in the moments we play football what could happen. Today, we deserved to lose. We always had the ball, we could have made much more chances but we didn't. We have to again accept that we didn't play like we should.