Liverpool took a massive step towards the Premier League title with a hard earner 3-2 victory over West Ham at Anfield.
Goals from Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane gave the Reds the victory, despite what was a lethargic and laboured showing a game West Ham side — who equalised through Issa Diop and took an early second half lead through substitute Pablo Fornals — showing far more fight than their recent reversal away to Manchester City.
The early exchanges were as expected; Liverpool pushing the initiative and West Ham content to sit deep and frustrate.
Mané personified the Reds opening approach when he charged down a Lukasz Fabianski kick. The ball deflected behind for a goal kick for the visitors but it was a sign of things to come.
And the breakthrough wasn’t long in coming. A concerted period of pressure ended with Wijnaldum expertly heading home a typically accurate Trent Alexander Arnold cross. Fabianski will feel he could’ve done better, but the dexterity of the Dutchman — contorting his body to meet the ball — was worthy of a goal.
Liverpool’s joy was short lived, however, when Diop nodded in a near post Robert Snodgrass corner for the second goal in an entertaining first 12 minutes.
Lacking a bit of rhythm, the European Champions were struggling to prize West Ham open, but a move between Mané and Andrew Robertson drew a massive reaction from the crowd. The Scot’s audacious back heel sprung the winger behind and he cheekily nutmegged Jeremy Ngakia before Diop blocked his shot.
With The Hammers playing what felt like a back 6, space was at a premium, but an inventive move saw Alexander Arnold shoot narrowly wide. Salah’s clever run created room to play in and Firmino pass found the onrushing right back, whose low fizzed shot went wide of the left hand post.
With Liverpool having 7 corners and West Ham 6 by the 40 minute mark, set pieces were proving the most utilized mode of attack and a towering Virgil Van Dijk header from an Alexander Arnold out swinger flew narrowly over the bar.
That’s as close as the Reds came with a combination of stubborn defence and lethargic build up seeing the teams go into the interval at 1-1.
No doubt with the words of Jurgen Klopp still stinging their ears, Liverpool went for the jugular right from the beginning of the second half. An incisive Alexander Arnold pass found Firmino in good space in the left hand channel, but Brazilian wildly fired what was a good opportunity over.
The good start to the half regressed into the lethargy that marred Liverpool’s first half and The Irons punished them with a goal. Pablo Fornals accurately swept in a Declan Rice cross, to five the Reds a deserved kick up the back side. Klopp reacted instantly; introducing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for Naby Keita.
The former Arsenal man added an impetus to Liverpool and on the 68th minute, their pressure paid dividends. A quick passing move saw Robertson — comfortably the Reds best performer on the night — cross low to Salah. Although the Egyptian scuffed his shot, it trickled through the legs of Fabianski and in for 2-2.
Wave after wave of red attack peppered the Kop end goal and Salah almost added a second but his attempt was parried onto the post by Fabianski.
With the crowd audibly more vocal, Liverpool began to turn the screw and thanks to another stroke of fortune, took the lead. Joe Gomez’s deflected shot ricocheted into the path of Alexander Arnold in the box. The right then lifted a ball over Fabianski and found Mané unmarked with an open goal. Perhaps fortuitous but the hosts have to be commended for their drive and determination.
It looked as if Alexander Arnold notched his third assist of the night when he drilled a low cross for Mané to tap in, but the Senegalese was correctly ruled offside.
West Ham showed their teeth, too, when Jarrod Bowen was sent through on goal only to be thwarted by a smart Alisson save.
There was a late storm to weather, with a free kick and corner to defend, but the final whistle sounded and Liverpool took another step towards title number 19.