Fresh off a fortunate win in their midweek return to the Champions League, Liverpool were rocked by West Ham at Upton Park for a second straight league loss.
Just 80 seconds into the fixture and the home side found the net from a sleepy Reds defense on the first game’s corner.
A long corner to the back post was headed down and back into the fray by James Tomkins, where Winston Reid pounced on loose ball, punishing Liverpool practically from the opening whistle. Worse still, there was little let up from the Hammers as they continued flying into tackles and countering with pace in the extreme.
It did not take long for West Ham to double their advantage, when in the 7th minute Diafra Sakho drove into the penalty area, wide of the goal on the left, and chipped the entire Liverpool back line, including a frozen and out of position Simon Mignolet.
A shellshocked Liverpool side were all over the ground, reeling, as a suspicious starting eleven struggled to even gain a grip on the match. For the first 15 minutes, the Hammers repeatedly blitzed forward, reminiscent of Liverpool last season, leaving the Merseysiders looking like they were just promoted.
While more questions have been surfacing about Mignolet’s quality in goal, they will only multiply and be amplified after this performance, which found him standing or scrambling in equal measure, both out of position and unaware.
After 16 minutes, frustration may have started boiling over as Mario Balotelli, chased down a back pass to Hammers’ goalkeeper, Adrian, catching him late in a challenge. Adrian did not take kindly to it and loomed over a flat Baloetlli. The two squared off momentarily, before both received yellow cards. Still, it was a sign of life.
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool often struggles against physically rugged sides, especially when playing away from Anfield. If their pressing and possession are not clipping at a quick pace, players find themselves regularly getting caught in tackles and pounded on and off the ball. West Ham capitalized on this and continued to blunt any Liverpool rhythm with a high and suffocating press when briefly out of possession.
In an attempt to find some way to seize a foothold in the midfield and match, Rodgers substituted Javier Manquillo for Mamdou Sakho in minute 21. This tactical move introduced more size and changed the shape of the side with three at the back and Alberto Moreno pushing higher into the midfield.
The results looked promising as Raheem Sterling streaked into the box to slash a quality finish from a Balotelli shot that rebounded off the marking defender at 25 minutes. A minute later, Hammers midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate was given a yellow card for a high, late challenge on Moreno in the Reds penalty area, and Liverpool looked like the short break might help them play their way back into the match.
In the the 34th minute, Dejan Lovren and Sakho clashed heads and the game saw another long pause, as Lovren received treatment but eventually returned to play. It was a questionable decision to let Lovren return but the medical staff was never in a rush to assess his condition.
The first half ended with more West Ham, as Downing pulled the strings in almost trequartista fashion, carving up the Reds defense with real menace.
As the second half began, Adam Lallana was added for Lucas and Liverpool made another attempt to claw their way back into the match.
In the 52nd minute, Balotelli found Fabio Borini in the right channel, racing forward and into the box before taking a weak near post shot from a poor angle. Yet the sequence showed some intent and the beginning of a spell where the Reds threatened briefly.
Only 8 minutes later, a scrum of yellow bodies were flying in the West Ham penalty area, as the away side pushed for and equalizer. Lallana was eventually sent sprawling at the top of the box and the ball found its way to Borini who lashed a curler high over the crossbar.
In the 75th minute, Liverpool looked like they might yet find a point, as they looked more composed on the ball and were attacking with more speed, but still lacked edge in the box. Rickie Lambert was introduced for Borini, who only be described as putting in an almost invisible performance. West Ham countered by shoring up their defense by sending James Collins in for Enner Valencia.
Lallana looked brighter in this appearance as he tried to spark a Liverpool comeback. Yet, one foul after another, injuries, and slow restarts became the norm for the final quarter-hour. Plus, the Hammers packed in at the back and looked only to counter.
With little or no penetration into the Hammers’ box from anyone other than Sterling, who seemed to play all over the ground tonight, hope began slipping.
Then, in the 87th minute Downing’s man of the match performance continued against his old teammates, when he sloted Morgan Amalfitanowith a through ball that lead him past Martin Skrtel for a cool finish in the far side netting, past a frozen Mignolet. it was an unsurprising end to horrible all-around display by Liverpoool.
Two league losses in a row may not be cause for panic, but will certainly raise mounting questions as to whether it is the beginning of a trend. Once again in league play, Liverpool began with the wrong starting eleven, wrong tactics, wrong start, and poor, poor play. The international break, which came just as the Reds looked to have found their form, and saw their squad rocked with a rash of injuries has definitely proven problematic. It has left this team short of confidence and form, and unable to reclaim their identity as one of the top teams in the Premier League.