Liverpool’s title challenge faltered again on Monday evening as the Reds played out their second successive 1-1 draw.
There were unsettling similarities to the performance against Leicester City last Wednesday, with Jurgen Klopp’s side unable to build, or even hang, on to a one-goal lead and conceding sloppily from a set-piece situation.
We’ll review last night’s penultimate Gameweek 25 fixture from a Fantasy perspective, rounding up the goals, assists, key talking points, headline injury news and relevant manager quotes.
West Ham United 1-1 Liverpool
- Goals: Michail Antonio (£6.8m) | Sadio Mane (£9.6m)
- Assists: Felipe Anderson (£7.1m) | James Milner (£5.6m)
Liverpool’s defensive frailties were again exposed at the London Stadium last night as they conceded from a dead-ball situation for the third match in a row.
James Tomkins (£4.3m) and Harry Maguire (£5.4m) had headed their respective sides level in Gameweeks 23 and 24 but this latest equaliser at the Reds’ expense came from a cleverly worked routine on the deck that was coolly finished by Michail Antonio (£6.8m).
While West Ham, Antonio and assist-maker Felipe Anderson (£7.1m) deserve credit for the flawless execution, the ease with which Liverpool’s backline was bypassed underscored just how vulnerable they currently are at set plays.
Klopp’s troops rank fourth-bottom for attempts from set pieces conceded over the last three Gameweeks, with a whopping eight of West Ham’s 13 attempts on goal on Monday coming from free-kicks and corners.
Javier Hernandez (£6.1m) horribly spooned a volley into the clouds from a smart Anderson delivery ten minutes after Antonio’s leveller before Declan Rice (£4.4m) missed a gilt-edged headed opportunity from yet another free-kick from the Brazilian midfielder.
Issa Diop (£4.3m) glanced a header wide from Robert Snodgrass‘s (£5.0m) corner in the second half as Liverpool’s zonal marking once again failed to convince, while Hernandez, Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m) and Mark Noble (£4.8m) all narrowly fired off-target from open play as the visiting defence parted.
While some mischief-makers will point to a possible psychological problem with the Reds after their stuttering run-in during 2013/14, in reality only three of that squad remain – none of whom made it onto the pitch in east London.
This instead looks like a team desperately missing a handful of sidelined players.
While Joel Matip (£4.9m) didn’t have a particularly bad game, there doesn’t seem to exist a natural rapport between him and a below-par Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m) – especially at dead-ball situations.
It may be no coincidence that the Reds’ run of conceding goals from free-kicks and corners has happened in the three most-recent matches that Matip has started, though Liverpool’s chronic problems at right-back – Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.2m) being injured in Gameweek 22 – are no doubt also a contributing factor.
As might be the largely second-string central midfield in front of the defence: Naby Keita (£7.1m) and Adam Lallana (£6.9m) flitted in and out of Monday’s draw and the presences of Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.5m) and perhaps even Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) were arguably missed.
Keita is another to have started the last three Premier League matches and continues to divide opinion: indeed, it was the Guinean midfielder who lost Antonio for West Ham’s equaliser.
Owners of Robertson and van Dijk will be disheartened by just one clean sheet in six Gameweeks but there may be encouraging news on the horizon, with Alexander-Arnold scheduled for a return to training this week.
The injuries that kept Henderson (muscle) and Wijnaldum (sore knee) out don’t appear too serious, either, with Dejan Lovren (£4.9m) also only absent because of a “slight muscle problem”.
Klopp cited those niggles and strains as a mitigating factor in his post-match press conference:
Yesterday night we trained and after the session, we had to change three positions, that’s of course not perfect. And you saw that around the set-pieces, especially with organisation.
Changing three players changes a lot and obviously, that didn’t work out and that’s my fault, that we could not explain it clear enough what we have to do in a situation like that.
I don’t moan about that, it is just a fact. It is not an excuse or nothing. I said we could have played better tonight, 100 per cent, but it’s the situation and it’s not perfect. We lost two players and Millie came back because he didn’t train yesterday. He came by himself to London because it was infectious.
That is all not perfect, of course. For me, it explains parts of the game, but we don’t look for these things.
It could be, then, that with the returning bodies we soon see a reversion to the mean Liverpool defence of the opening half of the season, a 19-match period in which the Reds kept 12 clean sheets.
Nevertheless, those who own Ryan Fraser (£6.1m) and watched Liverpool’s recent struggles at dead-ball situations will perhaps be stirred into fielding Bournemouth’s set-piece specialist in Gameweek 26 despite the Cherries having what would seem an otherwise daunting fixture away at Anfield.
Liverpool’s attack didn’t fare much better at the London Stadium.
The shot count shows that Lukasz Fabianski (£4.7m) had five saves to make but every one of them was comfortable in nature – even from Divock Origi‘s (£5.0m) glorious one-on-one chance in injury time.
Mohamed Salah (£13.6m) tested the Polish goalkeeper twice during a ten-minute period at the start of the second half but that was the only time in this match that the Egyptian really flickered to life, with his second effort coming off the back of a brilliant, slaloming run through the West Ham box.
Salah was otherwise anonymous back on the right flank, however, with Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) borderline awful as he led the line in a 4-3-3.
Klopp said of his side’s attacking display:
We had a lot of situations with passing through balls and our full-backs, especially Robbo in the first half, where we didn’t find the free player. And on the other side, similar, we didn’t find it. It was difficult again, creating against so many legs, honestly.
It was no real compliment to say Sadio Mane (£9.6m) was the pick of Liverpool’s attackers, with the Senegalese winger peripheral in the second half, but he kept up his FPL scoring purple patch by netting a third goal in as many Gameweeks midway through the opening 45 minutes.
Mane has twice the number of goals from open play as Salah (four to two) over the last seven Gameweeks and during that time is bettering the Egyptian for overall attempts on goal and shots in the box.
Mane’s goal arrived in controversial circumstances, with James Milner (£5.6m) – the latest midfielder to be turned into a makeshift right-back – clearly offside as he crossed for the former Southampton winger to smartly turn and finish.
Just as Leicester merited plaudits in midweek, West Ham deserve credit for their fast-pressing, counter-attacking performance that wholly warranted at least a point.
Anderson and Antonio were excellent on the flanks, with the Brazilian again the most eye-catching from a Fantasy perspective amid some workmanlike performances from his team-mates.
The Hammers sit at the top of our Season Ticker for the coming half-dozen Gameweeks, with five of their next six opponents currently sitting 14th or worse in the Premier League table.
Fabianski and Anderson obviously appeal for this run, while it will be intriguing to hear about Marko Arnuatovic‘s (£6.9m) injury prognosis – the Austrian was sidelined for this draw with a foot problem but would surely re-enter the mid-price forward debate if fit, given the fixtures ahead for the Hammers.
Pellegrini said of his side’s efforts:
I was pleased with the performance because I thought we played a very good game, but I’m disappointed with the result because they scored a goal which was clearly offside.
We missed three or four chances, especially in the first 35 minutes, which could have finished the game. We missed those opportunities so we had a draw in a game which we could have won.
We played with the pace we had shown in other games again. We worked similarly tonight to we did against Arsenal, but we created more chances today. We then lost three games away from home but I think the team we saw tonight is the team we must see from now until the end of the season.
We always work hard on the set pieces but it depends on the taker and the finisher. You must believe me that we worked on set pieces exactly as much as we did against Bournemouth, against Wimbledon, against every team.
West Ham United XI (4-1-4-1): Fabianski; Fredericks, Ogbonna, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Antonio, Snodgrass, Noble (Obiang 79′), Anderson (Masuaku 89′); Chicharito (Carroll 79′).
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Milner, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Keita, Lallana (Shaqiri 69′); Salah, Firmino (Origi 75′), Mane.