Sunday, 31 January 2016

Liverpool 0-0 West Ham: The Kids Are Alright

Another day, another fixture for Liverpool. They have averaged roughly a game every four days since Jurgen Klopp arrived, including nine games in January alone. The German cannot be blamed, therefore, for opting to field a young side in this FA Cup clash with West Ham United. They held up well against the Premier League opposition, succeeding where the senior side have already failed twice this season in that they avoided a loss. However, the reward for their endeavours is yet another fixture: they were the better side but failed to find the net, so will have to do it all again in a replay at Upton Park.

The game was largely an uneventful one, but nonetheless there were some positives. Most of these young players had never been tested against a big side like West Ham, and they coped with the challenge admirably. There were a couple of shaky moments in defence, but the back line was comprised of mostly senior players. In the midfield the likes of Teixeira, Brannagan and Stewart featured, and all put in good performances. Brannagan took the majority of the plaudits, partially because he came closest to scoring with a well-struck effort that forced a smart stop out of Randolph, but Stewart was arguably the more impressive. I’ll admit to not having heard of him until relatively recently, but he did not look at all out of place at this high level of competition. He showed composure on the ball and passed it around nicely; the only sign of his inexperience was a little overzealousness in the challenge from time to time. Teixeira showed flashes of his quality, playing in a couple of dangerous balls, but was often on a different wavelength to Benteke and consequently was largely ineffectual.

This lack of attacking cohesion was the biggest problem in the match - although Liverpool were regularly able to work the ball into the final third, they looked clueless as to what to do with it when they got there. Ibe, Teixeira and Benteke all seemed to have different ideas about what runs should be made, meaning the killer final ball just never materialised. This has been endemic of Liverpool’s season, particularly when Benteke has played: it would be churlish to suggest he is not talented, but it is hard to avoid the fact that he simply is not compatible with the fluid , high pressing front line Liverpool employ. He was not entirely to blame - Ibe had another poor game, passing up good opportunities to pass in favour of pointlessly cutting inside in a Glen Johnson-esque fashion. His season has been far from inspiring: it would be foolish to write him off at this stage as he is still so young, but Klopp is right to leave him out of the regular first team picture for the time being.

By contrast, Allen has had an excellent season compared to his previous ones at the club. He still hasn’t earned himself a spot in Klopp’s go-to starting eleven, but if he keeps up his current levels of performance he may well break into the first team soon. His goal against Arsenal and winning penalty against Stoke can only have boosted his confidence; this was epitomised by his attempted bicycle kick from the edge of the box against the Hammers. Such was the nature of the game that this was one of our better chances - he was barged as he went for it, prompting half-hearted penalty shouts, and the ball almost fell for Teixeira. It almost certainly wasn’t a penalty, but he must be applauded anyway for at least trying to make things happen in front of goal. At the other end West Ham should have had a spot kick - Steven Caulker was shown to have deliberately handled the ball inside the box from a West Ham free kick. The hosts got away with it, however, and at the end of the day a draw was probably a fair reflection.

It would be easy to be negative about this result and complain about the extra game it gives us in an already congested schedule. However, there are enough things to be pessimistic about without needlessly placing a negative spin on this match - ultimately we have succeeded in remaining in the competition and keeping our treble hopes alive! This is no bad thing, and while an extra match isn’t ideal it is good news that we are still in the FA Cup.
-James Martin
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