West Ham’s extraordinary journey continues with today surely the (current) peak of their astonishing rise from the Premier League depths to Champions League – and on this evidence – even title challengers.
There were many hugely impressive things about it. The now expected set-piece brilliance. The gameplan expertly concocted and followed to the letter. The presence in their ranks of Declan Rice, who heads into the international break as England’s best – or at least certainly most in-form player. Only Phil Foden really comes close right now.
These three fully deserved points took West Ham up to third in the table, above their opponents and three points off top spot.
— Michail Antonio (@Michailantonio) November 7, 2021
Yes, all things now seem possible. But none of that is the most incredible thing. The thing that really makes the dream feel real is this: West Ham are now so good and playing so well that they have turned the London Stadium into a football ground.
Oh it’ll never be Upton Park and maybe what it tells you is that when great things happen the atmosphere will take care of itself in even the most unsuitable of environments. Perhaps the true test of a football ground will always be how it sounds in tougher times. The rattle of Goodison Park today, for instance, when VARed out of a penalty against Spurs is a sound and febrile atmosphere that could never be recreated here.
But as a strangely sedentary and reactive Liverpool were seen off, the West Ham fans created something in this (still?) unloved new home.
The Hammers were properly great, you know. Liverpool will point to the stats and say West Ham had few chances; West Ham will point to the chances they did have being precisely the ones they would expect to create and, crucially, convert. Even the meticulously drilled Hammers couldn’t perhaps have hoped for Alisson to have quite such a bad day, but the way they targeted him from the off suggests they’d seen something.
Liverpool will try – Jurgen Klopp certainly did after the game – to draw attention to two crucial moments early in the game. Don’t listen. Both were straightforward decisions and both correct. If anything, the real mystery with the opening goal was quite how long it took to establish that Liverpool’s keeper under undoubted but legitimate pressure, punched the ball into his own net. Even with the Special Protection keepers routinely receive there was nothing to save him here.
The second VAR check, for whether Aaron Cresswell deserved to see red for catching Jordan Henderson was equally clear cut no matter how many apparently incriminating still images were posted on Twitter. Cresswell got a huge chunk of the ball, diverting his boot up into Henderson’s, and when viewed in full there was nothing like the sufficient force or recklessness in the challenge to elevate it to dangerous territory. Liverpool would be better advised to focus on their own mistakes in allowing their 25-game unbeaten run to end.
They surely cannot have been unprepared for West Ham’s potent set-piece threat, one of the division’s defining tropes of recent weeks, yet appeared to be so. They also spent the entire time the game was 1-1 with their full-backs very much crossing the line between progressively and enterprisingly attacking and recklessly out of position. There were warnings the Hammers could catch them on the counter plenty of times before it came off thanks to a weak attempt from Alisson to deny Pablo Fornals.
Liverpool could have pinched a draw in a frenetic closing period and it wouldn’t have been a scandal had they emerged with spoils shared. But West Ham were good value for their win and good value for the dizzy, nosebleed-inducing spot in the table that comes with it.
A title challenge, or even a sustained tilt at a top-four spot, would still represent something extraordinary. But on a day when an athletics stadium finally feels like a football ground, the range of what seems possible for West Ham has never felt greater.
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