Liverpool were knocked out in the FA Cup by West Ham United in the replay of the fourth round. The Reds might really curse the harsh situation as they had fought their way back into an absorbing tie but were undone in the dying seconds by Angelo Ogbonna’s header, when a penalty shootout was just moments away.
West Ham had taken the lead through Michail Antonio’s excellent volley at the end of the first half but a clever free-kick from Philippe Coutinho on his return from a long-term injury brought Liverpool level soon after half-time.
Jurgen Klopp complained about the referee’s decision to award the set-piece moments before the penalty shootout was about to occur, claiming the Hammers got the free-kick “without a foul”. Klopp also voiced his discontent at the fans’ walkout against Sunderland in the pre-match conference, which clearly shows he is not happy with what’s happening at Merseyside currently. It doesn’t come as a surprise as Liverpool sit in the ninth spot in the league and have now been knocked out of the FA Cup.
However, a manager of Klopp’s pedigree and stature shouldn’t be looking at these angles and try to improve Liverpool’s performances on the pitch. In fairness, Klopp has never outrightly blamed his team’s results on outside factors like fan walkouts or referee issues; however, the fact remains that he needs to be improving Liverpool’s performance on the field as that’s of penultimate importance.
Liverpool created enough chances to bury the game, but in a fashion all too familiar this season, failed to capitalize on the dominance and were eventually punished. With the injured players returning, perhaps this will be remedied soon.
The Reds’ lack of pace in the side is equally worrying. They are unable to really stretch out the opponent’s defence and don’t have many players who can run at defenders to create the kind of damage Klopp would like, considering his style.
One could argue that the team Klopp fielded a relatively inexperienced side which did really well for itself. Young players like Stewart, Ilori, Teixeira and Chirivella did the German proud. They ensured the strong West Ham team couldn’t create too much damage and were only undone by a late goal.
Another positive for Liverpool would be the return of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi as the trio could effectively return the zing in the team’s attack once again. Christian Benteke has been extremely poor up-front and missed several chances to give Liverpool the lead against West Ham and settle the game in the 90 minutes itself. He has failed to find the back of the net in 11 games and pressure on him continues to grow. Daniel Sturridge looked good on his return and played almost an hour. Divock Origi was rusty but that isn’t that big a worry considering the Belgian returned from injury and will get better with more game time. Philippe Coutinho of course, scored the cheeky free-kick to give Liverpool the equalizing goal but was taken off just under an hour, probably to make sure he is not overstressed after returning from a hamstring problem. Coutinho’s return is massive for Liverpool as despite his lack of end product, before he got injured, he is the real brain of the side, as Brendan Rodgers liked to call him, and his industry on the pitch really makes a massive difference in the club’s attack. His link-up with Smith on the left side of the pitch was also encouraging.
Liverpool fans have been aching to see Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino play behind Daniel Sturridge and may very soon get the chance to see the trio.
Mostly everyone has said that this league season is basically redundant for the Reds and Klopp’s real work will begin in the summer, but even so, the side and the manager have to give in their 100% before the season finishes. Moreover, one doesn’t know what could transpire in the very unpredictable Premier League and Liverpool must always be ready to take their chances. Not to mention, they are still in two cups which includes a cup-final.
While there were positives for the Reds to take back from this game, and there have been in the 5 winless run of games, there is also little doubt that Klopp’s Liverpool needs to massively improve. There is little cohesion in the team, the transitions from defence to attack aren’t particularly good, the defence has been woeful, the attack has been non-existent and the midfield average at best. Klopp must work harder to ensure he can bring something more out of his existing personnel before he dips into the summer market for rectifications for next season.