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IT was a seven-minute spell to sum up Darwin Nunez’s inconsistent first year or so on these shores. On 53 minutes, a slick Liverpool move ended with the Uruguayan shanking a good chance wide from close range. Seven minutes later, the Kop only had one name on their lips.
‘Nunez, Nunez, Nunez,’ came the visceral, tribal-like roar from all corners of Anfield, after their No 9 had spectacularly fired them ahead in a tight contest against a West Ham side that caused Liverpool plenty of problems.
Rarely has a striker baffled so much. When Nunez is shanking good chances wide and losing possession with a heavy touch, rival fans’ criticism seems justified about the £85million man. At other times, like this fine goal and his brace at Newcastle last month, he looks worth every penny.
And so the curious case of Nunez continues, as does the intriguing early-season charge of Liverpool. This win, with goals from Mo Salah, Nunez and Diogo Jota, takes them to 16 points from 18 to start the season. Are they really in the Premier League title race again?
Mo Salah (left) and Diogo Jota (right) were both on the scoresheet as Liverpool beat West Ham
Darwin Nunez scored for Liverpool too, moments after missing a good chance, summing up his Liverpool career so far
Jurgen Klopp’s side are now second in the Premier League with five wins from their first six matches this season
Time will tell if they are ready to go the distance and lay consistent gloves on Manchester City and Arsenal after a much below-par campaign last season where they were 22 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s champions. But the early-season signs are pleasing.
What will perhaps please Klopp the most is his team’s tendency to get over setbacks. They had to weather a storm of West Ham chances in the first half here, with David Moyes’ side playing some nice football on the counter-attack.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 7; Gomez 7, Matip 6.5, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6.5; Mac Allister 7 (Endo 88), Jones 7 (Gravenberch 76), Szoboszlai 7; Salah 7, Nunez 7 (Jota 80), Diaz 7.5 (Gakpo 80).
Subs not used: Kelleher, Elliott, Konate, Quansah, Tsimikas.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7.
WEST HAM (4-2-3-1): Areola 7; Coufal 7, Zouma 5, Aguerd 5, Emerson 6; Soucek 7 (Fornals 74, 6), Alvarez 6; Bowen 7, Ward-Prowse 6.5, Paqueta 6.5 (Ings 87); Antonio 7 (Kudus 74, 6).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Benrahma, Cornet, Kehrer, Mavropanos, Ogbonna.
Booked: Alvarez, Zouma.
Manager: David Moyes 6.5.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh 7.
Attendance: not given.
The Hammers levelled through Jarrod Bowen and had other chances to score but Liverpool reasserted their dominance and never looked likely to concede after Nunez’s goal. The Reds have also shown resilience this term to win twice with 10 men, and from behind four times.
Slow starts have become customary so far this season, with them going 1-0 down in four of six previous games. It felt like that was going to be the case again here, as West Ham came out of the blocks flying and looked to exploit spaces in behind the Reds back line.
Tomas Soucek came close after just six minutes as he was picked out unmarked in the penalty area and used good neck strength to place a header towards the bottom corner, which needed to be fabulously tipped around the post by a scrambling Alisson Becker.
Minutes later, Soucek turned creator after the Hammers played some quick, one-touch passes in tight spaces. The Czech midfielder floated a ball towards the back post, where Michail Antonio really should have done better but his attempted header was mistimed and went wide.
But West Ham’s fine start was undone on 16 minutes by a clumsy defensive act when Nayef Aguerd left a leg out, inviting Mo Salah to run into it and fall over. It came after a fast breakaway from Luis Diaz. Some will say Salah bought the penalty, others will call it clever forward play.
But Aguerd did not even complain or argue with Chris Kavanagh’s decision. Salah stepped up and fired home, straight down the middle. It was the 12th consecutive Premier League match the Egyptian had scored or assisted in – only Jamie Vardy (15 games in 2015) had a longer run.
Although West Ham allowed Liverpool too much space at times, Moyes’ men played some lovely football on the counter-attack and were level on 42 minutes. It came after a delightful, zapping passing move started and finished by Jarrod Bowen.
Bowen cushioned a header to Antonio, who picked out the charging full-back Vladimir Coufal. The Czech fizzed in a low cross and Bowen got across Van Dijk far too easily, diving towards the ball and heading home with his chest hitting the ground as he connected.
Jarrod Bowen had headed in from Vladimir Coufal’s cross to bring West Ham level in the game
Darwin Nunez finished off a goal made in South America, however, having been set up by Alexis Mac Allister
Diogo Jota secured the three points for Liverpool late on when he poked in from close range
‘When they scored I was not completely surprised,’ added Klopp. ‘We could’ve defended it better. Most importantly we stayed in the game and gave them a proper challenge, caused some problems and scored a super goal. I can’t wait to see it properly back.’
But after acrobatically scoring with one header, Bowen was guilty of missing a clear chance early in the second half. The Englishman found space in front of a static Van Dijk from a wide free-kick but headed straight at Alisson with little power.
‘Our start to the season has been really good,’ said Moyes. ‘It’s been a difficult start (fixtures) and we’ve done well, I take loads of encouragement from some of the things we’ve seen. We had done a pretty good job in the first half. We created a few.
Klopp admitted his side came under pressure and had to gamble to finish the game off towards the end of the match
‘We were always under pressure but there are lots of positives to take from the game. We had to gamble at 2-1 to find the second goal.’
Minutes after that, Liverpool were back ahead with a goal made in South America. Alexis Mac Allister, operating as the deepest midfielder again, got on the ball towards the halfway line, drove forward slightly and dinked it towards Nunez, who spectacularly volleyed past Areola.
West Ham were caught sleeping to allow Nunez space and time. And they never looked like equalising after going behind for a second time. Liverpool added a third on 85 minutes when substitute Jota tapped home after Van Dijk headed towards him.
But there was only one name on the lips of the Kop at the end of another win. As he strolled over there with his arms round South American pals Mac Allister and Diaz, he was saluted like a hero and seemed to lap up the praise. So he should.