This was an afternoon of smoking guns and bleeding feet. Four of the five goals were helped into their own net by a variety of defenders, most of them wearing West Ham shirts. There were other casualties. Kevin Nolan was sent off for stupidly raking his studs down the back of Jordan Henderson’s leg, an act that sprang from unremitting frustration, while Stewart Downing was taken to hospital to have his calf and Achilles tendon stitched after a challenge from Jon Flanagan.
For Liverpool, the chief concern was their captain, Steven Gerrard, who midway through the second half was forced off with a hamstring injury, which his manager, Brendan Rodgers, hoped was a strain rather than tear. Liverpool may be second in the Premier League but they have already lost Daniel Sturridge and they do not have especially deep resources with away fixtures at Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea on the horizon.
They do, however, possess the season’s outstanding footballer, who scored the only clean goal of the day. Luis Suarez may panic those who have to defend against him but he has begun to spread fear through the country’s bookmakers. In the wake of his destruction of Norwich City on Wednesday night, he was a mere 10-1 to score a hat-trick here.
Sport can throw up, some strange statistics. Of Geoff Boycott’s 151 centuries, none came against Cambridge University, the easiest route of all to a first-class hundred. Suarez had not, until now, scored against West Ham, a team whose last victory at Anfield came in 1963 and featured a goal from Geoff Hurst, who on Friday’s World Cup draw ensured Suarez and Gerrard would meet in Sao Paulo. Rodgers said Suarez had “just smiled and laughed” about it when he met up with the squad, but as the tournament looms, he will cast a bigger shadow.
Suarez was involved in the last two goals, driving home a powerful, close range header that finished off a high-class cross from Glen Johnson. Then, on the edge of the area he sent Mark Noble first one way and then the other as if he were facing the last pick on the school playground. His shot cannoned off Joey O’Brien’s back for the third own-goal of the match.
The £40m Rodgers turned down from Arsenal now seems a superlative piece of business. “You don’t put a price on him but he is up there with the best players in the world,” he said, replying to remarks from the Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, that Sergio Aguero is a superior player.
“I wouldn’t swap Luis for anyone. What he gives the team is a relentless desire.”
In April, West Ham forced a goalless draw at Anfield, thanks largely to a display of absolute commitment from James Collins. The Welshman was unable to re-scale those heights and his chief memory would have been of deflecting a scuffed shot from Mamadou Sakho into his own net via the crossbar.
Compared to his last goal, the one that took France to the World Cup, it was very small beer. He had not started a game for Liverpool for nearly a month and but for illness afflicting Daniel Agger he would not have done so now.
The scoreline may have been similar to Wednesday night’s humbling of Norwich but West Ham’s resistance was rather more dogged even after Guy Demel, running back to cover, had turned in Suarez’s half-saved shot.
With all the own goals flying around, Martin Skrtel, who had put through his own net at Hull did so again, but Sam Allardyce, another British manager whose position is under constant scrutiny, considered the turning point was Modibo Maiga’s header that Simon Mignolet tipped into the Kop. Rodgers was rather more ruthless in his assessment. He said Liverpool might have scored eight.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan (Kelly, 78); Gerrard (Lucas, 67), Allen; Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling (Moses, 72); Suarez.
West Ham (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Tomkins (O‘Brien, 67), McCartney; Noble; Downing (J Cole, h-t), Diamé, Nolan, Jarvis; Maiga.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the match: Coutinho (Liverpool)
Match rating: 6/10