Three minutes, two corners – one of which was theirs – and two goals conceded: discount 57 seconds of misplaced second-half hope and those are the brute mathematics of a defeat that leaves West Ham teetering above the relegation zone and Slaven Bilić clinging to his job.
On another occasion you might have said that things escalated quickly as their hosts landed that brutal left-right combination midway through the first half. But really, for West Ham, this was just the latest chapter in a slow-burn tale of ennui and drift. Tactical naivety, square pegs in round holes, individual errors: these were old failings, cruelly exposed. It was fitting that Liverpool came dressed as highlighter pens.
Bilić, who has been told he has X games to save his West Ham stewardship so many times that he has probably stopped paying attention, should limp on to Watford in a fortnight's time. Some nebulous interpretation of 'the West Ham way' may keep him in the dugout until the end of the season. But this performance, in the same wretched vein as that late collapse at Crystal Palace, was yet another nail in his coffin.
"We know that tonight we cannot make the kinds of mistakes we made last week," the Croatian wrote in his programme notes, and yet Liverpool's opening goal in particular was far more galling than anything that went on at Selhurst Park. The hosts had actually made a reasonable start, hitting the post through André Ayew, and there was a tentative roar from the crowd as the centre-backs bounded forward to attack a Manuel Lanzini corner in the 21st minute. 12 touches later and one unstoppable neon-orange smear later, the ball was in the West Ham net.
If you were to compile an itemised list of things you don't want to do against Jürgen Klopp's side, it would probably look something like this:
– Allow Mo Salah and Sadio Mané to run at your hilariously exposed defence.
– [FRESH AIR]
– [MORE FRESH AIR]
– Let Coutinho shoot, let their full-backs bomb on, etc etc.
Yet there was poor Aaron Cresswell, all alone and frantically backpedalling against two players who wouldn't have looked out of place lining up for the 100m at this stadium back in 2012. Salah fed the fit-again Mané, ran in a straight line until Cresswell flinched, welcomed the ball back into his path and nudged it beyond Joe Hart. 1-0 and a new season's best for defensive haplessness.
Liverpool's second was less embarrassing, but only in the same way a car crash is less of an inconvenience than an earthquake. Salah swung over a looping cross, Mark Noble stuck out a leg – a rare shot on target for his side – and Hart could only succeed in parrying the ball to Joel Matip, unmarked four yards out. The Reds centre-back could barely believe his luck and swept gleefully home.
Bilić's dazed charges managed to stumble to the interval without further mishaps and managed to nab a goal after it, Lanzini outmuscling Joe Gomez to clip a deft little sand wedge of a finish in off the far post. The home fans thought they saw the beginnings of a comeback unfurling, but it was just a mirage: with the nonchalance of a cat swatting away flies, Liverpool went straight down the other end and scored again.
Roberto Firmino was the provider, surging past a few non-existent challenges and feeding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who finished at the second attempt. It was the Reds' 200th league goal against West Ham – not a bad way for the England midfielder to mark his first Premier League start for his new club.
Lanzini, Firmino and substitute James Milner wasted presentable chances in the closing stages but the scoring ended as it had begun, with Mané and Salah running rings around their would-be markers. The former picked out the Egyptian with a cute chipped pass and his drilled finish screamed conviction.
The same could not be said of West Ham and if it is possible to detect resignation in a football manager from approximately half a mile away, that is the figure Bilić cut.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies