After Hull’s relegation was confirmed Sunday lunchtime, the only real area of interest left in this Premier League season was the race for the top four and, with Liverpool now only needing to beat already-relegated Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, that could well be settled too.
In a season of firsts for West Ham United at the London Stadium, there were two more left for them to experience in their final home game of the season – the trademark Daniel Sturridge dance and some Philippe Coutinho wizardry.
Nine days after ending Tottenham’s title aspirations on the same ground, West Ham looked to deliver a similar crushing blow to Liverpool’s bid to secure Champions League football for next season, with the red half of north London praying they could do it again.
But Jurgen Klopp’s side refused to go the way of Mauricio Pochettino’s and Coutinho’s second-half double before Divock Origi’s icing-on-the-cake strike ensured that Liverpool’s destiny would be in their own hands – and that any future ‘Wenger Out’ protests will be even more vociferous.
Prior to kick-off the stadium announcer repeatedly reminded fans to remain in their seats after the final whistle to applaud their side, but by the time Neil Swarbrick had blown his whistle to start the game a large host of the London Stadium were yet to find their seats.
While the crowd may have been slow to get started, the game was not and West Ham should have found themselves a goal ahead after only six minutes when Sam Byram was found in acres of space 12 yards out, only to drag his shot wide. It was another early reminder of the attacking importance of the wing-backs in the newly-fashionable three-at-the-back formation.
If the Hammers should have been ahead after six minutes then Liverpool should have been level by 11 minutes. Coutinho, playing in a deeper role behind the attacking duo of Origi and Sturridge, swung in a corner which was met by the head of Joel Matip, whose header was in turn met by the crossbar after bouncing up off the turf.
Slaven Bilic commented before the game that it would be a “failure” if Liverpool missed out on the top four this season and as the game approach half time it looked as though it would be a distinct possibility.
That was until the 35th minute when Sturridge found the net for the first time since January to give Liverpool the most precious of leads.
The imperious Coutinho played a magical through-ball from inside his own half to the England striker, who was criminally played onside by Jose Fonte, before he rounded Adrian with ease to give Liverpool the lead, and dash Arsenal’s hopes for a Champions League place in the process.
There was something to get Liverpool fans’ pulses racing on the stroke of half time though, as Manuel Lanzini’s corner reached the feet of Andre Ayew at the back post with the goal at his mercy from little over a yard out.
What followed was a remarkable display of football at its lowest standard as the Ghanaian stabbed his shot at the post before Sturridge bizarrely did exactly the same thing. Somehow Liverpool survived.
That scare must have stirred something inside the Reds during the break as immediately after it Sturridge, Coutinho and Origi all demanded sharp saves from Adrian within seconds of each other.
Georginio Wijnaldum rattled the crossbar just before the hour mark with on sumptuous, dipping volley seconds before Coutinho doubled the lead.
In truth, his low shot from the edge of the area was impressive enough, but given it came in the aftermath of Wijnaldum’s missile, it looked like nothing more than a daisy-cutter in comparison.
Four minutes later the little Brazilian had done it again, powering the ball past Adrian as the majority of West Ham players were still berating the referee for what looked like a certain penalty at the other end.
Origi added the fourth 15 minutes from time to signal an exodus of West Ham fans unwilling to clap their players off at the end of the game as Klopp can probably look forward to now dangling the lure of Champions League football in front of any potential summer transfer targets.
West Ham: Adrian, Reid, Fonte, Collins, Byram, Fernandes, Nordveit, Cresswell, Lanzini, Ayew, Calleri.
Substitutes: Randolph, Feghouli, Snodgrass, Ogbonna, Fletcher, Quina, Rice.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Wijnaldum, Can, Lallana, Coutinho, Origi, Sturridge.
Substitutes: Karius, Grujic, Klavan, Moreno, Lucas, Woodburn, Alexander-Arnold.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
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