Liverpool Are Liverpool Again With Sturridge Back Up Front

Dan's the man.
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Dan's the man.

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I’ve not seen a great deal of West Ham this season. I’ve no real reason to. With the greatest of respect to Hammers’s fans (and I do, genuinely, honestly, have friends and family who number among them) I’ve never had any interest in the club. They don’t affect me. They put up a fine showing against us in the ‘Steven Gerrard Final’ but that’s it.

Nowadays though? Even less interest. They’re an Allardyce team and I hate Allardyce teams. Big Sam may be a nice bloke for all I know but as a manager? Everything I hate in football. Deludes himself that he’s talented and scientific and at the cutting edge of football theory then sends a team out to hoof it long and hit the big men - always men, always plural - up front. Get the knock downs, get the percentages, pick up the scraps. The football that saw West Ham fans wanting him out last season. The football that his owners told him to stop playing.

This is a revitalised West Ham though isn’t it? This is a West Ham that are playing sleek, flowing football; pleasing the purists and climbing the table. No. It’s not.

At least, the West Ham that came to Anfield on the last Saturday of January wasn’t and isn’t. It was and is the typical Allardyce team. Throw the ball at the big men, get the corners, get the drop downs, ignore the football, look for the chances. They were the single worst team to roll up at Anfield this season and their inevitable slide back to mid-table mediocrity under a stone age manager can’t come too soon.

From the moment in the first five minutes where Andy Carroll launched himself arm first into Emre Can’s mouth, to West Ham’s disallowed consolation - ruled out for the fact that they had three men fouling Mignolet at the same time - this West Ham were as Allardyce as Allardyce gets and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Percentage football at it’s worst. Corners, dead balls and hope, nothing more.

How we dealt with those percentages though, that’s a story. That’s a story that revolves around the fact that a man who was bombed out after walking out of a derby that he was dropped for, has suddenly become a colossus, about how a brand new central midfielder has become not only a useful utility player on the right of a defensive three but the very heart of our rearguard and of how a player who looked a liability in October is now immaculate.

In order: Mamadou Sakho, Emre Can and Martin Skrtel. Nothing went past the three of them, Skrtel was composure itself, Can was elegance tempered with steel and Sakho was immaculate. Bombard these boys as much as you like Sam, it’s not going to work.

Andy Carroll was as ineffectual against us as he ever was for us, although the smattering of boos that greeted his injury related substitution - picked up as he tried to ‘do’ Can yet again - were unfair. He tried for us, it just didn’t work, it’s not the lad’s fault. It just didn’t happen. The home applause that subdued the boos was far more appropriate. A big lad up front who doesn’t threaten? We couldn’t even be bothered putting our version on the bench.

No Balotelli in the 18 then, no Lovren either. No reasons given. No Gerrard; tight hamstring apparently although ‘look, the lads goosed’I’ve given him the weekend off’ would have been fine. Low grade panic though - Gerrard’s the player you look to in order to turn games when it’s not quite happening and for a while there, it wasn’t quite happening.

No matter how beautiful the football played by Sterling and Coutinho was, it didn’t look likely to pierce the West Ham defence. Until it did. A chest down from Sterling, a blatant handball - roughly the six hundredth of the afternoon to be unpunished by yet another utterly inept referee - a sublime Coutinho pass and the sweetest, calmest, most composed finish by Raheem Sterling. Suddenly we have the lead but a 1-0 lead against a team who like corners, who like free-kicks - the things we tend not to defend well - is never enough.

Daniel Sturridge though. We have a Daniel Sturridge again. And you worry when a player like Sturridge has so long out, worry when he comes back, worry that the pace may have gone, that the touch may be rusty. A Coutinho pass that made his earlier assist look mundane, the type of first touch that you only get from players of genuine world class (go on, argue that point, I dare you) and the finish of the natural, instinctive finisher. Deadly, clinical, beautiful.

And suddenly we’re Liverpool again. Waves of Liverpool, moving all over the place, threatening, terrifying. You get that guy upfront and everybody’s a pace faster, a foot taller, a thought quicker. Suddenly everybody’s Liverpool and everybody’s having the time of their lives.

It’s taken until the last day of January and it’s far too late to help us mount any kind of challenge to Jose’s clinical tedium at the business end of the table but you’ve seen what we can do now. You saw it against Chelsea where we had the grace, the beauty, the dominance, where all we lacked was the goals. Now you can watch us do it with a goal scorer.

Top four and a cup. That’ll do for a start.


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