LONDON: Liverpool represent the most obvious challenge to Manchester City’s command of the Premier League. So far, so good – early as it is. Liverpool justified all the expectations by opening their campaign with an easy 4-0 victory over outclassed West Ham.
Second-half events will also spark a debate over the pace of the imposition of video assistant refereeing. Liverpool’s third goal will spark demands for a rethink because scorer Sadio Mane and two other Liverpool attackers were in offside positions but the strike stood.
The Premier League decided to delay VAR after problems in selected matches in the FA Cup in the spring but the system’s success at the World Cup had already prompted demands for second thought. Mane’s goal was perfect evidence for English football to move with the times.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had provided a reminder of the club’s financial strength by introducing £110m of new talent into his team with Brazilian Alisson (from Roma) and Guinea midfielder Naby Keita (from RB Leipzig). The starting line-up missed only World Cup late-comers Dejan Lovren in central defence and captain Jordan Henderson in midfield.
Henderson was among the substitutes along with two other new signings in Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho. However Lovren’s absence was a different matter. He played through the World Cup with a stomach injury of which Liverpool knew nothing. The club were extremely unhappy to discover the problem on his return after a brief holiday and are not certain how long he will be absent. Joe Gomez took his place.
New West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini paraded five summer signings in goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, central defender Fabian Balbuena, midfielder Ryan Fredericks, ex-Arsenal arrival Jack Wilshere and Brazil winger Felipe Anderson. Fabianski was the busiest of them all.
Liverpool have not won the league title since 1990 and this was the specific reason Klopp was persuaded to put an early end to his football sabbatical in the autumn of 2014. Enjoying the Champions League delights the owners and fans is fine, as far as it goes, but the Premier League is the priority and, after spending so much money, Klopp is expected to deliver this season.
He has the team he wants, the players he wanted so no more excuses about the legacy of Brendan Rodgers’s days or financial caution will be accepted.
The game was all one-way traffic. Hammers keeper Lukasz Fabianski foiled Mane and Firmino missed from close range before Mohamed Salah followed up last season’s 44 goals with the Reds’ first of the season from an assist by Andrew Robertson. The Egyptian’s fourth goal in three Liverpool games against West Ham also celebrated his 50th appearance in the Premier League.
Robertson also played a decisive role with the pass which James Milner cut back for Mane to score a second moments. West Ham raised their tempo at the start of the second half but their mini revival was ended by Mane’s second goal and a third for a Liverpool team in which Keita looked happily at home.
Newly-arrived substitute Daniel Sturridge scored the fourth with his first touch, a matter of seconds after arriving in place of Salah.