Jürgen Klopp may be shouting loudest for the reintroduction of the five substitutes rule in the Premier League but he only needed two to complete a comeback victory over West Ham. Diogo Jota and Xherdan Shaqiri combined stylishly five minutes from time to take Liverpool to the Premier League summit and equal the club record of 63 league games unbeaten at Anfield.
Jota scored for the third successive game at Anfield after being released inside the visitors’ area by a sublime pass from fellow substitute Shaqiri. The forward’s winner arrived minutes after he had a goal disallowed by Kevin Friend after a VAR check, and ruined an otherwise hugely encouraging away performance for David Moyes’ team.
Liverpool’s vulnerable spot was obvious with Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Joël Matip all missing from central defence and West Ham exploited it to take an early lead. They were indebted to a weak clearance from Joe Gomez, the more experienced centre-half in the home ranks, for edging ahead in the face of a lively start from the champions.
Klopp gave Nat Phillips a Premier League debut alongside the England international with Fabinho out until the next international break with a hamstring injury. The 23-year-old spent last season on loan at Stuttgart and was omitted from Liverpool’s Champions League squad this term due to a planned transfer that fell through.
The debutant made a convincing start in his aerial duels against Sébastien Haller, who led the West Ham line in the absence of the injured Michail Antonio, although his foul on the striker inadvertently revealed that Alisson had some concerns with his new-look defence. “Organise quickly, organise quickly,” the goalkeeper shouted as Jarrod Bowen lined up the free-kick. They did not, Haller almost got his head on the delivery, and Alisson did not hold back in telling his teammates exactly what he thought of their delayed response. He had more reason to complain following West Ham’s next attack.
Angelo Ogbonna instigated an incisive move with an intelligent pass out of central defence to Bowen, who had time and space to turn and release Aaron Cresswell on the left. Arthur Masuaku took over and crossed into the heart of the Liverpool penalty area, where Gomez headed what should have been a routine clearance straight to the unmarked Pablo Fornals. The Spanish midfielder punished the lapse with a low shot that beat Alisson via the foot of his right-hand post.
With Declan Rice alert and assured in central midfield, and the visitors switching to 5-4-1 out of possession, Moyes’s side defended their lead comfortably for much of the first half. They had a few let-offs, not least when Salah sent Sadio Mané racing through on goal with a deft touch. Cresswell cut across the striker inside the area but Friend waved play on and, after West Ham were unable to scramble clear, Jordan Henderson side-footed inches wide. A mix-up between Ogbonna and Lukasz Fabianski also allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross to spill across their area but Fabián Balbuena was on hand to clear. Alexander-Arnold, still only 22, was making his 100th Premier League appearance for his boyhood club and swept another decent chance from a free-kick into the West Ham wall.
Liverpool were starting to toil against the well-drilled banks of West Ham’s midfield and defence when they were awarded a soft penalty shortly before the interval. Curtis Jones crossed to Salah on the right of the box and he was caught on the calf by Masuaku as he brought the ball under control. There was contact, and Salah made the most of it. Tellingly there were no protestations from the West Ham wing-back when Friend pointed to the spot and Salah drilled the spot-kick down the middle of Fabianski’s goal.
The visitors looked dangerous whenever they kept possession long enough to venture into Liverpool territory. Masuaku presented Fornals with a chance for a second goal moments after the restart but the goalscorer, meeting the left wing cross at full stretch, diverted his shot tamely at Alisson.
Fornals had another good opportunity to restore West Ham’s lead when latching on to Haller’s header. Liverpool’s defence was exposed and Bowen was completely unmarked to his left but the forward instead opted for a shot that smashed against Andy Robertson’s legs to safety. Bowen’s disgust was not disguised.
Robertson almost made his mark in the opposite penalty box moments later when released behind the visiting defence by a superb Henderson pass. Fabianski blocked the defender’s attempted pull-back and Salah was unable to capitalise on the loose ball. Then came controversy, and the latest VAR decision to go against Liverpool.
Fabianski produced a smart save to deny Mané from 12 yards after the Senegal international was set up by Jota. The ball squirmed back to Jota when the goalkeeper, Mané and Ogbonna all descended on the rebound and the Portugal international converted. VAR, however, reviewed a possible foul by Mané as he challenged for the loose ball with Ogbonna and Fabianski. Friend consulted his monitor and agreed. No goal. But Liverpool, thanks to their substitutes, would not be denied a 52nd victory in their record-equalling unbeaten home run.