Coutinho double leaves West Ham Red-faced in Liverpool loss
PUBLISHED: 17:25 14 May 2017 | UPDATED: 17:52 14 May 2017
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West Ham United 0 Liverpool 4
The Hammers drew down the curtain on their first season at the London Stadium with a forlorn four-goal defeat that enabled Liverpool to boost their Champions League qualification hopes in emphatic style.
Daniel Sturridge’s first-half opener saw Jürgen Klopp’s men start to dust off their passports before Phillipe Coutinho’s second-half double and another strike from Divock Origi left them all but packing their suitcases for a European tour as they flew up into third-place with one match left to play.
Having done the double over the Merseysiders last season – while knocking Klopp’s men out of the FA Cup, too - the Hammers had also drawn 2-2 at Anfield back in December but this time around, the injury-hit East Enders were just no match for the hungry Reds.
Last Friday’s fabulous, fantastic, thrilling three-pointer over Tottenham Hotspur was just a distant memory for Slaven Bilic – himself booked in for an end-of-season hip replacement – who had quickly been brought back to earth in midweek with the news that his crippling casualty list had got yet longer.
With Hammer-of-the-Year Michail Antonio (hamstring), Diafra Sakho (back) and Pedro Obiang (ankle) already ruled out for the campaign, both Mark Noble (hernia) and Cheikhou Kouyaté (wrist) had gone under the surgeon’s knife since the valiant victory that had scuppered Spurs’ lingering Premier League title hopes.
And with Andy Carroll (groin) still on the missing list, too, the beleaguered Bilic – his side kicking off in 12th-place - handed midfield starts to Håvard Nordtveit and Edimilson Fernandes, while Angelo Ogbonna at least made a welcome return to the bench following knee surgery.
That meant another solo stint for Jonathan Calleri up front and, with just seven minutes on the clock, the Argentinian cleverly picked out an overlapping Sam Byram with the perfect pass but the left-back’s low, angled 15-yarder flew agonisingly across the face of Simon Mignolet’s goal and beyond the far post.
Just one defeat in their last ten games had launched fourth-placed Liverpool to within tantalising, touching distance of Champions League qualification but Arsenal’s victory at Stoke City yesterday had left Klopp feeling the Gunners’ breath on the back of his neck.
After their goalless draw against Southampton last weekend, the German had made two attacking changes as Sturridge and Adam Lallana and came in for Roberto Firmino and substitute Lucas Leiva.
Indeed, Sturridge did not take long to threaten with a low 18-yarder that Adrián held at the second attempt while, shortly afterwards, Coutinho swung over a deep corner that Joël Matip met with a downward header that bounced down into the ground and up onto the underside of Adrián’s crossbar.
As the quarter-hour mark approached, it was West Ham’s turn to attack with Fernandes unleashing a low 25-yarder that Mignolet tipped around the base of his left-hand post and from the consequent corner, Winston Reid headed high over the top and that was about as good as it got for West Ham.
In reply, Coutinho sent a 20-yarder scorching through the Stratford sunshine but the alert Adrián followed it all the way, before James Milner forced another save out of the Spaniard midway through the first period.
On 25 minutes, the dangerous Coutinho let fly, once again, but this time his dipping 25-yarder narrowly cleared both Adrián’s fingertips and the crossbar, before Reid’s slip let in Strurridge but James Collins got his skipper out of jail with a defiant defensive block that denied the supporting Brazilian playmaker.
Milner also drilled one across the six-yard box but Sturridge could not apply a vital stud.
Ten minutes before the break, though, the England striker – and reported Hammers transfer target - did finally break the deadlock, when Coutinho sent him racing clear with a defence-splitting pass behind the pushed-up West Ham rearguard and Sturridge coolly rounded the helplessly exposed Adrián to claim only his seventh goal of an injury-plagued campaign.
Matip also nodded another Coutinho corner over the bar but, just seconds before the break, the Hammers looked odds-on to level when Manuel Lanzini whipped over a deep corner that André Ayew scuffed onto the base of Mignolet’s left-hand post and, although he reacted first to the rebound, the grounded £20million man could only nudge the ball back onto the same upright before the Liverpool keeper gratefully gathered in the line.
Having survived that late let-off, Liverpool came out all guns blazing after the restart and Adrián brilliantly beat out Origi’s 18-yarder before recovering to save Sturridge’s follow-up with his feet and then the Spaniard’s ankles came to the rescue shortly afterwards, when he thwarted Lallana from close range, too.
Still Adrián was under siege as Georginio Wijnaldum forced him into another save and, as the Hammers fought to repel the Reds tide, Fernandes was booked for tripping Coutinho before Bilic went for a flat back four with a double switch that saw Sofiane Feghouli and Ashley Fletcher replace Calleri and José Fonte.
But both substitutes were still feeling their way onto the London Stadium turf, when Liverpool doubled and then trebled their lead in quick succession.
Out of nowhere, on 57 minutes, Wijnaldum rattled the bar from 20 yards and, with Reid only managing to head the ricochet half-clear, Coutinho collected up the loose ball and expertly threaded a low, 18-yard shot between the Hammers skipper and Collins and beyond the outstretched right glove of the diving Adrián.
And on the hour, the contest was put out of West Ham’s reach in controversial circumstances, when Wijnaldum floored Reid as both men jumped for Feghouli’s deep corner.
With the Kiwi pole-axed in the opposite area, referee Neil Swarbrick neither stopped play nor awarded a penalty and, with the visitor’s luminous green shirts charging upfield en masse, the outnumbered Hammers defence could only watch as Coutinho was given the freedom of Stratford to blast his 13th goal of the season past Adrian and Aaron Cresswell on the line from eight yards, to the disgust of the consequently cautioned Collins.
Still Liverpool were not finished, though, and with a quarter-hour remaining, Sturridge burst down the right before sending over a low cross that Lallana could not turn home and, while Wijnaldum failed to hit the target, too, the ball fell kindly to Origi who sparked a hasty evacuation of a dejected London Stadium with an untidy, yet clinical, 11th goal of the campaign from eight yards.
Hammers: Adrián, Byram, Cresswell, Reid, Collins, Fonte (Fletcher 54), Fernandes, Nordtveit, Lanzini, Ayew (Snodgrass 76), Calleri (Feghouli 54), Unused subs: Randolph, Ogbonna, Quina, Rice.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum, Can, Lallana (Woodburn 89), Origi, Coutinho (Grujić 89), Sturridge (Leiva 85). Unused subs: Karius, Klavan, Moreno, Alexander-Arnold.
Booked: Fernandes (51), Collins (62).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.