Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool feel the hammering of a European hangover

West Ham 3-1 Liverpool

By Matt McGeehan

Sam Allardyce shared his continental experience with Brendan Rodgers after West Ham took advantage of Liverpool's European hangover to extend the Reds' poor start to the Premier League season.

Allardyce, while at Bolton, was advised by Sir Alex Ferguson to effectively have two teams for Wanderers' UEFA Cup foray and usual domestic commitments.

And the Hammers boss was surprised to see Liverpool select eight of the players who began their Champions League return – an event high on emotion given the Reds' European pedigree – at Upton Park.

Liverpool had required a last-gasp penalty to beat Bulgaria's Ludogorets and it was a deliberate ploy of the Hammers to harass their visitors early on.

It reaped dividends as Winston Reid and Diafra Sakho struck in the opening seven minutes, shocks from which the visitors could not recover in the Hammers' 3-1 win.

"For me it was good to see that for Liverpool there was most of the team that was out there on Tuesday," Allardyce said. "And they had a hugely difficult game beating the opposition. Maybe that left them a little jaded, who knows?

"But when you get into the game as quick as we did, it really caught them by surprise."

Allardyce took Bolton to the UEFA Cup – a tournament which has now become the Europa League – in 2005-06. To help with those demands, he enhanced his squad and also preferred his side to fly back the morning after European away matches, rather than straight after the game.

"We wouldn't play the same XI on a Thursday night as we did on a Sunday," Allardyce added. "It was about making sure we had enough players in the squad and being brave enough to change them."

Allardyce believes priorities, even if only subconsciously, change with European football.

"A Premier League game can't have the same significance as a Champions League game, particularly the game (straight) after," Allardyce said.

"Like Brendan says it becomes your bread and butter; the Champions League's your glory. In our case at Bolton it was the UEFA Cup."

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho repeatedly stated last season that Liverpool had an advantage in the title chase – with no midweek European distractions the Reds had one focus and one fixture to prepare for.

Rodgers refused to use the Champions League as a reason for his team's sub-standard start to the season, with three defeats in five Premier League games, but acknowledged the challenges of Europe.

"We have no excuses," Rodgers said. "There is a great history for the club in the competition, to be back at that level after so many years out of it is great, but now the first game has gone we have to concentrate on the football.

"You can't complain about it, we're glad to be here, this is what we have to get used to. We just expect and want to be better."

Rodgers will seek solutions to ensure the side that came so close to the Premier League title last season reach at least the same level.

"Our priority is the Premier League, make no mistake about that," Rodgers added.

"This is our bread and butter for us, we want to sustain that ability we've shown at the top-four end. But for that you've got to win games.

"We just haven't been playing well enough, it's as simple as that."

If Liverpool, depleted by injuries to Daniel Sturridge and others, are finding it difficult to match expectations founded on last season's displays, West Ham are in buoyant mood after shrewd summer recruitment.

"They (Liverpool) caught us in great form," Allardyce added.

"If you've got two players up front with the energy of (Enner) Valencia and Sakho you can do that.

"Our tactic was to close Steven Gerrard down on the ball which was Stewart Downing's job and not only did Stewart do that job for us he was creative as well.

"Moving him inside has meant his talent and ability has come through.

"He gets more touches in there. Hopefully when we need him we can play him in there more often."

Belfast Telegraph


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