Belfast Telegraph

West Ham's Slaven Bilic exposes Liverpool weaknesses in historic Anfield win

Rodgers already knows he has to bolster defence

By Peter Oliver

It was fortunate for Dejan Lovren, in the wake of a stunning home defeat that had pundits furiously flicking through the history books, that West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was on hand to proffer the case for the defence because, on the evidence of the previous 90 minutes, defence was the last thing on the Liverpool centre half's mind.

Only 24 hours before this calamity, Lovren's manager Brendan Rodgers had talked up his defender, claiming he was about to shake off the malaise of a difficult debut season at Anfield and finally demonstrate why he was valued at £20 million when signed from Southampton last summer.

The manager's optimism proved wildly misplaced as Bilic's West Ham ended a 52-year wait for a victory at Anfield, a sequence of futility that stretched back to the September day in 1963 that a pair of blokes called Hurst and Peters were on the mark in a 2-1 win.

The current Hammers line-up may not boast a side packed with such World Cup winning credentials but, with Lovren and his defensive partner Martin Skrtel in this form, they scarcely needed such quality.

Skrtel it was whose poor defensive header gifted the opening goal to impressive debutant Manuel Lanzini before Lovren inexcusably allowed the goalscorer to skip past him, as he attempted to shepherd the ball out of play, and cross for Mark Noble (pictured) to double the lead.

"He made a mistake. He was over-confident and that can happen," said Bilic of his countryman Lovren. "I spoke to him about that in Istanbul when Besiktas beat Liverpool in the Europa League last season. I put him in the Croatia team when he was very young. I know him best.

"When he's concentrated and thinking only about his own game, not about the left-back or whoever is alongside him, there are very few centre-halves who are better than him. One mistake anyone can do but if you are telling me that Liverpool lost because of Dejan Lovren then no, no, no, no, no.

"I'm not objective about him because I like him. It was a mistake but a lot of Liverpool players made mistakes. He can be a strong person but if you get kicked in the head every day then it's hard to stay strong."

Liverpool's cause was not helped by the harsh dismissal of Philippe Coutinho, for a second bookable offence, which was followed by Noble also seeing red, before Diafra Sakho completed the rout in injury-time thanks to more unconvincing defending, featuring Lovren and Skrtel once more.

But Rodgers, who witnessed the unfamiliar, if not unprecedented, scene of Anfield emptying well before the final whistle and his team booed off the field by those who remained, has more concerns that those at the defensive end of the field. With Raheem Sterling exiting this summer and Luis Suarez being sold 12 months earlier, Liverpool once more face the challenge of re-inventing their forward line, a process which can mostly kindly be filed in the "work in progress" category.

"It's going to be a really difficult league to get your home wins in," said Rodgers. "There will be lots of games like that and we have to find the way to win them. For us, we hope to be better in our own performance level."

Belfast Telegraph


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