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Keita excellent in 5 tactical takeaways from West Ham vs Liverpool

West Ham United earned a well-deserved point against Liverpool on Monday night as Jurgen Klopp's tactical gamble – starting Adam Lallana in central midfield in a 4-3-3 – backfired. It was another laboured performance from the league leaders, whohave won just two of their last six matches in all competitions.

The pressure is starting to get to them - and it's only going to get worse. Man City now have the chance to go top of the table before Liverpool play Bournemouth on Saturday.

Here are five tactical talking points from the London Stadium:

1) Tireless, Rice-led 4-5-1 frustrates yet another Big Six club

West Ham's tactical setup was predictable, and yet Liverpool still couldn't find a way to break beyond that narrow 4-5-1 mass of bodies. Declan Rice once again led by example, completing an incredible eight tackles, but the entire team snapped into challenges and held a good line.

One midfielder, usually Mark Noble, was happy to push on and press Fabinho (Liverpool's deepest midfielder) right until the end. Many teams would have nervously dropped deeper, but West Ham knew they had to apply pressure to the midfielders in order to prevent Liverpool from clipping passes over the top for runners in behind – a favourite move of Jurgen Klopp's this season.

By not dropping too deep, West Ham were also able to quickly get men forward on the counter. Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio were joined by Robert Snodgrass, the spare midfielder tasked with alternating between an eight and a ten. His job was made considerably easier by Fabinho's lack of pace and agility; it is far too easy to turn the Brazilian, or simply ghost past him.

2) Narrowness of Liverpool's front three, and quiet full-backs, make it easier for West Ham

But Liverpool could have tested West Ham a lot more than they did, and arguably the main reason they amassed just seven shots in the penalty area was the relentless narrowness of their front three. In a 4-3-3 formation, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah remained close to Roberto Firmino even though West Ham had packed the centre with bodies.

Surely it would have made more sense for one winger to hug the touchline, as Raheem Sterling did so successfully against Arsenal on Sunday. Where Pep Guardiola instructs his wingers to stand as wide as possible – stretching the back line and giving themselves space to build momentum as they sprint diagonally inwards – Klopp always looks for short, to-feet passes in the central column.

The aim is for the full-backs to make overlapping runs to provide width, but here neither Andrew Robertson nor James Milner did so effectively. Robertson was frequently open but didn't once receive a long diagonal, while Milner got in behind two or three times (including for the goal) oesn't have the legs to do so regularly.

3) Anderson shows graceful touch that Liverpool were sorely lacking

The best attacker on the pitch was West Ham's Anderson who glided across the turf to great effect for the hosts. He completed four key passes and three dribbles, winning man of the match and providing the assist for Antonio's equaliser. His risk-taking in possession, running directly at defenders to open up space for himself and his team-mates, was exactly the sort of creativity Liverpool were missing. His playing style sharply contrasted with how Mane and Salah repeatedly came short.

Then again, Liverpool's shape was a big help to Anderson. Milner was consistently in trouble, standing ten yards off the Brazilian when he received the ball (presumably through fear of getting too tight, and yet by backing off he allowed Anderson to build up speed). It didn't help that Lallana was the right-most centre-mid, meaning Liverpool's least defensive midfielder was the one closest to Milner and Anderson. Both defensively and offensively, Liverpool missed Trent Alexander-Arnold.

4) Ineffective substitutions highlight Klopp's lack of a plan B

For the final 15 minutes Liverpool kept attempting the same moves but expected different results. Surely it would have been worth trying a different formation – asking Mane to stay wide left, for example – but instead Klopp simply brought on like-for-like subs who could not change the game.

Xherdan Shaqiri tried to wriggle through the throng of West Ham bodies despite watching Adam Lallana do exactly the same thing for the first 69 minutes, while Divock Origi's late miss showed why he isn't good enough to be playing for a title contender.

The game petered out when Liverpool should have forced West Ham into nervous retreat. Klopp's lack of tactical changes meant the players could not shake themselves out of their low-tempo football; it was telling that the hosts didn't drop any deeper in the final few minutes. Liverpool barely threatened.

5) Charged with running the half-spaces, Keita excels but Lallana falls short

This might have been Naby Keita's best performance to date in a Liverpool shirt. He weaved through the left half-space expertly, piercing the West Ham lines on numerous occasions – only to find most of his team-mates in sluggish mood. Roberto Firmino had a dreadful game, frequently misplacing passes that slowed Liverpool right down, and Fabinho was too risk-averse on the ball.

On the other side of midfield, Lallana was unable to match Keita's rhythm. The Englishman played like Brendan Rodgers was still on the touchline, taking far too many touches and failing to match Keita's verticality. Liverpool seriously missed Georginio Wijnaldum, an under-rated player whose speed, one-touch passing, and constant energy in midfield have a contagious effect on those around him.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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