Jurgen Klopp knows better than most that it can be those little moments – a forceful tackle, a piece of skill – that determine the flow of a football match. Although they appear inconsequential in the wider game, it is the small victories that can set the mood or lift a team.
So it was after three minutes at the London Stadium, where any early West Ham trepidation was evaporated by the sight of Felipe Anderson slipping the ball sneeringly through the legs of Liverpool’s bamboozled Naby Keita. It was proof that the brilliant Anderson was here to take the fight to Klopp’s side, and evidence that West Ham were not about to be intimidated by the league leaders.
It was also a sign of things to come for Keita, who has so struggled to justify his £50 million transfer fee in recent matches. A difficult few weeks got worse for the 23 year-old, who was exposed in the most telling moments of a challenging evening for a team that has lost some of its fizz in a run of just two victories from their last five matches before this meeting.
Keita cannot have been helped by the knowledge that neither he nor Adam Lallana, one of his midfield partners for the night, would have started this match if Klopp’s first-choice central trio had been available. Both Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum were out with knocks, while James Milner was forced to deputise at right-back due to injuries elsewhere. Fabinho has grown in importance as the season has progressed, yet it remains the case that the Henderson-Milner-Wijnaldum triumvirate has been selected for Liverpool’s biggest matches this season.