Liverpool have rarely begun a season bathed in such optimism. They have started few while offering so many reasons to be optimistic. “We know there is a really positive atmosphere around us,” said Jurgen Klopp after they fostered more hope. “We have expectations as well.” It will take more than a demolition of an abject West Ham United side to justify predictions they will be Manchester City’s closest challengers, let alone win a first league title in 29 years, but this was an auspicious beginning.
“A very good start, for sure,” Klopp added. In other respects, it was more of a continuation. Liverpool were the transfer window’s biggest spenders and Alisson Becker and Naby Keita made debuts that were irrelevant and hugely encouraging respectively, but in many ways it was as though the summer break never happened. A new-look West Ham, with four players making their bows and a different manager, in Manuel Pellegrini, nonetheless performed as haplessly as their predecessors. They had conceded four goals in each of their previous three games against the Merseysiders. They did again.
Klopp’s dynamic front three, who mustered 91 goals last season, have three already now. Mohamed Salah had opened the scoring in Anfield’s previous competitive game, against Brighton & Hove Albion in May, and he did so again. The electric Egyptian’s personal tally now stands at 29 goals in as many league games. The only difference in attack was that Daniel Sturridge, back from an unsuccessful loan spell at West Bromwich Albion, added a fourth 24 seconds after his introduction.
While others have struggled in searches for sharpness and cohesion this weekend, Liverpool found both. It helped that only Trent Alexander-Arnold of their outfield starters figured in the knockout stages of the World Cup. They looked fresh and fast, potent and powerful. Personnel have been upgraded, but the gameplan is the same.
There was a familiarity when the deadlock was broken, Salah arriving at pace to apply a touch to Andrew Robertson’s cross. The left-back helped provide two goals, maintaining his magnificent form from Liverpool’s Uefa Champions League run. The element of novelty came from his supplier for the opener.
Keita’s has been a delayed debut, a year after his arrival from RB Leipzig was agreed. The £52 million (Dh244m) man impressed immediately on the left of Liverpool’s midfield trio. Besides the expected pace and power, he showed awareness to feed the overlapping, unmarked Robertson. He later demonstrated the subtlety to complement his physicality, a display of jinking dribbling prompting comparisons with Ricky Villa. “He has settled really quick,” added Klopp, highlighting the similarity with Leipzig’s style of play, but also crediting Keita’s new teammates such as Mane.
The Senegalese struck the second from the excellent James Milner’s cutback and, after an example of Roberto Firmino’s selflessness, span, shot and scored the third, albeit while offside. Sturridge added another, underlining West Ham’s wretchedness.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” Manuel Pellegrini said. West Ham rendered it more difficult. They were opened up too often and too easily, giving up a passable impression of a team who had never seen Liverpool play before, let alone thought about how to stop them. It was an exercise in naivety, with Arthur Masuaku the biggest culprit. The left-back was caught out of possession for the first two goals; indeed, in a failed attempt to play offside, he was going in the wrong direction when Milner set up the second.
After a £99 million spending spree, they spent the second half with a central-midfield pairing of Jack Wilshere and Mark Noble which, predictably, lacked mobility. Liverpool, with the forceful Keita, will not suffer such problems as they aim to scratch an itch.
“We didn’t win anything since I was in so we have to fight more and invest more,” added Klopp. He was not talking about financial investment, though West Ham had illustrated that spending is not the cure to all ills.