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MOTD: West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool (aet)
The clock had already hit a 120 minutes and the focus was shifting towards penalties at Boleyn Ground when West Ham United won a deep free-kick near the halfway line. The ball was swept into the box by Dimitri Payet and Angelo Ogbonna rose up to smash a header into the back of the net, sending West Ham speeding into the last sixteen of the FA Cup. West Ham’s bench exploded into jubilant celebrations, lead by manager Slaven Bilić.
The relief, excitement, and heat of the moment was overwhelming for the Croat.
“I can’t control the emotions,” he later said, per The Guardian. “I don’t want to control them totally.”
“It is a special night. There is no harm in saying it’s a special night for our club. We’re so proud and happy for our players. It is a great night for West Ham.
“OK, it is only for the last 16, but it was a late night kick-off, it’s against Liverpool, it’s our last season at Upton Park, it went to the 120th minute, and we scored a great header in the last second of the game, and we had injuries, and we overcame all of that. That’s why this will go down in history as one of the greatest nights and greatest games for our club.”
On the other side of the touchline, other managers might have blown a gasket, put their hands to their heads and screamed bloody murder at their players for blowing it. Jürgen Klopp didn’t overtly react, but it was just as easy to read his emotions. He simply stood on the touchline, buried in his jacket with his eyebrows furrowed, more disappointed than livid. From a man normally so exuberant and ardent, he was contemplative and thoughtful in defeat.
Liverpool had the chances to win the match in ninety minutes and in extra-time, but a wasteful performance from Christian Benteke, who has now gone eleven matches without a goal, highlighted their woes up front once again. Philippe Coutinho’s goal from a free-kick was the Red’s first in 318 minutes against the Hammers this season but not enough in the end.
“We created chances but we didn’t score goals, that’s the major mistake you can make in football,” said Klopp. “But it’s better to create chances and miss in this moment than to not create chances. So if we want we can see a positive.”
The first chance fell for Joey O’Brien, who rattled the woodwork on seventeen minutes. Liverpool had burst out of the blocks strongly, but Joao Teixeira dragged a low effort just wide of the near post from fifteen yards out and Coutinho wrapped his foot around Benteke’s cut-back in the thirty-fifth minute, only for the ball to come whizzing back out off of the post.
Payet then curled a twenty-yard free-kick onto the post and Darren Rudolph acrobatically parried Michail Antonio’s header away from the rebound.
On the brink of the half, Enner Valencia found a pocket of space to run with the ball down the left side of the box, before clipped a cross towards the far post, where Antonio guided the ball into the back of the net.
Liverpool pegged the home side within three minutes on the other side of the half, though, as Benteke won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Coutinho sliced a daisy-cutter under the wall and into the back of the net from the set piece.
The intensity increased and spaces began to open up down the lines. The match was there for Liverpool to take and Daniel Sturridge’s inclusion late in regulation time was promising. He slipped Benteke in on a one-on-one with Randolph shortly after coming on, only for the Belgian forward to scuff a low effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Klopp was lenient towards Benteke’s poor display, saying, per the Liverpool Echo: “Ask 80-90% of all strikers in the world, high quality, low quality, no quality, they will tell you they had times like this. You have to carry on. He did a lot, he worked a lot.”
The same sentiment could be said of Liverpool’s performance as a whole. They showed positive signs and flashes of brilliance, but were mired in their all-too-familiar problems up front. Perhaps they saw a light in the end of the tunnel with Sturridge’s return, but their grit was not enough tonight.
Homepage photo credit: Thomas Rodenbücher, via Flickr