London called, but Liverpool was unable to answer.
Grey shirted, the Premier League leaders produced a performance to match the East London sky. This, their second draw in the space of five days raises serious questions as to whether they can sustain their title challenge amid growing pressure from both Manchester City and Tottenham.
They will surrender top spot if City can win at Everton on Wednesday. Here, against a West Ham side wounded by recent setbacks, they looked like a team burdened by the situation they find themselves in. Pressure, it seems, can do strange things to a football team.
An easy assumption? Perhaps, but how else to explain the way the Reds’ basics have deserted them of late. They got to the top through solidity, security, and composure, but it has been lacking since the turn of the year.
Here at the London Stadium, they were unable to take advantage of a helping hand from an assistant referee, who allowed Sadio Mane’s opener to stand despite James Milner being offside in the build-up. West Ham, who had been the better side to that point, leveled through Michail Antonio within six minutes, with the kind of goal that title hopefuls simply shouldn’t be conceding.
The sloppiness was everywhere. It was there in the way both Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino, under little pressure, ceded possession on the Liverpool left, and in the way, Fabinho, eager to help, shipped a cheap free kick. Just as against Leicester last week, Liverpool were punished for it.
From there, West Ham worked the ball admirably, Felipe Anderson rolling a disguised pass down the side of the visitors’ wall for Antonio, who was too strong for Keita and who finished accurately off the far post. Impressive from the Hammers, appalling from Liverpool.
A worrying trend. Jurgen Klopp’s side conceded just seven goals in their opening 19 league fixtures, but have shipped eight in the last six, keeping just one clean sheet.
Injuries are catching up with the Merseysiders. Here, they were without two of their main midfield men, with Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson sidelined. Dejan Lovren, too, was absent.
“Minor issues,” said the club. There is no such thing in this situation. Liverpool headed into the game with Adam Lallana making his first start of any kind since November and with two teenagers, Rafa Camacho, and Curtis Jones, on the bench. The decision to loan out Nathaniel Clyne early in January looks more of an error with each passing game.
James Milner, who will give whatever he has, whenever he is asked, was tormented by the pacy, skillful Anderson as he again filled in at right-back here, having overcome a bout of illness over the weekend. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s return should ease matters, but news of a setback for Joe Gomez in his recovery from a fractured leg is far from welcome. Liverpool needs bodies, and they are losing them at the moment.
They lacked quality here, unable to muster too much by way of clear-cut chances and far too sloppy with their passing, particularly in the first half. Roberto Firmino had a nightmare, Naby Keita fused promise with alarming carelessness in possession. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane tried but were unable to work the miracles required. Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi were summoned from the bench, Daniel Sturridge was not.
And so the baton is passed to City, with Liverpool asking for a favor from their neighbors at Goodison Park in 48 hours’ time. They should have been seven points clear last Wednesday; a week later they could find themselves wondering where their lead went.
Improvement is needed, and fast. Liverpool remains in the driving seat, but the road is getting more and more treacherous by the day.