Liverpool held by brilliant West Ham

Sadio Mane (right) has scored in three consecutive Premier League appearances for Liverpool for only the second time
Sadio Mane (right) has scored in three consecutive Premier League appearances for Liverpool for only the second time

Premier League leaders Liverpool handed a boost to their title rivals as an uncharacteristic defensive error cost them victory at West Ham.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are now three points clear of second-placed Manchester City, but the nine-point advantage they held on 29 December has now been cut to only three following two successive draws and a return to form for Pep Guardiola’s side.

City recorded their fifth league victory in on Sunday against Arsenal. They could reclaim top spot for the first time since 5 December if they win at Everton on Wednesday. Tottenham are also in the title hunt following three successive league wins – they have 57 points, five behind the Reds.

There are also injury concerns for Liverpool, with Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum joining Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the sidelines.

“Last night we trained and after we had to change three positions,” said Klopp.

“It’s just a fact, it’s not an excuse. The preparation for the game was far from being perfect and we still got a point.”

It had started well for Liverpool at London Stadium when Sadio Mane fired past Lukasz Fabianski in the 22nd minute, although James Milner was in an offside position in the build-up.

The Hammers showed enough threat in attack to suggest it would not be one-way traffic, and six minutes later they got a deserved equaliser when Liverpool’s defence failed to read Felipe Anderson’s disguised free-kick and spot Michail Antonio’s run into the area. The English winger finished off with a low angled drive which went in off the post.

READ: Higuain brace as Chelsea beat Huddersfield 5-0

Liverpool did not put the West Ham defence under severe pressure, with two efforts from Mohamed Salah and a header from Mane comfortably dealt with by Fabianski before Divock Origi shot straight at the keeper when he had a clear sight of goal right at the end.

Liverpool attack fails to fire

It was a match where very little went right for Klopp’s side at either end of the pitch after Mane’s opener.

Mohamed Salah (centre) has three goals in the past four games but has not scored in two successive matches
Mohamed Salah (centre) has three goals in the past four games but has not scored in two successive matches

Adam Lallana outmanoeuvred a couple of defenders on the right before playing a pass to the overlapping Milner. The 33-year-old was a yard ahead of the final defender, but there was no flag as his square ball found Mane who turned and fired in.

Fabianski had little else to do until the final kick of the game when substitute Origi, who also looked offside, struck his effort straight at the Polish keeper from six yards.

The attack might have lacked its usual potency on Monday, but it was the defensive display that would have had Klopp most concerned.

Hammers take advantage of defensive lapses

The best defence in the league looked amateurish at London Stadium, as they repeatedly failed to track runners from free-kicks.

Antonio was the first to catch the Reds napping as they appeared set for Anderson to play a high ball into the area. Instead the Brazilian sent a low pass into the path of the English winger, who made a diagonal run before firing past Allison.

The jolt should have made the visitors wary of a repeat, but soon after the goal they experienced further lapses when Anderson was allowed to slip around the side of a wall and get a shot away and Declan Rice headed over unmarked.

Some would point to the absence of injured defensive trio Lovren, Gomez and Alexander-Arnold, but they did have player of the year contender Virgil van Dijk marshalling the backline.

It is Bournemouth next for Liverpool and then the stiff tests of Bayern Munich and Manchester United to come later this month.

That is now three assists for the Brazilian to add to the nine goals he's scored for the club he joined last summer
That is now three assists for the Brazilian to add to the nine goals he’s scored for the club he joined last summer

As for West Ham, they ended a run of three straight defeats in all competitions but perhaps will feel aggrieved not to win.

Aside from the goal and Rice’s miss both Aaron Cresswell and Javier Hernandez went close with angled strikes while Antonio should have elected to shoot instead of pass after another drive into the area, in the second half.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side remain in 12th but they are now level on points with 11th-placed Leicester.

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