West Ham put up spirited fight against Liverpool and Man City but now must be the bullies

West Ham put up spirited fight against Liverpool and Man City but now must be the bullies

And so, after the thrills of a blistering start to the season and an ­international break spent with tongue stowed firmly in cheek amid musings on a title charge, the past fortnight has delivered West Ham a small reality check.

The 3-1 defeat by Manchester City which brought that unbeaten start to a forecast end was followed here at Anfield by another by the same scoreline, against opponents, in Liverpool, who look perhaps best-placed to add some jeopardy to what already has ominous potential to become a title stroll.

That the Hammers have not enjoyed a League win over City in the Pep Guardiola era, and that David Moyes has never, in his career, won at Anfield, tells you that these results are not exactly aberrations, but there had been optimism that an in-form side still riding high on last season’s European success might strike the blow that would end one or other of those hoodoos.

Not to be, as it turned out. After ­Jarrod Bowen’s gutsy diving header had cancelled out Mo Salah’s spot-kick, second-half goals from Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota gave a one-sided taint to a contest that for an hour could conceivably have swung either way, just as efforts from Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland had eight days earlier.

Afterwards, Moyes puzzled over his side’s inability to keep either juggernaut at bay for a full 90 minutes. “We’ve had two tough games and run both teams close,” the Scot said. “I have to find a way of being able to put in the same amount of energy against these teams in the second half as we are in the first half because we probably just started to fade.”

In truth, though, there is no mystery, West Ham worn down and eventually broken at the cliched moment when Liverpool’s quality, inevitably, told.

It came in the form of a wonderfully precise ball from Alexis Mac Allister, the Argentinian World Cup winner who, with no sort of angle to work with, unlocked the visiting backline with an assist that demanded Nunez’s ­airborne finish. Jota’s close-range clincher from Virgil van Dijk’s knock‑down denied any prospect of a late surge that, in truth, already looked beyond a tiring team’s reserves.

Dejected: West Ham battled hard against Man City and Liverpool, but could not hold out (Getty Images)
Dejected: West Ham battled hard against Man City and Liverpool, but could not hold out (Getty Images)

10 points from an opening run of four matches that was hardly laden with half-volleys granted West Ham licence to treat the next two as near free-hits and while that points tally remains unaltered at their conclusion, both have come with performances to enhance the sense of optimism.

“I don’t know if we’re quite toe-­to‑toe yet,” Moyes said of his team’s ability to tussle with the division’s best. “But I think that every so often we’re going to throw a punch and hope that it causes them a problem.”

That is easily the biggest difference between these twin tests and similar predecessors in seasons past, West Ham able not only to sit in and counter-attack but also to claim sustained periods of genuine authority within the fight.

Indeed, of less concern to Moyes than his team’s in-game staying power should be the question of how to ensure the same levels are reached as the fixture list takes a more kindly turn, starting with the visit of what already looks a doomed ­Sheffield United on Saturday, when the Hammers really ought to be aiming those punches downwards without remorse.

“The last two games we’ve played Man City and Liverpool but our start to the season’s been really good,” Moyes added. “You’ve also got to remember we’ve played four out of six games away from home, we’ve only had two home games and they’ve been Chelsea and Man City.

“It’s been a pretty difficult start but I take loads of encouragement from some of the things I’m seeing. Hopefully, we can be onwards and upwards.”