His first touch. On 89 minutes, Daniel Sturridge poked the ball into the net at the back post and it was a surprise. Not that it was his first goal since November 2017, or that it came after a collection of injuries but that West Ham United actually conceded from a corner.
By then, the Hammers were 3-0 down, sucker-punched by the precision, power and pace of the terrific trio of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The partisan Anfield protagonists in the crowd, those belting out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from minute one, became the antagonists of the West Ham back-line, driving them into their own box like a farmer herding his sheep into a pen.
And that was locked. No doubt about it. Any impression of a breakthrough out of their own half and suddenly the radar systems of Liverpool’s attack and midfield went to code red, pressing the ball at every opportunity. An ever continual cycle of torment in facing a human pinball machine, devoid of an understanding of giving up.
Manuel Pellegrini should’ve been an expert on this. As manager of Manchester City, he achieved the Premier League crown with a squad which broke the 100 goal barrier in a fast fluid action to match the likes of Luis Suarez at, ironically, Liverpool.
He would’ve discussed with his backroom staff of Brian Kidd and Ruben Cousillas of not just how to set out their own gameplan but how to react to adversity, the idea of essentially going to a plan B to react to opposition plans and mindsets.
So the mind boggles why the Chilean decided to play a defensive line so high it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a New York Patriots game across the pond.
Of all the sides you want to set-up a back four of Ryan Fredericks, Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku; Liverpool would probably be rock bottom of a list of clubs in world football let alone the league.
There’s one thing taking the game to the second favourites for the division at Anfield but to consistently offer gaps, however, tiny, was a fatal mistake so early on, the first goal arriving on 19 minutes.
Liverpool understandably reacted to Pellegrini’s tactical flaw and slowed the ball down at the back for longer than their usual patterns of play, tempting the Hammers defence to creep forward like prey, in a false sense of security in the outbreak.
Bang. In a few moments the ball flew over the top of the backline and suddenly the pressure increased, Naby Keita impressive and living up to the standard of the number eight shirt previously worn by Steven Gerrard.
The consistent concentration needed to play an effective high-line is paramount for success and West Ham simply didn’t have that, failing to either track players switching wings or catching the opposition out through the offside trap, Mane’s goal a metaphor for that abject attempt.
Yet there were signs of improvement in defensive awareness. On Mane’s second goal, there was no doubt that he broke free between Balbuena and Ogbonna in an offside position, so the Hammers can consider themselves unfortunate in that instance.
Meanwhile, the lack of midfield alertness from Mark Noble and Jack Wilshere didn’t do their defence any favours. A high-line has got a far greater chance of success if the opposition cannot maintain control of pockets of space to provide service through the wide channels, whether that be on the ground or through the aerial route.
Lukas Fabianski commonly raced off his line in a fashion in a manner of a 100m sprinter training on their start off the blocks, such was the regularity of the Pole’s action throughout the 90 minutes.
Ideal preparation for the Etihad Stadium, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge then.
A sense of naivety overwhelmed any perception of aura that surrounded West Ham’s altered defence but if they perform similarly against Bournemouth tomorrow and fail then that could turn to ignorance. Even after two games of the season.
The dilemma that now faces Pellegrini is not just whether to stick or twist regarding a high-line but to establish an overall structure that allows a technically talented squad to take the game to and in that sense away from the opposition.
No understatement at all then to say that West Ham’s season starts on matchday two.