West Ham 0 Liverpool 2
Mo Salah’s first-half penalty set Liverpool on their way to another win on their relentless march to the title – while keeping the Hammers firmly in the relegation mire.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strike seven minutes after the restart all-but ended a contest held over from December, when Liverpool were in Qatar winning FIFA’s World Club title.
David Moyes set up his side to contain and stay in the match for as long as possible, but apart from a missed half-chance from Manuel Lanzini early in the second half, and a low effort from Robert Snodgrass that Alisson had to stretch for, they never looked likely to slow the Liverpool juggernaut.
Declan Rice fired at Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold clipped the rebound against his own post in one moment of danger midway through the second half, and Rice had another header brilliantly saved late on, but the visitors were never less than supremely comfortable.
There are stressful weeks ahead for the Irons. Saturday’s match at home to Brighton takes on crucial proportions, given that the two matches after that either side of the mid-winter break are at Man City and Liverpool. Only goal difference is keeping them out of the bottom three.
The financial implication of relegation does not bear thinking about. There were a few chants of ‘Sack the board’ from home fans.
After half an hour of near-soporific possession football, Liverpool broke quickly down the right flank through Alexander-Arnold and a ball whipped in to Divok Origi ended in Issa Diop unpending the striker.
VAR confirmed that ref Jonathan Moss had made the right call in awarding the penalty, and Salah made no mistake from the spot, rolling the ball to the bottom corner, with Lukasz Fabianski diving the wrong way, to his right.
Mark Noble picked up a booking – the result of a frustrated lunge at the ball as the Hammers chased shadows - the slickness of the league leaders’ passing making it so hard for them to get in the game.
The Reds may not have been at their scintillating best, but they were good at hogging the ball, and at hunting it down quickly when it was lost.
They went close when Andrew Robertson scampered into the danger area and dinked past the keeper before having his lifted shot cleared, but they were happy to stay patient in their pursuit of a win that would take them 19 points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Snodgrass got little joy in his battles with Scottish compatriot Robertson but at least 19-year-old debutant Jeremy Ngakia impressed down the same flank at right-back, managing to hoist some crosses into the box after working himself into some good positions. But there was little to trouble the Reds.
Last February, West Ham upset the recently-anointed world champions with a battling 1-1 draw which ultimately proved damaging to the visitors’ title ambitions.
A repeat would have been far less of a concern this time for Jurgen Klopp’s undefeated men, but they have no intention of taking their foot of the gas and have still, astonishingly, failed to win only one of 24 league fixtures in their single-minded pursuit of the Premier League crown.
Fabianski did really well to get down low to a goalbound effort from Roberto Firmino at the start of the second half but by the 52nd minute the game was over as Salah led a charge before sliding the ball in for Oxlade-Chamberlain to tuck home.
More punishment was only narrowly averted. Fabianski dived low to deny Origi. Salah struck a post. It was almost routine for a team threatening to break every kind of record before the season is out.
Line-up: Fabianski – Ngakia, Ogbonna, Diop, Cresswell – Snodgrass, Rice, Noble, Lanzini (Fornals 69), Masuaku – Haller. Subs not used: Randolph, Balbuena, Zabaleta, Sanchez, Cardoso, Ajeti