Faes feeling the effects of the World Cup?
Wout Faes had been at the heart of Leicester’s transformation since the September international break. The Belgian had brought real quality, leadership and stability to the Foxes’ backline and they’d conceded just three times in eight Premier League games in October and November with their summer signing in the side. It was form that earned him a call-up to the Belgium World Cup squad.
However, Faes didn’t get a minute of game time during his country’s struggles in Qatar and on his return, which has seen Leicester ship three goals to Newcastle and then lose at Liverpool through his two own goals, boss Brendan Rodgers has suggested the experience in the Middle East may have had an impact.
There has been plenty of focus on the fatigue players will have built up by playing in the World Cup but the disruption to a player’s rhythm and focus can’t be dismissed, either. Rodgers is confident Faes will soon rediscover his fine form from earlier in this campaign but his damaging night at Anfield will live long in the memory.
The New Year offers a chance to put a frustrating finish to 2022 behind him. After Friday, he’ll be keen to wipe the slate clean.
Liverpool sign off with a win – and optimism for 2023
Liverpool ended 2021 with a 1-0 defeat to Leicester. Twelve months on, Jurgen Klopp was willing to overlook an underwhelming performance and focus on taking the three points from the same opponents to round off 2022.
There’s no denying, this is a Liverpool side shifting from one phase to the next and the first part of this campaign has had the hallmarks of that – big wins but also painful defeats; flashes of the quality which saw Liverpool challenge on four fronts at the end of last season, but also a vulnerability stemming from a midfield in transition behind an evolving attack.
Yet there is plenty to be encouraged about heading into the New Year. New signing Cody Gakpo watched on from the stands on Friday and looks set to be an excellent addition to the attack. It will be intriguing to see how he slots in alongside Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez – or “Captain Chaos” as Jamie Carragher calls him. It’s a thrilling front three.
Then there is the array of young talent bursting through the ranks, including Stefan Bajcetic, who scored on Boxing Day, to Harvey Elliott who showed his quality in the middle of the park against Leicester.
It may all take a while to click into place but if Liverpool can keep on picking up the points as they did against Leicester here, then they could be well primed in the New Year to turn this into another successful season.
Brentford end profitable 2022 on a high
There was only one place to start Thomas Frank’s post-match press conference. Ivan Toney had appeared like the man who could not be moved after his starring role in Brentford’s third straight win over West Ham. But the sight of him on a stretcher in second-half stoppage time with a knee injury carried with it a sour note.
“Hopefully it’s good,” said Frank. “I don’t exactly know how he will be for the Liverpool game in three days’ time. It’s unlikely that he would come off unless it is something. It could be a little worse. It’s never a good sign but we don’t know enough yet.”
Possible disciplinary action for allegedly breaching betting rules hangs over the club’s talisman, but Toney looked in rude health in both scoring his 13th goal of the campaign and assisting another during this routine away victory. Brentford may be about to learn how to cope without him sooner than anticipated.
The 26-year-old has until January 4 to respond to a Football Association charge relating to 262 alleged breaches, yet at the London Stadium he showed no sign of being under pressure after scoring his 20th Premier League goal of a profitable 2022.
Brentford are ninth in the table, and while the New Year could provide Frank with an early conundrum, you wouldn’t back against him solving it in style.
The Bees are unbeaten in five league matches, their longest run of games without defeat in the top-flight since March 1939.
“In terms of the position in the table, I try not to focus on that,” Frank said. “We need to have laser-focus to try to beat Liverpool. I’ll have a glass of wine tonight and look and think, ‘it’s not bad’, but we cannot celebrate longer than 24 hours and cannot get complacent.
“To everyone involved in the club, it’s been a fantastic 2022. We started it by beating Aston Villa and end it by beating West Ham. Two massive clubs who at this moment in time we’re above in the table. We should enjoy the moment and try to fly against Liverpool again.”
David Moyes may have to accept his side are in a relegation battle, but there are no such concerns for Brentford. Substitute Michail Antonio took an air shot and fell over, which rather summed up a disastrously bad night for West Ham but Brentford have hit all the high notes in a memorable 2022.
Moyes’ defiance can’t mask West Ham deficiency
David Moyes insisted West Ham played well against Brentford despite a fifth defeat in a row and a third at home.
The Hammers did start well, Declan Rice hitting the post early on and Craig Dawson nodding a decent chance wide from a corner.
But Toney’s sucker-punch opener from a throw-in they defended poorly burst their balloon with well over an hour to play and from there, they ran out of ideas.
Moyes said: “We played well with the ball tonight, but couldn’t make a good enough cross, finish – we get a penalty which was a couple of inches outside the box, Dec hits the post, Daws misses.”
West Ham did dominate possession, seeing more than 60 per cent of the ball in both halves, but after their early opportunities created very little.
Brentford came with a game plan to sit back and give the Hammers the ball, knowing there was a good chance they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
The most disappointing aspect about West Ham’s blunt attack was the players involved – Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca.
The quartet cost the club a combined total of more than £110m, comfortably more than Brentford’s entire starting line-up.
Why they could not muster up the creativity between them for more than a couple of chances is a question Moyes may have to answer to David Sullivan and David Gold in the near future.
Scoring goals has been a problem for West Ham all season, and this was as toothless as any performance. And if performances don’t change soon, the manager might.