Liverpool's strong team effort let down by late Christian Benteke misses
Liverpool may have suffered late heartbreak in a pulsating FA Cup fourth-round replay at Upton Park, but when the dust settles on the result, Jurgen Klopp will see plenty to be positive about after his much-changed lineup performed very well against West Ham's strongest side.
Philippe Coutinho returned from injury and scored with a brilliant free kick, while strikers Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi also made their comebacks as second-half substitutes. The younger players all acquitted themselves well once again, and if Christian Benteke had been able to take just one of the good opportunities that came his way, there may have been a different outcome.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Simon Mignolet, 6 -- Can't be held responsible for either West Ham goal, and other than that, his performance was reasonable enough. Flapped at one cross and made one good save.
DF Jon Flanagan, 7 -- Steady performance from the popular scouser as he continues his journey back to full fitness. It's impressive enough that he lasted the full 120 minutes, but it was quite remarkable that he was making things happen in the opposing penalty area deep into extra time. First, he had a goal-bound header blocked by a defender, and then he surged into the box and picked out Sturridge, who almost scored with a neat flick that unfortunately hit James Collins.
DF Lucas Leiva, 8 -- Pressed into emergency action again at centre-back and produced a commendable performance. His positional play was flawless throughout; he made countless interceptions and clearances. The only criticism: The captain conceded some needless free kicks, including the one that ultimately decided the game at the death. In fairness, he barely touched Antonio Valencia, who was continually going to the ground all night under even the most minimum of contact. It was incredibly cruel on the Brazilian, who thoroughly deserved to be on the winning side.
DF Tiago Ilori, 7 -- Improved as the game progressed. Some sloppy passing out of defence twice almost caused problems for his side, while he was also fortunate not to concede a penalty for a second-half tug on Valencia, whose theatrical fall may have counted against him as the referee waved away his appeals. The young defender has not played much football this season and looked shattered even before the end of normal time, but he gutted it out and can be pleased with his performance.
DF Brad Smith, 8 -- Many Kopites are beginning to wonder just why Smith is not first choice ahead of the erratic Alberto Moreno; Smith has impressed any time he has been handed an opportunity. He caused continued havoc down the left flank, especially in the opening 45 minutes when he was rampant, making overlapping runs with incredible speed. He had one or two difficult moments defensively against the powerful Antonio, but he's fast, direct and confident. He has been one of the finds of the season. Showed great determination to battle through a cramp in extra time.
MF Kevin Stewart, 7 -- Another tidy, industrious performance from the former Tottenham youngster, who has come on in leaps and bounds during this FA Cup campaign. He picked up an early booking but did not let that faze him, and continued to just play his natural game. He'll be feeling sore for a few days afterwards following a nasty lunge from Valencia that could have done far more damage than it did.
MF Pedro Chirivella, 7 -- Making his first start, the Spanish teenager produced a mature, classy display. His passing and coolness in possession caught the eye, and he looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
MF Jordon Ibe, 5 -- Almost scored a goal in the second half when he forced a smart save from the keeper with a 20-yard shot, but overall, he struggled to make much of an impact, and his form of late is cause for concern.
MF Joao Carlos Teixeira, 6 -- Linked well at times with Coutinho, and although not everything he attempted came off, he was bright and inventive and was perhaps unfortunate to be substituted for Sturridge with only an hour gone. Should have scored in the first half but dragged his shot wide from a great position.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 7 -- Back from injury and back on the scoresheet. He was denied by the post in the first half but found the net just after the break with an impudent free kick that he rolled underneath West Ham's wall, which had jumped in the air, expecting him to try and go over them. Replaced not long afterwards as a precaution, but Klopp will be delighted to have "the little Magician" back in the fold.
FW Christian Benteke, 5 -- This was his best performance since arriving at Anfield, yet it's impossible to give him a higher rating when his inadequacies in front of goal are the biggest reason Liverpool are no longer in the FA Cup. He was bought to score goals, but he's not delivering. On the plus side, his link play was good throughout and there were signs of a promising understanding developing with Sturridge, but the two opportunities Benteke missed in quick succession in extra time were inexcusable.
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FW Daniel Sturridge, 8 -- Finally back from injury and showed just what the Reds have been missing in his absence. Put simply, he's a brilliant footballer.
FW Divock Origi, 6 -- Replaced Coutinho on the left side of the attack after an hour, and Origi worked hard up and down the field without really making too much headway. Wasted one opportunity when he shot wide instead of picking out a teammate in the centre, but as with Sturridge and Coutinho, Liverpool will be delighted to have the young Belgian available once again.
MF James Milner, NR -- Replaced the tiring Chirivella in extra time but wasn't involved a great deal.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.