A disappointing result like the one picked up on Sunday needs to be followed by a positive performance. Everton stayed in the game and, in the end, that proved to be all they needed to do to pick up a point. When it seemed like third gear would do for Liverpool to pick up the win, it wasn’t enough to claim all three points. It was painfully obvious that West Brom would do the same tonight. Without a win in 15 games and with a new manager at the helm, they were never going to come to Anfield looking to open up and match Liverpool. Tonight was about pace and urgency. Above all else, it was about putting things right.
Jurgen Klopp made several changes from the weekends draw in the Merseyside derby. Loris Karius picked up only his second league start of the season, replacing Simon Mignolet. Trent Alexander-Arnold came in for Joe Gomez as the only change to the back four. Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Philippe Coutinho comprised the midfield taking the places of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The other three of the fab four, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, started up front.
West Brom were without one of their key men, Matt Phillips, who was replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu. Salomon Rondon foraged ahead up front alone, although he would be supported by the aforementioned Robson-Kanu and James McLean. A negative midfield was made up of Jake Livermore, Claudio Yacob and Gregory Krychowiak. Ben Foster would have a back of Allan Nyom, Jonny Evans, Ahmed Hegazi and Kieran Gibbs to protect him.
Liverpool started the brighter and look to take control early on. West Brom settled into a shape and attempted not to deviate it from it. They did a good job of sticking to their gameplan and were succeeding in frustrating Liverpool. Philippe Coutinho wasn’t allowed time on the ball or to move onto his favoured right foot within thirty yards of goal. In terms of their own offence West Brom aimed to hit the ball long for Salomon Rondon to hold up. The Venezuelan target man was certainly making a nuisance of himself for Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan but was not able to hold the ball up effectively for team-mates. The lack of support he was receiving contributed to this.
Whilst Liverpool had most of the ball, clear chances were hard to come by. The best of the half for Liverpool came when Sadio Mane and Mo Salah linked up well on the Liverpool left. Mane played the ball to Salah on the corner of the area and bombed on towards the byline. In doing so, he dragged to blue and white shirts with him creating a gap for Salah to put a cross in. He curled it around the back of the West Brom defence and the ball evaded the run of Coutinho. However Firmino had ran towards the back post and poked it towards goal from a tight angle. It beat Ben Foster but dribbled wide of his far post. It would prove to be a rare opportunity and probably our best of the game.
West Brom also had a big chance themselves. Loris Karius did not react urgently enough to Ben Foster being miles out his goal and chose instead to roll the ball out short after collecting a West brom free kick. The opposition eventually won the ball back and Hal Robson-Kanu took possession, shifted it onto his right foot and curled it towards the top corner of the Kop goal from 20 yards. The shot beat the diving Karius but not the crossbar. It hit the woodwork, bounced into the air and into the fans behind the goal. It was a warning from West Brom that they didn’t need all the ball to win the game – they just needed one opportunity.
Liverpool continued to see most of the ball but were being largely frustrated by the opposition. The Reds lacked urgency and didn’t look a fraction as sharp as they have done recently. The usually potent front four was unable to find space and were having a rare off night. Sadio Mane in particular was showing a poor touch and their passing as a unit was collectively sloppy. When the referee called for half time it was the end of a stale half of football. Jurgen Klopp will have been wanting his men to move the ball, and themselves, quicker. It was looking like the biting cold and driving rain was unsettling his stars. Alan Pardew will have been generally pleased with his troops. They had carried out his instructions well and were still in the game. Could they pull off the upset?
When the second half kicked off it was the away side who were in the ascendency. Having had most of the ball for the first five minutes of the half, they won a few of corners. Krychowiak swung the first two into the box which were easily defended. The third was played short to Nyom, who laid it back to the Pole. When the cross was curled in it was met by the head of Yacob. He flicked it towards goal from inside the 6 yard box and Karius showed good reactions to beat it over the bar. The fourth corner came to nothing but it was another warning from the Baggies that this game was far from over and they weren’t an afterthought.
Once the game settled down Liverpool began to create space. One issue from the first half was the lack of width the Reds were showing. This had been rectified in the second period and Sadio Mane in particular was looking to stretch the play a little more. The deliveries put in by Alexander-Arnold also ensured we had an outlet from out wide, although the targets in the middle weren’t exactly demons in the air. Klopp responded by bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Mane, hoping to stretch the pitch even further and add fresh legs to what looked like a tired side. Dom Solanke also came on for Gini Wijnaldum, as we tried to push forward and give the wide players a target to hit with crosses. They would momentarily pay off but not before one more big scare provided by West Brom.
James McLean was played through down the West Brom left by Kieran Gibbs. He looked to be offside and the Liverpool defenders, for a split second, stopped and put their hands in the air. The assistant referee was not forthcoming with the flag though and play continued. McLean crossed a low ball towards Jay Rodriguez, himself on as a sub. Rodriguez side footed a shot towards goal and saw his effort hit the foot of the post before bouncing off Karius. the German was able to pick up the loose ball but it was an almighty scare for Jurgen Klopp and his men.
Liverpool responded well and the changes were beginning to have the desired effect. Oxlade-Chamberlain was providing the energy and direct running previously missing while Mane was on the pitch and one can only wonder the effect he could have had he entered into the fray earlier. Dom Solanke was being an atypical target man. He is as comfortable with the ball at his as he is with it in the air and he looks as if, given enough time and patience to develop, he could be the big man Liverpool have been after for so many years. However he is yet to score a goal for Liverpool and it looked as if he broken that duck with eight minutes to go.
Joe Gomez had replaced Alexander-Arnold, who had worked tirelessly on the Liverpool right. He put in a fantastic ball from the right, which had bounced and evaded Jonny Evans. Solanke ran onto it, fended off the attentions of Hegazi and bundled it into the back of the net to seemingly score a late winner. He wheeled away towards the Kop with his team-mates in hot pursuit. However, the Baggies were fuming and the referee consulted his linesman. The goals was eventually ruled out for handball and West Brom were given a free kick. Moments later Solanke was denied again. A direct ball from Klavan was taken into the area by Oxlade-Chamberlain. His touch was heavy and he was blocked off as Foster flung himself at the wingers feet. The loose ball fell to Solanke who shifted to his right to send Foster flailing again before shooting under the ‘keeper. However Ahmed Hegazi was stationed on the line and cleared the danger. It would seem that poor Dom Solanke would have to wait a bit longer for his first goal in red.
Liverpool continued to probe but were met with a blue and white resistance. When the referee blew the final whistle he signalled the end of a frustrating evening for Liverpool. We tried and tried to break through the West Brom door but it appeared to be made of iron. Credit where it is due to the opposition, they came with a gameplan and stuck to it. However they were clearly much inferior and a victory should have been a formality. The lack of pace shown by Liverpool was quite the worry as it was the main reason for our failure to win this game. The insistence to play more narrow also worked to our detriment. West Brom needed stretching to pull players out of position, not compacting further.
Liverpool must travel to Bournemouth at the weekend and one feels that Eddie Howe’s side may just play into our hands more than West Brom did this evening. Regardless, this point leaves us level with Burnley and Spurs and drops us to fifth in the Premier League. The swashbuckling Liverpool need to return and fast.