A lot of people have tipped Jurgen Klopp’s side for big things this season. Righty so when you consider the performances Liverpool have put in this season. Last Mondays defeat in South Wales was out first in fifteen leagues, seventeen in all competitions. Not only have we battered most teams put in front of us in that spell, we have knocked Everton out of the F.A Cup and ended Manchester City’s own twenty-two league game unbeaten run. The aforementioned F.A Cup could be the trophy Klopp makes a dash for this season. He has not shown the world’s oldest footballing cup competition the respect it deserved in the past, but things look to be changing. The atmosphere during the third-round tie against Everton may have changed his mind, as might have the team’s chances of winning it this season. West Brom were the next step on our road to Wembley.
Klopp named quite a strong side for this game, the biggest change coming in goal. Simon Mignolet, who had made his unhappiness at being dropped for the City game public, was brought back into the fold. Loris Karius wouldn’t even make the bench with Danny Ward being chosen to play second fiddle instead. Trent Alexander-Arnold also returned to the starting line-up in place of Joe Gomez, and Alberto Moreno made his first start since early December to take Andy Robertson’s starting berth. From the defence forward Liverpool were unchanged from the defeat against Swansea with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all retaining their places.
As for the away side, they have gradually improved since Tony Pulis was sacked and Alan Pardew was installed. He has changed the team’s formation, moving to a back three instead of Pulis’ favoured back four. Kieran Gibbs, Jonny Evans and Crag Dawson would take those three spots on Saturday night, with Chris Brunt and Allan Nyom starting at wing-back on either flank. Grzegorz Krychowiak would be joined in midfield by the evergreen former bluenose Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore. The biggest surprise for The Baggies came up front, where Salomon Rondon wouldn’t start. Instead, Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu would be chosen to lead the line.
When the game kicked off it look like it could initially go as the league game had in early December. That was until a ball was played into Mohamed Salah in the sixth minute. He chased but Jonny Evans looked favourite to get there. Evans slowed down thinking Ben Foster had made it out of his goal in time to collect. But Salah showed electric pace to nick it in front of Foster, though the ‘keeper got down to parry. Roberto Firmino was following in though and chipped Foster audaciously from the edge of the box. The ball looped over the former England ‘keeper and seemed to take an age to dropped into the back of the Anfield Road end net. Liverpool had the lead, but it wouldn’t last.
Sixty-eight seconds after going behind Chris Brunt won the ball for the away side on the edge of the Liverpool box. He slid in Jay Rodriguez, who side-stepped Joel Matip and thumped the ball into the top corner of Mignolet’s goal before Alexander-Arnold could challenge him. Just four minutes later it got worse for Liverpool. Krychowiak drove forward from midfield and played in Brunt on the left side of the Liverpool box. Brunt swept it across the box first time and Rodriguez was on the end of it again, arriving in front of Alexander-Arnold, to slot into the empty net. A dizzying ten minutes had seen Liverpool take the lead and go behind, and the game hadn’t even got into any type of rhythm yet. With Pardew’s recent good record at Anfield, it was clear The Reds now had their work cut out.
As the game seemed to settle down and both sides settled into their presumptive roles – Liverpool were on top and West Brom looked to only stop us. Liverpool were putting the away side under pressure whenever they had the ball but were unable to make it count when we were in possession. Hearts were in mouths again on twenty minutes when West Brom got a corner. Brunt swung it in and Crag Dawson rose above his marker in the six-yard box to prod the ball home with his head. The West Brom players wheeled away believing they had made it 3-1. However, the referee pulled the play back. Blue and white shirts surrounded him and, using the divisive VAR system, the goal was chalked off for offside. Luckily for Liverpool’s shoddy defenders Gareth Barry had been standing in an offside position, directly in front of Mignolet, as Dawson headed it in. It was a massive let off for the Liverpool defenders.
The VAR system would play a role once again just minutes later. When Roberto Firmino crossed towards Mo Salah in the box, the Egyptian was pulled down by Jake Livermore, but the referee waved it away at first. However, the VAR ref had indicated there may have been a foul and, for the first time in English club football, the referee used the pitchside VAR to watch the incident back. Upon doing so he changed his mind and gave the pen. The West Brom players were incensed but Bobby Firmino put all that to one side to step up only to see his pen hit the bar. This game really did have it all and we had only played twenty-six minutes.
The game again settled down with Liverpool again in the ascendency and West Brom looking to sit back. With four minutes of time added on for the VAR decisions though Liverpool would be shocked once more. Krychowiak had the ball on the edge of the Liverpool box and lifted it towards Craig Dawson inside the area. Dawson let the ball drop and scuffed a cross shot across the six-yard box. It evaded everyone, including the backheel of Joel Matip, before nestling in the bottom corner of the goal. Referee Craig Pawson consulted the VAR system again in case of an offside but ultimately the goal stood. Liverpool were going in at half-time 3-1 down in the F.A Cup fourth round to West Brom, having missed a penalty and a goal against them disallowed. It simply wasn’t acceptable.
The second half saw the game finally settle into a rhythm. West Brom now had ten men behind the ball and looked to use the pace of Matty Phillips, on as a sub for the injured Robson-Kanu, as an outlet. He was causing Liverpool problems as well, sprinting away from defenders who were reluctant to take tactical fouls. When Phillips came forward, or any other blue and white shirt for that matter, the Liverpool defence seemed to freeze. The panic and fear was palpable from back four and goalkeeper. The ball actually breached Mignolet’s net again thanks to his inability to enforce himself on a situation and take control, but the referee blew up again this time for a foul.
The clock was ticking down and Klopp threw on Danny Ings in as an extra option up front in search of an equaliser. But Liverpool simply weren’t playing well and West Brom were capitalising. They were keeping The Reds at bay with ease and Liverpool just didn’t have it in them to try something different. But they tried width – and it worked. Alexander-Arnold crossed from the right with thirteen minutes to play. It bounced off Firmino, who did well to hold off Hegazi, and fell perfectly for Mo Salah. He stroked it past Foster and into the bottom corner of the Kop net. No celebration, just grab the ball and get back to the half way line. Liverpool were now back in business despite putting in one of our most abject displays of the season.
Liverpool foraged ahead looking for an equaliser. James Milner, on a sub himself, forced a good save from the commanding Ben Foster, whose peformance went a long way to discrediting Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation even further. Virgil van Dijk went up front as auxiliary striker and cross after cross came into the box. But West Brom stood firm and went home with a well-earned victory.
Liverpool needed a cup run. Not just to validate our season but also to dispel the doubts around Jurgen Klopp’s baron trophy cabinet at Anfield. However, when he needed his players to turn up and put a poor performance behind them, they didn’t. Instead, they put another awful display only this time the consequences were much direr. That is now seven goals conceded in our last three games. Things are from catastrophic, but you get the feeling that Liverpool are about to have a little mid-season dip in form. Oh goody.