Liverpool 0 – West Bromwich Albion 0: Match Review & Analysis

Derbies are important matches, that goes without saying. Yet if Everton were any other team having had the season that they’ve had then I don’t think many Liverpool supporters would have had an issue with the manager doing what he did with the team. They’ve been woeful all season long and haven’t won away from home since January, bringing in Sam Allardyce because the board genuinely feared that they might be getting dragged into a relegation battle. I understand why some people feel that the manager should have gone stronger because the derby is a big match, but he has to look at the season as a whole and will have thought that rotating his squad against such a dreadful team made sense. It’s also worth noting that we dominated the game and would have won if Sadio Mané hadn’t been so selfish and the referee hadn’t been so weak.

Even so, the dropped points won’t look that bad if we respond to them the same way as we did when drew 1-1 late on against Chelsea. After that match we stuck three past Stoke, five past Brighton and seven past Spartak Moscow. If we could pick up six points from West Bromwich Albion and AFC Bournemouth then dropping two points to our Blue Brethren would soon be forgotten. If Klopp continues to alternate his side as he appears to be doing, going strong and then slightly weaker in alternate games, then we’ll also head to The Emirates with our strongest side on display, which not many people seem to be talking about. Heading into this match against a West Brom side that are hovering outside the relegation zone thanks to goal difference alone we really just needed to win to regain our momentum, so how did things pan out?

Three Points Are Never Guaranteed

Sometimes football supporters forget that three points are anything other than guaranteed. Heading into this match it’s easy to see why plenty of Reds believed it was as good as a done deal. The Baggies have endured a miserable season to date, with the board growing so concerned that they decided to sack Tony Pulis midway through last month. If they figured that hiring a mediocre British manager was a mistake than it’s anyone’s guess why they chose to replace him with Alan Pardew, but that’s a conversation for another time. West Brom are just one point off the bottom of the table with a last five games that reads Loss, Draw, Draw, Draw, Loss. One of those losses was a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Chelsea, so Liverpool should have been heading into this one full of confidence.

Football rarely works in such a linear fashion, of course, and one of the draws in the Baggies’s previous five matches came against Spurs at Wembley. Prior to the Merseyside Derby Jürgen Klopp talked about ‘earning the right to play’ and the same was very much true here. In his press conference on Tuesday the manager spoke about the fact that West Brom’s team is still built in its previous manager’s image, with strong players ready for long balls and less than attractive football the order of the day. Their tactics really shouldn’t have been a surprise, therefore, and nor should the Reds have struggled to deal with them. They were always going to be putting ten mind behind the ball and hoping for the best, with Liverpool needing to work hard to break them down. They aren’t the first team to do it at Anfield this season and they won’t be the last, though only Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United and Burnley have actually been successful with it so far.

It Felt Like A Chore

The stop-start rain that came down on the walk up to Anfield felt like the dictionary definition of a pathetic fallacy. It was cold, it was wet and it was miserable as thousands of Reds plodded up the hill in the hope of seeing their team get three points against a West Brom side that turned out to be much better than was anticipated. Yes, they put 10 men behind the ball exactly as expected, but Klopp was wrong in his suggestion that they would just be a long-ball side. They played some nice football at times, even if their game plan was to rely on set-pieces and corners. None of that helped the mood of the Liverpool fans, most of whom seemed to be non-regulars with most season ticket holders feeing the pinch on the build-up to Christmas. I’ve got no problem with that, it’s an expensive time of year and £50 earned back on a ticket can make all the difference.

What did annoy me, though, was the general attitude of those that were inside the stadium. Loris Karius spent ninety minutes doing exactly what the Kop moans at Mignolet for not doing week-in, week-out; namely getting the ball out quickly and getting us on the attack. What did the ground do? Moan at him about it. I understand that people aren’t happy with the goalkeeping situation at the moment, yet the German has barely put a foot wrong when he’s been called upon this season. He’s conceded goals, but David de Gea concedes goals and he’s widely considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I know that Simon Mignolet was injured, but in my opinion this match should signal a changing of the guard between the sticks. If they weren’t moaning at Karius then the crowd was shouting at the likes of Dejan Lovren to shoot from thirty yards or other ridiculous things. Having been a season ticket holder on the Kop for a season and a half I’m genuinely growing to dislike it immensely.

We Were Too Pedestrian

If the whole match felt like a chore to supporters then I can only guess at what it must have felt like to the players. Most of them were strolling around the pitch as if they had all the time in the world and West Brom would just lie down and die before us. I mentioned before their 1-1 draw with Spurs at Wembley and it seemed as if no one in the Liverpool ranks watched that game, because they fought hard for it. They were always going to put ten men behind the ball, so why were we so intent on putting them under little to no pressure? It was only when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on that we seemed to turn things up a notch, putting them under pressure and actually asking question of the back line.

I have been completely behind Jürgen Klopp’s rotation policy and I believe it will stand us in good stead come January and the final few months of the season. Yet if he’s giving players a rest in order to make sure they’re at their peak for games like this then they really have to show it on the pitch. If you’ve ever read any of my stuff then you’ll know that I’m a Jordan Henderson fan. I think the stick that gets from sections of our support base borders on the disgraceful. If he’d have put in the performance that Emre Can did tonight then there would have been people calling for his head on a spike. The German did all of the things that the Liverpool captain is criticised for, from passing it sideways to not pushing forward up the pitch. He and Gini Wijnaldum, who were both so good against Spartak Moscow, were really poor tonight.

The Fab Four Is Flawed

I wouldn’t swap Liverpool’s front four players for any others in the Premier League. Harry Kane might be a goalscorer but what he lacks is the sort of team ethic that Roberto Firmino offers to bring in all of our other skilful players. Manchester City’s attack is the only one that can rival ours but even they aren’t perfect. I think Mohamed Salah is proving himself to be the signing of the season, whilst Sadio Mané can terrify opposition players with his pace. Philippe Coutinho is a midfield maestro, pulling the strings and causing trouble with his range of passing. Yet all four of them were well off the boil tonight. Coutinho was especially poor I thought, constantly getting his passes wrong and having a really dreadful touch in and around the box.

Some people are oddly reluctant to say as much, but Mané is in a very poor run of form at the moment. The Senegalese winger was our player of the year last year but he’s not been himself during this campaign. Whether that’s because he’s bearing the psychological scars of his sending off at Manchester City or just hasn’t recovered properly from injury I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure: he’s not the same player we saw last season. Firmino didn’t do a lot wrong tonight and he was constantly surrounded by two or three West Brom players, but he didn’t do enough right to get excited about. The brilliant thing about having a front four as exciting as ours is is that one of them can have a poor game and the others will pull you through. But when all of them are not in good form together you end up pulling your hair out, aware that a goal is unlikely to come.

Another Dreadful Referee

A quick not about the referee. I don’t know whether Dominic Solanke’s goal was a handball or not, though it certainly looked like one from my position behind the goal on the Kop. I haven’t seen it back so I can’t and won’t criticise the referee for making that call until I have. I am more than happy to criticise him over his genuinely woeful refereeing of the match in general, however. He went over to have a word with Ben Foster after about thirty-eight minutes, presumably to warn him about time wasting.

It made zero difference to the goalkeeper’s behaviour, however, and when the end of the match came around the ref added just three minutes of stoppage time. They wasted more time within that three minutes, yet the ref couldn’t wait to blow his whistle. If there’s luck in football, we’re not having much of it at the moment.

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